Blomberg Celebrates New Revised Hogan

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Darrell Blomberg is a presenter at our kickoff of the national tour of seminars starting July 26, 2012 in Chandler, AZ. He is NOT a lawyer but in my opinion has a better understanding of the law, its application and the context of the fake securitized loans than practically any else I know. He is completely correct in his analysis of the Hogan decision below.

I strongly advise homeowners who are near the Chandler location, to go find a lawyer and or contact the one they already have and PAY for the lawyer to attend the seminar and maybe pay for their own attendance as well. Paralegal add-ons are available as well.

Editor’s Note:

Darrell is 100% right that this decision poses a mammoth shadow problem for those people who are working for “Trustees” and conducting sales, sending notices of default and sending notices of sale. Issuing a deed on foreclosure to a party who who was the creditor but submitted a credit bid instead of a cash bid is only one issue. The fact is that if the Trustee becomes aware of a bona fide dispute between the alleged beneficiary or creditor and the borrower the Trustee has only ONE CHOICE: They must petition the court for a ruling because the Trustee does not have the power to conduct hearings. It IS that simple.

The reason they are not doing that and the reason why there is a substitution of trustee filed in every case is that the original trustee WOULD do that and would conduct due diligence, which the banks cannot afford because they know they don’t have the goods — they are not the creditor and in many cases even the the real original creditor is no longer present because of the trading activity and recompilation of the pools with different assets, loans and even using other derivatives as assets. 

These facts will all come out when the burden is put on the supposed creditor to show the transaction in which they paid real money for the loan. No such transaction exists. So they cannot submit a credit bid and probably don’t have the authority to initiate foreclosure proceedings. The potential liability of the Trustees that were substituted and perhaps even the original trustees is staggering when applied to prior foreclosures. When it becomes clear that the new trustee is appointed by a stranger to the transaction calling itself the beneficiary when it is not the beneficiary and new trustee is owned or controlled by the new “beneficiary.”

By Darrell Blomberg, July 11, 2012:

The Supreme Court of Arizona released their amended opinion this morning.  I have attached it for you or here is the link:  http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Supreme/2012/CV110115PR.pdf.  The essential changes were confined to section 11.

First off, I offer HUGE KUDOS and THANKS to all the extraordinary people who contributed to the effort of getting this all the way to the Supremes and then back into their court for a well-earned reconsideration.

The challenge with Hogan was that the questions were never optimally framed and Hogan didn’t make the record with sufficient allegations and assertions.  His pleadings left too many escape hatches open.  (No slight to anybody; the questions didn’t appear until long after the best-for-the-day questions were put forth.)  I’m amazed at “amount” of decision we got from the Supremes considering those challenges.

I believe the new “Moreover, the trustee owes the trustor a duty to comply with the obligations created by the statutes governing trustee sales and the trust deed.” language is very beneficial to homeowners and attorneys.  I think this is vastly better than the prior decision and gives us a lot more umph.  This is a clear statement of the court tying “duty” together with “statutes governing trustee’s sales and the trust deed.”  I can’t remember something so elemental and so important happening for us at any administrative, judicial or legislative level.  Tying duty to the statutes and contract was always sketchy but this decision does it succinctly and boldly.

This is precisely what all of my “Cancellation Demand Letters” have been geared to convey.  This decision will certainly be added to every “Cancellation Demand Letter” from now on.

Don’t forget this amended language:”A.R.S. § 33-801(10) (providing that “[t]he trustee’s obligations . . . are as specified in this chapter [and] in the trust deed”).”  It’s sure to be used against our efforts.  I think this can be well mitigated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau bulletin 2012-03 which tied the servicer (beneficiary?) and the sub-servicer (trustee?) together for liability purposes.  Perhaps it doesn’t reign in the trustees so much but it sure raises the temperature on the beneficiary.  With the right amount of pressure on the beneficiary maybe they’ll heat up the trustee for us.  (See attached or this link: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201204_cfpb_bulletin_service-providers.pdf)

For the record, here is the language that was removed from the original opinion: “Moreover, the trustee owes the trustor a fiduciary duty, and may be held liable for conducting a trustee’s sale when the trustor is not in default.”

My commercial:  If you know anybody that is in need of an all-out analysis of the Arizona Trustee’s Sale process that I turn into a letter for the homeowner, please let me know.  My letters are a great way to make the record and maybe even cancel a few notices of trustee’s sales along the way.  (Contact info is below.)

For further consideration, here is Black’s 6th on “Duty.”

Duty. A human action which is exactly conformable to the laws which require us to obey them. Legal or moral obligation. An obligation that one has by law or con­tract. Obligation to conform to legal standard of reason­able conduct in light of apparent risk. Karrar v. Barry County Road Com’n, 127 Mich.App. 821, 339 N.W.2d 653, 657. Obligatory conduct or service. Mandatory obligation to perform. Huey v. King, 220 Tenn. 189, 415 S.W.2d 136. An obligation, recognized by the law, re­quiring actor to conform to certain standard of conduct for protection of others against unreasonable risks. Samson v. Saginaw Professional Bldg., Inc., 44 Mich. App. 658, 205 N.W.2d 833, 835. See also Legal duty;Obligation.

Those obligations of performance, care, or observance which rest upon a person in an official or fiduciary capacity; as the duty of an executor, trustee, manager, etc.

In negligence cases term may be defined as an obli­gation, to which law will give recognition and effect, to comport to a particular standard of conduct toward another, and the duty is invariably the same, one must conform to legal standard of reasonable conduct in light of apparent risk. Merluzzi v. Larson, 96 Nev. 409, 610 P.2d 739, 741. The word”duty” is used throughout the Restatement of Torts to denote the fact that the actor is required to conduct himself in a particular manner at the risk that if he does not do so he becomes subject to liability to another to whom the duty is owed for any injury sustained by such other, of which that actor’s conduct is a legal cause. Restatement, Second, Torts § 4. See Care; Due care.

In its use in jurisprudence, this word is the correlative of right. Thus, wherever there exists a right in any person, there also rests a corresponding duty upon some other person or upon all persons generally.

Duty to act. Obligation to take some action to prevent harm to another and for failure of which there may or may not be liability in tort depending upon the circum­stances and the relationship of the parties to each other.


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Now It’s the Servicers Betting Against Homeowners

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Editor’s Analysis:

Start with some premises that were speculation but are now known to be true. First, banks and servicers need as many properties in foreclosure as possible. There are many reasons. The banks want it because it covers up the outright bold lies they told investors to get them to “buy” non-existent mortgage bonds most of which involved either no paper certificate at all or they were simply not worth the paper they were written on. Second, the bankers (management) could make a killing depressing Market prices and then relieving the pressure when they wanted prices to go up. Third, servicers make far more money in fees as long as they are “servicing” a loan in default because their fees are higher on loans in distress. Fourth in many cases the servicers actually get to “own” the property if the foreclosure sale occurs.

The tactic used now is that if you miss a mortgage payment or even if you don’t, the servicer can say they were required to obtain insurance on their own because you didn’t. This is forced place insurance and nearly all of it is a bold-faced lie. Now the servicer adds to your mortgage payment the cost of forced place insurance even if they paid nothing. If you are on the edge, the cost of forced placed insurance (many times 3-4 times normal rates) is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The result? Many homes that were otherwise current in their payments end up in foreclosure.

