Friday, February 08, 2008

Thank You, Mr. Gramm

If there is any one thing that is more irritating than fire-ants, it’s the obvious lack of understanding on the part of news media reporters and their willingness to parrot the public-relations line of the financial industry and certain politicans.

Over and over again, the “problem” of subprime lending is defined as something that must be laid at the feet of “borrowers with less than perfect credit.”

This magical reversal of the laws of reason is akin to being able to push a rope and have something happen at the other end. For those who can’t seem to make this journalistic alchemy work for them, it is more than just frustrating to see Washington, the US Attorneys Offices and Attorneys General throughout the nation get very excited about CDOs, SIVs, hedge funds and the losses on Wall Street while deliberately ignoring the millions of civilian victims of this massive scheme.

The media is more than happy to keep ignoring the real victims. They like to differentiate themselves from the “people with credit problems” by repeating the discriminatory smear as if it were fact.

The fact is, some number of people who shouldn’t have gotten abusive loans got them. A small percentage of those knew they were on thin financial ice but went ahead anyway. But the vast majority of