This can be stopped. On challenge, most servicers back off of forced place insurance claims, but getting them to stop the foreclosure is more difficult — usually because by the time the homeowner challenges the forced place insurance some scheduled payments have been missed. But upon further challenge it can usually be shown that the scheduled payments were in fact made by the servicer to the creditor, meaning that the declaration of a default and notice of sale were bogus — just like everything else in this mess.

Servicers incentivized to bet against homeowners, may hurt housing

by Tara Steele

Insurance policies are not often pointed to as the problem with housing, but one news outlet says homeowners are being pushed off of the foreclosure cliff by force-place insurance.

Force-placed insurance’s impact on housing

“Force-placed” insurance, or property insurance the bank takes out for homeowners who miss an insurance payment has recently come under fire by Bloomberg News Editors1 who say the policies cover less and cost more, and will likely end up putting homeowners into foreclosure regardless of the force-placed insurance policies.

Deeper analysis of the forced-place policies revealed that the loss ratio is much lower than expected, in other words, the percentage of premiums paid out on claims is severely low, paying out $0.20 cents on the dollar, when the average $0.55 cents on the dollar payout of most other types of policies. The implication is that the insurance companies are charging extremely high premiums, and when the policies actually pay out, they barely cover the bank’s losses.

Bloomberg reports that banks not only receive commissions on the forced-place policies, they make even more money by re-insuring them, so the bank takes out a policy to protect the property but is making a more lucrative bet that the policy will never pay out. Fannie Mae has already instructed servicers of Fannie-backed loans to reduce the cost of insurance premiums, but Bloomberg implies that these directives are weak and more can be done.

Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is looking into forced-place insurance, Bloomberg urges the CFPB to require all servicers to pick up the homeowner’s lapsed policy when possible, otherwise seek bids for lower cost options, and notes that Freddie mac should demand its servicers to get competitive bids on insurance policies.

The crux of the forced issue

The CFPB should investigate the commissions made by banks on these policies, says Bloomberg, as they are a major incentive to put homeowners into policies they cannot possibly afford. “Many homeowners who experience coverage gaps have severe financial problems that lead them to stop paying their insurance bills,” notes Bloomberg. “They are already at great risk of foreclosure. Banks and insurers shouldn’t be allowed to add to the likelihood of default by artificially inflating the cost of insurance.”

Banks Pushing Homeowners Over Foreclosure Cliff

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Editor’s Comment:

Whether it is force-placed insurance or any other device available, banks and servicers are pushing homeowners, luring homeowners and tricking homeowners into foreclosures. It is the only way they can put distance between them and the collosal corruption of title, the fact that strangers are foreclosing on homes, and claims of predatory, deceptive and fraudulent lending practices.

Most of those five million homes belong back in the hands of the people who lost them in fake foreclosures. And that day is coming.

Foreclosures are good but short- sales are better as those in the real estate Market will tell you. Either way it has someone other than the bank or servicer signing the deed to the ” buyer” and eventually it will all come tumbling down. But what Banks and servicers are betting is that the more chaotic and confused the situation the less likely the blame will fall on them.

Watch out Mr. Banker, you haven’t seen our plan to hold you accountable. You might think you have control of the narrative but that is going to change because the real power is held by the people. Go read the constitution — especially the 9th Amendment.

Look Who’s Pushing Homeowners Off the Foreclosure Cliff

By the Editors

One of the more confounding aspects of the U.S. housing crisis has been the reluctance of lenders to do more to assist troubled borrowers. After all, when homes go into foreclosure, banks lose money.

Now it turns out some lenders haven’t merely been unhelpful; their actions have pushed some borrowers over the foreclosure cliff. Lenders have been imposing exorbitant insurance policies on homeowners whose regular coverage lapses or is deemed insufficient. The policies, standard homeowner’s insurance or extra coverage for wind damage, say, for Florida residents, typically cost five to 10 times what owners were previously paying, tipping many into foreclosure.

The situation has caught the attention of state regulators and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is considering rules to help homeowners avoid unwarranted “force- placed insurance.” The U.S. ought to go further and limit commissions, fine any company that knowingly overcharges a homeowner and require banks to seek competitive bids for force- placed insurance policies. Because insurance is not regulated at the federal level, states also need to play a stronger role in bringing down rates.

All mortgages require homeowners to maintain insurance on their property. Most mortgages also allow the lender to purchase insurance for the home and “force-place” it if a policy lapses or is deemed insufficient. These standard provisions are meant to protect the lender’s collateral — the property — if a calamity occurs.

High-Priced Policies

Here’s how it generally works: Banks and their mortgage servicers strike arrangements — often exclusive — with insurance companies in which the banks agree to buy high-priced policies on behalf of homeowners whose coverage has lapsed. The bank advances the premium to the insurer, and the insurer pays the bank a commission, which is priced into the premium. (Insurers say the commissions compensate banks for expenses like “advancing premiums, billing and collections.”) The homeowner is then billed for the premium, commissions and all.

It’s a lucrative business. Premiums on force-placed insurance exceeded $5.5 billion in 2010, according to the Center for Economic Justice, a group that advocates on behalf of low- income consumers. An investigation by Benjamin Lawsky, who heads New York State’s Department of Financial Services, has found nearly 15 percent of the premiums flow back to the banks.

It doesn’t end there. Lenders often get an additional cut of the profits by reinsuring the force-placed policy through the bank’s insurance subsidiary. That puts the lender in the conflicted position of requiring insurance to protect its collateral but with a financial incentive to never pay out a claim.

Both New York and California regulators have found the loss ratio on these policies — the percentage of premiums paid on claims — to be significantly lower than what insurers told the state they expected to pay out, suggesting that premiums are too high. For instance, most insurers estimate a loss ratio of 55 percent, meaning they’ll have to pay out about 55 cents on the dollar. But actual loss ratios have averaged about 20 percent over the last six years.

It’s worth noting that force-placed policies often provide less protection than cheaper policies available on the open market, a fact often not clearly disclosed. The policies generally protect the lender’s financial interest, not the homeowner’s. If a fire wipes out a house, most force-placed policies would pay only to repair the structure and nothing else.

Lack of Clarity

Homeowners can obviously avoid force-placed insurance by keeping their coverage current. Banks are required to remove the insurance as soon as a homeowner offers proof of other coverage. But the system, as the New York state investigation and countless lawsuits have demonstrated, is defined by a woeful lack of clarity, so much so that Fannie Mae has issued a directive to loan servicers to lower insurance costs and speed up removal times. And it said it would no longer reimburse commissions. The recent settlement with five financial firms over foreclosure abuses also requires banks to limit excessive coverage and ensure policies are purchased “for a commercially reasonable price.”

That’s not enough. Tougher standards should be applied uniformly, regardless of the loan source. Freddie Mac should follow Fannie Mae’s lead and require competitive pricing on the loans it backs. The consumer bureau should require mortgage servicers to reinstate a homeowner’s previous policy whenever possible, or to obtain competitive bids when not.

The bureau should also prevent loan servicers from accepting commissions or, at the very least, prohibit commissions from inflating the premium. It should require servicers to better communicate to borrowers that their policy has lapsed, explain clearly what force-placed insurance will cost and extend a grace period to secure new coverage. Finally, states should follow the example of California, which recently told force-placed insurers to submit lower rates that reflect actual loss ratios.

Many homeowners who experience coverage gaps have severe financial problems that lead them to stop paying their insurance bills. They are already at great risk of foreclosure. Banks and insurers shouldn’t be allowed to add to the likelihood of default by artificially inflating the cost of insurance.

BANKS DEMANDING AMNESTY FROM NEW BUREAU FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION

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FLAWED MORTGAGE ORIGINATION AT ISSUE

EDITOR’S COMMENT: “If you don’t give us amnesty and allow us to claim value for these ‘assets’ on our balance sheet, we will collapse, and you will be responsible for the ensuing collapse of the financial system.”That is essentially what the Banks are saying.

The Bureau is not an agency that should respond to such false assertions. With 7,000 OTHER banks that could pick up the pieces already existing in this country the only thing that would happen is that banking would, for a time, become decentralized and the Banking oligopoly would be broken. The Bureau is charged with protecting consumers not selling them out. This demand must be rejected.

The very fact that the Banks are demanding the waiver of liability on mortgage origination should give anyone pause for thought. If they are saying they can’t do the deal without that waiver then they are also saying that they have fatal flaws in the mortgage origination process just as we have been saying on these pages for more than 4 years. Those flaws are not simple “paperwork” problems.

The issues are fundamental to property and contract law. From my perspective, the mortgages are invalid and unenforceable under existing law because they were never perfected into liens against the real property. The notes are defective because they lie about the identity of the lender and give no notice to the borrower or anyone else as to the identity of a party that could execute a satisfaction or even provide an estoppel letter for future closing. And the obligations of the borrower are the result of fraudulent inducement and non-disclosure as to the promises made by third parties in connection with covering the principal and interest on the loan.

BY NICK TIMIRAOS, RUTH SIMON AND DAN FITZPATRICK

SEE FULL ARTICLE IN WALL STREET JOURNAL

Banks are demanding that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau relinquish the right to sue over certain flawed mortgage originations, in exchange for their participation in a proposed multibillion-dollar settlement of alleged foreclosure abuses.

The banks say their inability to secure a sufficiently broad release from the new bureau, which was sidelined in earlier discussions as it launched, would be a deal breaker. The five biggest U.S. mortgage banks, state attorneys general and Obama administration officials are pushing to finalize a deal before the end of the year that would be worth $19 billion or more.

BANKS DEFRAUDING TAXPAYERS FACE FATE OF AL CAPONE

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  Somehow this particular article escaped me when it was published by Huffington Post. Like all the other allegations against the participants in the mortgage securitization hoax, the underlying theme is that the major banks simply lied about the ownership, value and nature of the mortgage assets. In this case the government paid them based upon their naked representation that the mortgage liens had been perfected and properly transferred.

 So far the banks have been successful, for the most part, in convincing the public and the courts that the mortgage liens have been perfected and properly transferred in all cases where claims of “ownership” were based upon securitization of debt. But in every case where professionals have been employed and have taken the time to carefully examine both the money trail and the document trail they have reached the conclusion that the documents and the handling of the money has been at best fatally defective and at worst fraudulent, forged,  and fabricated.

 The victims of this hoax include every taxpayer, consumer, homeowner and business in the entire country. As the lawsuits multiply and as the attorney general of each state comes to realize the political risk of siding with the banks, it will become obvious that we are all affected regardless of whether we are directly involved in the foreclosure process or merely suffering the results of collateral damage.

 The debates regarding the debt ceiling, spending and the tax code are mere distractions from the enforcement of existing tax liability of the participants in the massive securitization hoax. As taxpayers we have given the banks considerable resources to kick the can down the road. But the ultimate result cannot be disputed. Trillions of dollars are owed to the federal government, state governments and local governments on transactions that were either not reported at all or were reported with the intent to deceive those governments and deprive them of revenue.

The missing revenue together with the fraudulent receipt of payments from taxpayers for nonexistent or fraudulently represented mortgages and mortgage assets constitute all of the “deficit” that has been reported for all the governmental  entities that supposedly are in distress, bankrupt were subject to downgrade in their credit ratings.

 Simply stated, the deficit money is sitting on Wall Street or offshore under the control of those who control the Wall Street entities that perpetrated the grand securitization hoax. The same is true for individual consumers and homeowners. The scope of the securitization hoax included but was not limited to home loans, credit cards, student loans, auto loans and virtually every other kind of debt imaginable. Lately we have been receiving reports that the securitization hoax is expanding its scope to include life insurance. By inducing those who would otherwise not purchased life insurance (perhaps because they could not afford it) or who would purchase a contract from a life insurance carrier that was not involved in securitization, Wall Street is creating a vehicle which for the first time institutionalizes the motivation to deprive people of their lives.

 There are many permutations of the securitization hoax. The bottom line is that the vendor of the financial products sold to the consumer is not taking any risk, but is being paid, like an actor. In this way Wall Street is essentially the primary actor in the sale of financial products, like all mortgages or insurance, without being regulated or licensed by the appropriate federal or state agency.

The actors (pretender lenders) are either lending their licenses contrary to law or pretending to be licensed and getting away with it because of the apparent complexity of securitization. There is no need for complex analysis. Either they are a lender or they are not. Either they are a mortgage broker or they are not. Either they are an insurance broker or they are not. And if they acted as a lender when in fact their function was as a mortgage broker they have violated the law. And if they acted as a mortgage originator when in fact their function was a mortgage broker, they have violated the law. The administrative agencies regulating the various professions involved in real estate transactions have lots of work to do, lots of discipline to mete out, lots of fines to collect and lots of restitution to order.

 There are hundreds of millions of transactions in which worthless paper was involved which contained claims to obligations, notes and mortgages (which are interest in real property). The fact that these were fraudulent transactions does not take away from the fact that a profit was made, that documents should have been recorded, and that taxes and fees were due. The only question left is whether there are enough people left in government who are willing to use the tools available to them to correct the mess created by the securitization hoax.

Al Capone, the famed mobster, got away with almost everything including murder — until  he was taken down for tax fraud. It doesn’t matter how his reign of terror was ended. What matters is that it did end. And if government had followed through there would not have been anything to replace him. That is the challenge facing today’s government. And more importantly, it is the challenge to our Republic, where inch by inch, personal liberties have been taken away that are still guaranteed by our most basic law — the American Constitution.

___________________________________________________________________

The audits conclude that the banks effectively cheated taxpayers by presenting the Federal Housing Administration with false claims: They filed for federal reimbursement on foreclosed homes that sold for less than the outstanding loan balance using defective and faulty documents.”

Those violations are likely only a small fraction of the number committed by home loan companies, experts say, citing the small sample examined by regulators.”

Shahien Nasiripour

Shahien Nasiripour shahien@huffingtonpost.com

Confidential Federal Audits Accuse Five Biggest Mortgage Firms Of Defrauding Taxpayers [EXCLUSIVE]

Foreclosure Fraud

WASHINGTON — A set of confidential federal audits accuse the nation’s five largest mortgage companies of defrauding taxpayers in their handling of foreclosures on homes purchased with government-backed loans, four officials briefed on the findings told The Huffington Post.

The five separate investigations were conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general and examined Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial, the sources said.

The audits accuse the five major lenders of violating the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era law crafted as a weapon against firms that swindle the government. The audits were completed between February and March, the sources said. The internal watchdog office at HUD referred its findings to the Department of Justice, which must now decide whether to file charges.

The federal audits mark the latest fallout from the national foreclosure crisis that followed the end of a long-running housing bubble. Amid reports last year that many large lenders improperly accelerated foreclosure proceedings by failing to amass required paperwork, the federal agencies launched their own probes.

The resulting reports read like veritable indictments of major lenders, the sources said. State officials are now wielding the documents as leverage in their ongoing talks with mortgage companies aimed at forcing the firms to agree to pay fines to resolve allegations of routine violations in their handling of foreclosures.

The audits conclude that the banks effectively cheated taxpayers by presenting the Federal Housing Administration with false claims: They filed for federal reimbursement on foreclosed homes that sold for less than the outstanding loan balance using defective and faulty documents.

Two of the firms, including Bank of America, refused to cooperate with the investigations, according to the sources. The audit on Bank of America finds that the company — the nation’s largest handler of home loans — failed to correct faulty foreclosure practices even after imposing a moratorium that lifted last October. Back then, the bank said it was resuming foreclosures, having satisfied itself that prior problems had been solved.

According to the sources, the Wells Fargo investigation concludes that senior managers at the firm, the fourth-largest American bank by assets, broke civil laws. HUD’s inspector general interviewed a pair of South Carolina public notaries who improperly signed off on foreclosure filings for Wells, the sources said.

The investigations dovetail with separate probes by state and federal agencies, who also have examined foreclosure filings and flawed mortgage practices amid widespread reports that major mortgage firms improperly initiated foreclosure proceedings on an unknown number of American homeowners.

The FHA, whose defaulted loans the inspector general probed, last May began scrutinizing whether mortgage firms properly treated troubled borrowers who fell behind on payments or whose homes were seized on loans insured by the agency.

A unit of the Justice Department is examining faulty court filings in bankruptcy proceedings. Several states, including Illinois, are combing through foreclosure filings to gauge the extent of so-called “robo-signing” and other defective practices, including illegal home repossessions.

Representatives of HUD and its inspector general declined to comment.

The internal audits have armed state officials with a powerful new weapon as they seek to extract what they describe as punitive fines from lawbreaking mortgage companies.

A coalition of attorneys general from all 50 states and state bank supervisors have joined HUD, the Treasury Department, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission in talks with the five largest mortgage servicers to settle allegations of illegal foreclosures and other shoddy practices.

Such processes “have potentially infected millions of foreclosures,” Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair told a Senate panel on Thursday.

The five giant mortgage servicers, which collectively handle about three of every five home loans, offered during a contentious round of negotiations last Tuesday to pay $5 billion to set up a fund to help distressed borrowers and settle the allegations.

That offer — also floated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in February — was deemed much too low by state and federal officials. Associate U.S. Attorney General Tom Perrelli, who has been leading the talks, last week threatened to show the banks the confidential audits so the firms knew the government side was not “playing around,” one official involved in the negotiations said. He ultimately did not follow through, persuaded that the reports ought to remain confidential, sources said. Through a spokeswoman, Perrelli declined to comment.

Most of the targeted banks have not seen the audits, a federal official said, though they are generally aware of the findings.

Some agencies involved in the talks are calling for the five banks to shell out as much as $30 billion, with even more costs to be incurred for improving their internal operations and modifying troubled borrowers’ home loans.

But even that number would fall short of legitimate compensation for the bank’s harmful practices, reckons the nascent federal Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. By taking shortcuts in processing troubled borrowers’ home loans, the nation’s five largest mortgage firms have directly saved themselves more than $20 billion since the housing crisis began in 2007, according to a confidential presentation prepared for state attorneys general by the agency and obtained by The Huffington Post in March. Those pushing for a larger package of fines argue that the foreclosure crisis has spawned broader — and more costly — social ills, from the dislocation of American families to the continued plunge in home prices, effectively wiping out household savings.

The Justice Department is now contemplating whether to use the HUD audits as a basis for civil and criminal enforcement actions, the sources said. The False Claims Act allows the government to recover damages worth three times the actual harm plus additional penalties.

Justice officials will soon meet with the largest servicers and walk them through the allegations and potential liability each of them face, the sources said.

Earlier this month, Justice cited findings from HUD investigations in a lawsuit it filed against Deutsche Bank AG, one of the world’s 10 biggest banks by assets, for at least $1 billion for defrauding taxpayers by “repeatedly” lying to FHA in securing taxpayer-backed insurance for thousands of shoddy mortgages.

In March, HUD’s inspector general found that more than 49 percent of loans underwritten by FHA-approved lenders in a sample did not conform to the agency’s requirements.

Last October, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said his investigators found that numerous mortgage firms broke the agency’s rules when dealing with delinquent borrowers. He declined to be specific.

The agency’s review later expanded to flawed foreclosure practices. FHA, a unit of HUD, could still take administrative action against those firms for breaking FHA rules based on its own probe.

The confidential findings appear to bolster state and federal officials in their talks with the targeted banks. The knowledge that they may face False Claims Act suits, in addition to state actions based on a multitude of claims like fraud on local courts and consumer violations, will likely compel the banks to offer the government more money to resolve everything.

But even that may not be enough.

Attorneys general in numerous states, armed with what they portray as incontrovertible evidence of mass robo-signings from preliminary investigations, are probing mortgage practices more closely.

The state of Illinois has begun examining potentially-fraudulent court filings, looking at the role played by a unit of Lender Processing Services. Nevada and Arizona already launched lawsuits against Bank of America. California is keen on launching its own suits, people familiar with the matter say. Delaware sent Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., which runs an electronic registry of mortgages, a subpoena demanding answers to 75 questions. And New York’s top law enforcer, Eric Schneiderman, wants to conduct a complete investigation into all facets of mortgage banking, from fraudulent lending to defective securitization practices to faulty foreclosure documents and illegal home seizures.

A review of about 2,800 loans that experienced foreclosure last year serviced by the nation’s 14 largest mortgage firms found that at least two of them illegally foreclosed on the homes of “almost 50” active-duty military service members, a violation of federal law, according to a report this month from the Government Accountability Office.

Those violations are likely only a small fraction of the number committed by home loan companies, experts say, citing the small sample examined by regulators.

In an April report on flawed mortgage servicing practices, federal bank supervisors said they “could not provide a reliable estimate of the number of foreclosures that should not have proceeded.”

The review of just 2,800 home loans in foreclosure compares with nearly 2.9 million homes that received a foreclosure filing last year, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based data provider.

“The extent of the loss cannot be determined until there is a comprehensive review of the loan files and documentation of the process dealing with problem loans,” Bair said last week, warning of damages that could take “years to materialize.”

Home prices have fallen over the past year, reversing gains made early in the economic recovery, according to data providers Zillow.com and CoreLogic. Sales of new homes remain depressed, according to the Commerce Department. More than a quarter of homeowners with a mortgage owe more on that debt than their home is worth, according to Zillow.com. And more than 2 million homes are in foreclosure, according to Lender Processing Services.

Rather than punishing banks for misdeeds, the administration is now focused on helping troubled borrowers in the hope that it will stanch the flood of foreclosures and increase consumer confidence, officials involved in the negotiations said.

Levying penalties can’t accomplish that goal, an official involved in the foreclosure probe talks argued last week.

For their part, however, state officials want to levy fines, according to a confidential term sheet reviewed last week by HuffPost. Each state would then use the money as it desires, be it for facilitating short sales, reducing mortgage principal, or using the funds to help defaulted borrowers move from their homes into rentals.

In a report last week, analysts at Moody’s Investors Service predicted that while the losses incurred by the banks will be “sizable,” the credit rating agency does “not expect them to meaningfully impact capital.”

*************************Shahien Nasiripour is a senior business reporter for The Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail; bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed; follow him on Twitter; friend him on Facebook; become a fan; and/or get e-mail alerts when he reports the latest news. He can be reached at 917-267-2335.

WHY? BECAUSE THEY WANT A FREE HOUSE — THE BANKS, THAT IS — NOT THE BORROWERS

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EDITOR’S RANT: They turned the financial world upside down, taking our society with it. So it should come as no surprise that they would accuse homeowners of trying to get what the banks have been doing now for over three years — GETTING A FREE HOUSE. They never funded the loan and they never purchased the receivable. Yet somehow the government ignores the basic reality and offered window dressing to homeowners in the form of false modifications with servicers and other securitizers who only had the incentive to steal the house. Modifying the loan removes the only incentive they have to stay in the game.

Just because the real lenders won’t step in and make claims or settle with the homeowners who received some of the money that was advanced by the buyers of bogus mortgage bonds, doesn’t mean that that LEGALLY a disinterested third party can come in and say “OK, then I’ll take it.”


Big Banks Save Billions As Homeowners Suffer, Internal Federal Report By CFPB Finds

Elizabeth Warren

First Posted: 03/28/11 07:41 PM ET Updated: 03/28/11 07:58 PM ET

GET UPDATES FROM Shahien

NEW YORK — The nation’s five largest mortgage firms have saved more than $20 billion since the housing crisis began in 2007 by taking shortcuts in processing troubled borrowers’ home loans, according to a confidential presentation prepared for state attorneys general by the nascent consumer bureau inside the Treasury Department.

That estimate suggests large banks have reaped tremendous benefits from under-serving distressed homeowners, a complaint frequent enough among borrowers that federal regulators have begun to acknowledge the industry’s fundamental shortcomings.

The dollar figure also provides a basis for regulators’ internal discussions regarding how best to penalize Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial in a settlement of wide-ranging allegations of wrongful and occasionally illegal foreclosures. People involved in the talks say some regulators want to levy a $5 billion penalty on the five firms, while others seek as much as $30 billion, with most of the money going toward reducing troubled homeowners’ mortgage payments and lowering loan balances for underwater borrowers, those who owe more on their home than it’s worth.

Even the highest of those figures, however, pales in comparison to the likely cost of reducing mortgage principal for the three million homeowners some federal agencies hope to reach. Lowering loan balances for that many underwater borrowers who owe less than $1.15 for every dollar their home is worth would cost as much as $135 billion, according to the internal presentation, dated Feb. 14, obtained by The Huffington Post.

But perhaps most important to some lawmakers in Washington, the mere existence of the report suggests a much deeper link between the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, led by Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, and the 50 state attorneys general who are leading the nationwide probe into the five firms’ improper foreclosure practices, a development sure to anger Republicans in Congress and a banking industry intent on diminishing the fledgling CFPB’s legitimacy by questioning its authority to act before it’s officially launched in July.

Earlier this month, Warren told the House Financial Services Committee, under intense questioning, that her agency has provided limited assistance to the various state and federal agencies involved in the industry probes. At one point, she was asked whether she made any recommendations regarding proposed penalties. She replied that her agency has only provided “advice.”

A representative of the consumer agency declined to comment on the presentation, citing the law enforcement nature of the federal investigation into the mortgage industry’s leading firms.

The seven-page presentation begins by stating that a deal to settle claims of improper foreclosures “provides the potential for broad reform.”

In it, the consumer agency outlines possibilities offered by the settlement — a minimum number of mortgage modifications, a boost to the housing market — and how it could reform the industry going forward so that investors in home loans and the borrowers who owe them would be able to resolve situations in which borrowers fall behind on their payments without the complications of a large mortgage company acting in its own interest.

The presentation also details how much certain firms likely saved in lieu of making the necessary loan-processing adjustments as delinquencies and foreclosures rose. Bank of America, for example, has saved more than $6 billion since 2007 by not upgrading its procedures or hiring more workers, according to the report. Wells Fargo saved about as much, with JPMorgan close behind. Citigroup and Ally bring the total saved to nearly $25 billion.

The presentation adds that the under-investment far exceeds the proposed $5 billion penalty that has been on the table. People familiar with the matter say the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency wants to fine the industry less than $5 billion.

The alleged shortchanging of homeowners has prolonged the housing market’s woes, experts say, because distressed homeowners who are prime candidates to have their payments reduced aren’t getting loan modifications and lenders are taking up to two years to seize borrowers’ homes.

The average borrower in foreclosure has been delinquent for 537 days before actually being evicted, up from 319 days in January 2009, according to Lender Processing Services, a data provider.

The prolonged housing pain has manifested itself in various ways.

Purchases of new U.S. homes dropped last month to the slowest pace on record, according to the Commerce Department. Prices declined to the lowest level since 2003, according to the National Association of Realtors. About 6.9 million homeowners were either delinquent or in foreclosure proceedings through February, according to LPS.

A penalty of about $25 billion — based on mortgage servicing costs avoided — would have “little effect” on the five firms’ capital levels, according to the presentation, since the five banks collectively hold about $500 billion in tangible common equity, the highest form of capital. Those numbers notwithstanding, banks and Republicans in Congress have complained that such a large penalty would have a disproportionate impact on bank balance sheets, hurting their ability to lend or pay dividends to investors.

The presentation adds that given the extent of negative equity — underwater homeowners owe $751 billion more than their homes are worth, according to data provider CoreLogic — “we have gravitated towards settlement solutions that enable asset liquidity and cast a wide net.” The solution is an emphasis on reducing mortgage debt and enabling short sales, thus allowing borrowers to refinance into more affordable loans or to sell their homes and move on.

Top Federal Reserve officials and other economists have pointed to the large numbers of underwater homeowners as being one of the reasons behind high unemployment, as underwater homeowners are unable to move to where the jobs are. More than 23 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are underwater, according to CoreLogic.

The proposed settlement, as envisioned by the consumer agency, could reduce loan balances for up to three million homeowners. If mortgage firms targeted their efforts at reducing mortgage debt for three million homeowners who owe as much as their homes are worth or have less than 5 percent equity, the total cost would be $41.8 billion, according to estimates cited in the presentation.

If firms lowered total mortgage debt for three million homeowners who are underwater by as much as 15 percent and brought them to 5 percent equity, that would cost more than $135 billion, according to the presentation. That would include reducing second mortgages and home equity lines of credit.

In its presentation, the consumer agency said the new program, titled “Principal Reduction Mandate,” could be “meaningfully additive to HAMP” — the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Obama administration’s primary mortgage modification effort.

The CFPB estimates that there are about 12 million U.S. homeowners underwater, most of whom are not delinquent, according to its presentation. Of those, nine million would be eligible for this new principal-reduction scheme born from the foreclosure deal. The new initiative would then “mandate” three million permanent modifications.

News of the level of the consumer agency’s involvement in the state investigation would likely be welcomed by consumer and homeowner advocates, who have long complained of the lack of attention paid to distressed borrowers by federal bank regulators like the OCC and the Federal Reserve.

But Republicans will pounce on the news, creating yet another distraction for a fledgling bureau that was the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s efforts to reform the financial industry in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, the banking industry will likely celebrate government infighting as attention is diverted away from allegations of bank wrongdoing and towards the level of involvement of Elizabeth Warren, a fierce consumer advocate and the principal original proponent of an agency solely dedicated to protecting borrowers from abusive lenders.

Warren is standing up the agency on an interim basis. It formally launches in July, at which point it will need a Senate-confirmed director in order to carry out its full authority. One of those areas will be how mortgage firms process home loans for distressed borrowers.

A spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase declined to comment. Spokespeople for the other four banks were not immediately available for comment.

POLITICANS RUSH TO CASTRATE FINANCIAL REFORM

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The fact that Wall Street is so intent on doing this can only indicate one thing: they intend to do it again. Wake up America!

SEE VIDEO ELIZABETH WARREN ON GOALS FOR FINANCIAL CONSUMER PROTECTION

Note: One of the things that Warren brings out in the video is that the disclosure forms come much too late in the process. The obvious effect is that besides being confusing  on their face, there is very little time for consumer to study or get help understanding the disclosure statements. Early rendition and delivery of the disclosure statements would add to the barrier of committing consumer fraud. By requiring early delivery, the “lender” would not be able to argue later that the borrower was informed of the terms and signed anyway, even when the consumer never had any real opportunity to look at those forms. Now we have to argue that the delivery of the forms was under circumstances where the consumer was meant not to understand the transaction. Warren’s goal addresses that head-on.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: The only wrong with this editorial from the NY Times is that they seem to limit it to Republicans. I’ll agree that Republicans are leading the charge, but many Democrats are in the pack racing for ways to please Wall Street which is throwing money around like confetti. By making it a Republican vs. Democrat issue, the editorial diverts us from the point — that the Dodd-Frank bill is under attack and they intend to chip away at it in pieces by denying appropriations and otherwise tangling up the works so that it doesn’t work.

Who Will Rescue Financial Reform?

In what passes for self-restraint these days, House Republicans have been insisting that they do not intend to repeal last year’s Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

Not in one fell swoop, anyway.

A direct assault on Dodd-Frank would be so blatantly biased toward banks that it would be sure to provoke a public backlash. So the Republican plan is to delay and disrupt reform. The effort is partly ideological — an insistence that regulation is unnecessary, no matter the evidence to the contrary. It is also a campaign fund-raising ploy, because Wall Street will reward the opponents of reform. Of course, Democrats are themselves not indifferent to Wall Street campaign cash, which raises the question of how effectively they will counter the Republicans’ aims. Here are areas to watch.

DERIVATIVES Budget cuts could cripple the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — which share the vital task of regulating the multitrillion-dollar derivatives market. The budget impasse in Washington has already frozen the agencies’ budgets, even as their rule-writing duties have exploded. Worse, prevailing Republican rhetoric, adopted in part by Democrats, portends more budget cuts, which would leave the agencies unable to enforce current rules, let alone new ones. Settling for less than President Obama’s requested amounts for the agencies would be acquiescing in the derailment of Dodd-Frank.

CONSUMER PROTECTION The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arguably the most innovative of the reforms, has been under constant attack by banks — and Republicans. Most recently, a House hearing on the bureau that was billed as an oversight session was instead a hazing of Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor and consumer advocate chosen by Mr. Obama to set up the agency. Republican objections boiled down to charges that the agency — and Ms. Warren — have too much power. Ms. Warren’s rebuttals were clear and persuasive. Mr. Obama could define the debate further — and demonstrate his professed support for the bureau — by going on the offensive and nominating Ms. Warren as its official director. Senate Republicans have said that they would object, but it is their own credibility that would be at risk in opposing so qualified a candidate.

REPEAL BY ANOTHER NAME House Republicans have unveiled several bills to undo Dodd-Frank piece by piece. One would rewrite the law so that the C.F.P.B would be run by a five-member bipartisan board, rather than one director, a recipe for delay and division. Another would exempt an array of derivatives users from the new rules, perpetuating the deregulated market.

Yet another bill would repeal a requirement for private equity firms to register with the S.E.C, in effect ignoring the systemic risks in leveraged pools of private capital. And one would repeal a requirement that publicly traded companies disclose the ratio of a chief executive’s pay to that of a typical employee, a move that would deprive analysts of data to detect bubbles that correlate to skewed pay. The list goes on.

Dodd-Frank is no cure-all, but properly implemented and enforced, it would close dangerous regulatory gaps. That won’t happen if Republicans get their way — and they will, unless the fight is engaged in no uncertain terms. Democrats in Congress need to unite behind the law and Obama officials should denounce the antireform effort for what it is: an attempt to weaken Dodd-Frank on behalf of those who brought us the financial crisis.

WHY ELIZABETH WARREN SCARES THE CRAP OUT OF BANKS

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“If there had been a cop on the beat to hold mortgage servicers accountable a half dozen years ago,” she said at one point, “the problems in mortgage servicing would have been found early and fixed while they were still small, long before they became a national scandal.”

EDITORIAL COMMENT: It’s a simple answer really. She is real and they are not. She wants us to  have the truth, they want us to fight with each other over ideology while the truth sails away.

With Barofsky leaving the TARP watchdog, and the only meaningful prosecutions Warren is the only person left in the administration whose intent conforms with the job of a public servant protecting consumers from wholesale fraud by the banking industry. Now they are after her with a vengeance to extinguish the risk of action by the administration that puts away people who should be convicted felons, and the risk that restitution to the government, taxpayers, homeowners and investors will be seriously pursued.

Whereas Barofsky’s eye was on past transgressions and unraveling the mystery of the TARP money, Warren’s eye is more on the future to stop the banks from using business models that uses consumers as targets. We have a very unbalanced situation that seems likely to get worse unless Warren is successful.

The failure of Congress and thus the Justice department to include banking in the scope of industries where monopolies must be regulated and controlled has left the industry in charge of itself and controlling what little is left of government regulation. In any other situation the justice department would have a clear path to antitrust remedies. It’s like water, electric and phone service — if we are going to give companies monopolistic share of the marketplace and raise barriers to entry for competition, then they should be regulated like utilities or broken up into much smaller companies.

If water companies were allowed the freedom of the banks, we would be paying $100 per gallon. That is what we are doing in finance, but nobody wants to see it that way except a few people who are accused over being alarmist.

It strikes me as hypocritical for the anti-regulators to say that big government is unwieldy and can’t be managed properly and then allow the creation of a financial industry that in every real metric is bigger than government and even more unmanageable — and not possible to regulate. We’re getting the worst case scenario every way we turn. We’ve already tried deregulating the financial industry and except for top members of the industry itself, NOBODY IS BETTER OFF. Quite the contrary, debt, which is the life blood of the financial industry, is draining the life force out of economy.

Whenever it is that we push the reset  button to clear title and stabilize commercial transactions, it better include a practical view of the financial industry. It should be serving the needs of the country and the marketplace. Instead we have them dictating what the economy and the country will get.

Elizabeth Warren has an uphill battle without much support from anywhere that counts. SO she needs YOUR support by writing to her and your congressman and state legislators about the inequalities in our economy that have stretched us past the breaking point. The goal is to have a healthy and productive society and a fair marketplace governed by democratic principles. The current status quo, for which the banks have dug in their heels to maintain, is anti-capitalism, anti-free market, and anti American.

Capitalism is an economic system that is midway between fascism (controlled by business) and socialism (everyone gets a share of the pie). The American dream is what drives capitalism — where we know there will be inequalities and excesses and we are willing to tolerate that because that is how opportunity and innovation flourish creating better circumstances for each generation of Americans. Using the unfounded fear of socialism, big business has taken us over the line to fascism in the marketplace and the society. we are a nation in which the government does not respond, much less fear, the reaction of the people because they are so easily manipulated by sound bites that scare them. Elizabeth Warren is practical and firm in her drive to return us to true capitalism, in which trickery is not protected by a system where predators run the government.

We need to return the favor and give her support every way we can.


An Advocate Who Scares Republicans

By JOE NOCERA

The piñata sat alone at the witness table, facing the members of the House subcommittee on financial institutions and consumer credit.

The Wednesday morning hearing was titled “Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.” The only witness was the piñata, otherwise known as Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor hired last year by President Obama to get the new bureau — the only new agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law — up and running. She may or may not be nominated by the president to serve as its first director when it goes live in July, but in the here and now she’s clearly running the joint.

And thus the real purpose of the hearing: to allow the Republicans who now run the House to box Ms. Warren about the ears. The big banks loathe Ms. Warren, who has made a career out of pointing out all the ways they gouge financial consumers — and whose primary goal is to make such gouging more difficult. So, naturally, the Republicans loathe her too. That she might someday run this bureau terrifies the banks. So, naturally, it terrifies the Republicans.

The banks and their Congressional allies have another, more recent gripe. Rather than waiting until July to start helping financial consumers, Ms. Warren has been trying to help them now. Can you believe the nerve of that woman?

At the request of the states’ attorneys general, all 50 of whom have banded together to investigate the mortgage servicing industry in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, she has fed them ideas that have become part of a settlement proposal they are putting together. Recently, a 27-page outline of the settlement terms was given to banks — terms that included basic rules about how mortgage servicers must treat defaulting homeowners, as well as a requirement that banks look to modify mortgages before they begin foreclosure proceedings. The modifications would be paid for with $20 billion or so in penalties that would be levied on the big banks.

Naturally, the banks hate these ideas, too. So the Republican members of the subcommittee had another purpose as well: to use the hearing to serve as a rear-guard action against the proposed settlement.

“Under what statutory authority are you currently acting?” demanded Representative Patrick McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina, questioning the legitimacy of her role in setting up the consumer bureau. He also questioned whether the government had the right to impose a $20 billion penalty on the banks — and then use that money for (heaven forbid) mortgage modifications.

Spencer Bachus, Republican of Alabama, the new chairman of the Financial Services Committee, wanted to know how closely Ms. Warren had been consulting with the White House and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about naming a director for the bureau — and whether she would accept a recess appointment “knowing the type of blowback from that.” (A recess appointment is a temporary appointment the president can make when the Senate is in recess, thus avoiding the need for Senate confirmation.)

Representative Steve Pearce, Republican of New Mexico, said that he fully expected the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be no better than “the S.E.C. and Mr. Madoff.” “Within two years,” he added, “your agency is going to be operating exactly the same, that it’s simply out there grinding wheels away.”

Representative Scott Garrett, Republican of New Jersey, zeroed in on the proposed settlement. Where in the statute did she have the authority to consort with the attorneys general? he demanded to know. “Are you making recommendations to government regulators about the dollar amount?” he badgered. “Is that part of your role, to make recommendations about dollar amounts?”

On and on it went, until the hearing sputtered to a close, two and a half hours after the browbeating had begun.

To listen to the House Republicans, you’d think the financial crisis of 2008 was like that infamous season of the long-running soap opera “Dallas,” the one that turned out to be a season-long dream. Subprime mortgages? Too-big-to-fail banks? Unregulated derivatives? No problem! With the exception of their bête noire, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Republicans act as if nothing needs to be done to prevent another crisis. Indeed, they act as if the crisis never happened.

The home page on the House Financial Services Committee’s Web site has been turned into a screed against Dodd-Frank. Clearly, the committee is going to spend this session trying to minimize the effect of the legislation, starving agencies of the funds needed to enact the regulations mandated by the new law, for instance. In fact, that effort has already begun.

It’s not just the House Republicans either. Already the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has reverted to form, becoming once again a captive of the banks it is supposed to regulate. (It has strenuously opposed the efforts of the A.G.’s to penalize the banks and reform the mortgage modification process, for instance.) The banks themselves act as if they have a God-given right to the profit they made precrisis, and owe the country nothing for the trouble they’ve put us all through. The Justice Department has essentially given up trying to make anyone accountable for the crisis.

Thank goodness, then, for the attorneys general — and for Ms. Warren. On Main Street, where the attorneys general operate, it is pretty obvious that problems persist. During the subprime boom, many states tried to stop the worst lending abuses, only to be blocked by federal banking regulators. Now that the country is dealing with the aftermath of those abuses — the rising tide of defaults and foreclosures — it is the attorneys general who are, once again, put in the position of trying to stamp out abuses, this time of the foreclosure process itself.

Their leverage comes from the fact that the banks and their servicing divisions have, in the words of the University of Minnesota law professor Prentiss Cox, “routinely violated basic legal process” by, for instance, not transferring the note after the sale of a home. But in addition to assessing a financial penalty on the banks, the A.G.’s are trying to use the threat of litigation to force the banks to finally deal with defaulting homeowners more fairly and humanely. That is the essence of the settlement proposal that has been floating around. That — and a big push to finally come up with a modification plan that works.

When I spoke to Tom Miller, the Iowa attorney general — and the leader in this 50-state effort — he said that one reason he had asked Ms. Warren for advice was that she had already hired people with genuine expertise that he wanted to take advantage of. But that’s not the only reason. If the banks were to agree to settle the case on the A.G.’s terms, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would be the agency charged with enforcing the terms. So it makes sense to include its current leadership as they work through ideas for a settlement. Besides, the A.G.’s don’t really trust anybody else in the federal government to be on the side of financial consumers. Given their previous experience, why would they? Ms. Warren is the one person in Washington they feel is on the same side they’re on.

The notion that Ms. Warren lacks statutory authority to talk to the attorneys general is an objection so silly it is hard to take seriously. Consulting with the only government officials around who are actually trying to do something for financial consumers is precisely what she ought to be doing. Given that her agency could wind up enforcing the terms, it’s practically a necessity.

As for the idea the Republicans have been spreading talk that the attorneys general are overstepping their bounds by trying to force reform — and a big penalty — on the mortgage servicers, that’s pretty silly, too. As Adam Levitin, a Georgetown law professor, has pointed out on his blog recently, settlements are private agreements between two parties. The banks can accept what the A.G.’s are proposing. Or they negotiate different terms. Or they can reject them outright, and go to court to fight over the proper remedy. It’s really not any different from the multistate tobacco settlement of some years ago, which imposed some minor reforms on the tobacco industry along with a giant financial penalty. Congress had nothing to do with it.

I wish I could say with certainty that the ideas put forth by the attorneys general will finally help ease the foreclosure crisis. I hope they do. Mr. Levitin thought there was a decent likelihood of success; Mr. Cox, a former assistant attorney general himself, was also hopeful — though more skeptical. “So much of it rides on how well it is enforced,” he said.

Which is also why Ms. Warren is the most logical person to be the agency’s initial director: if the settlement does come to pass, no one will understand its terms better, or have a better feel for how to enforce them. Let’s face it: there isn’t anybody in Washington more fearless about standing up to the big banks. No wonder they don’t like her.

As I listened to her on Wednesday, I was struck anew at how clearly she articulates the need for the new bureau. “If there had been a cop on the beat to hold mortgage servicers accountable a half dozen years ago,” she said at one point, “the problems in mortgage servicing would have been found early and fixed while they were still small, long before they became a national scandal.”

Senate Republicans have vowed to block her appointment if President Obama nominates her. Yet even if her nomination goes down in flames, Senate confirmation hearings would be clarifying. Americans would get to hear Ms. Warren explain why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has the potential to help Americans. And they would get to hear Republicans explain why the status quo — including the everyday horror of the foreclosure mess — is just fine.

It has been much noted in recent months that President Obama seems unwilling to start a fight with Republicans. Maybe that’s why he has shied away from nominating Ms. Warren to a job for which she is so clearly suited. But if protecting financial consumers — and helping the millions of Americans struggling to hold onto their homes — isn’t worth fighting for, then what is?

REPUBLICANS GO AFTER ELIZABETH WARREN

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In keeping with the full court press by the mega banks, legislators are following their orders taking aim at anything that could unravel the credit mess, title mess, foreclosure mess and economic crisis in this country. Wall Street is running the show. Maybe somewhere along the line the outrage will grow and there will be a strong backlash against the people of both parties who are following orders.

To make things clear, all Warren wants is transparency and no tricks played against consumers of banking and financial services. That’s it. And that is what Wall Street is opposed to because the more we find out the closer they come to jail time. Once again Wall Street is working hard to take the referees off the playing field so they can bully their way around to steal everyone’s lunch.

Who’s Afraid of Elizabeth Warren?

By SIMON JOHNSON
Today's Economist

Simon Johnson, the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, is the co-author of “13 Bankers.”

The next big political battle in Washington -– whenever the budget debate is declared over –- is likely to feature the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and whether Elizabeth Warren will become its first official head.

Elizabeth Warren, head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told a House subcommittee on Wednesday, Harry Hamburg/Associated Press Elizabeth Warren, head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told a House subcommittee on Wednesday, “We do not envision new rules as the main focus of how the C.F.P.B. can best protect consumers.”

But will this fight feature a classic left vs. right set-piece confirmation showdown in the Senate? Or it will it be resolved with cloaks and daggers closer to the White House – with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner working to prevent Professor Warren’s nomination, or her confirmation if she were nominated?

Ms. Warren was put in charge of establishing the agency by President Obama, but the Treasury retains the powers of the bureau until a permanent director is nominated and confirmed by the Senate — at which point the agency will fall under the authority of the Federal Reserve Board, while operating with a high degree of independence. The president has not yet nominated Ms. Warren to the post nor indicated if he will.

There is much to commend the left vs. right scenario. The Republicans, after all, want to argue that regulation is excessive in general and regulation of financial products is somewhere between unnecessary and dangerous for economic growth in particular.

This theme came up at times during the Dodd-Frank legislative debate on financial regulation last year, but it was largely lost in the larger and more confused conversation.

Now Representative Spencer Bachus, Republican of Alabama, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has Ms. Warren firmly in his sights – with the mortgage settlement negotiations as the flashpoint.

In a recent letter to Secretary Geithner, Mr. Bachus said: “Reports about the role played by political appointees in the Treasury department — including those affiliated” with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “an agency that does not yet have any regulatory or enforcement authority — raise further questions.”

No matter that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau became involved only when the state attorneys general asked for advice. Mr. Bachus is taking the opportunity to follow up on what he said recently: “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

The industry is unhappy because the proposed settlement — or, you could say, its transgressions with regard to foreclosures — could cost them up to $20 billion.

Mr. Bachus would not have a direct voice in any nomination hearing, which is the purview of the Senate, but plenty of Republican senators share his views, including Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking minority member of the Senate Banking Committee. And The Wall Street Journal regularly joins in the chorus opposing Ms. Warren’s views.

Ms. Warren actually represents a much more nuanced view -– arguing that transparency and simplicity, from the perspective of customers, creates a more level playing field and is good for the industry.

Some community bankers seem to be on her side. She is also good at explaining this view, and a confirmation hearing would be the perfect place for the country to witness and hopefully participate in this discussion. (Read her recent speech to the Credit Union National Association or her testimony Wednesday to a House Financial Services subcommittee and make up your own mind.)

As Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and a member of the Senate Banking Committee, pointedly framed the issues for the foreclosure debacle: “No person or company is above the law. And that’s good for capitalism, it’s not antibusiness, and it’s not a minor inconvenience that can be ignored in pursuit of bigger profits.”

But before you set aside time in the early summer for potentially gripping television from Capitol Hill, Ms. Warren has to get past Secretary Geithner.

During the Dodd-Frank debate, Mr. Geithner frequently asserted that “capital, capital, capital” was all we really needed to fix the financial system. Yet his team agreed to the Basel III agreement, which sets a lower bar for equity financing than Lehman Brothers had on the day before it failed. There is no sign that systemically important financial institutions will be required to have a significant extra capital buffer though this has supposedly not yet been decided.

And despite the undecided capital standards and large evident problems still facing banks (the foreclosure fiasco, commercial real estate woes, continuing high unemployment), the Financial Stability Oversight Council — which Mr. Geithner heads — is about to sign off on letting banks increase their dividends.

This makes no sense at all in terms of economic policy. Yet that is Mr. Geithner’s position. (If anyone you know at Treasury thinks this assessment is unfair, I have laid out this case in recent posts.)

And having Ms. Warren on the scene — providing an alternative, pro-consumer perspective — may not be to his liking.

President Obama missed his best opportunity to reform the financial system when advisers — including Mr. Geithner – recommended in March 2009 that he defer to top bankers, as James Kwak and I noted in “13 Bankers.”

His team further punted when they failed to push for real change in the spring and summer of 2010, while the financial-sector legislation was before the Senate.

Mr. Geithner and his people were instrumental in defeating the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which would have limited the size and the leverage (debt relative to equity) of the largest banks in the United States.

Will Mr. Geithner side with the Republicans in blocking Ms. Warren’s appointment? Will he now help prevent Ms. Warren, potentially the most effective modern regulator, from coming up for a vote in the Senate? That remains to be seen.

 

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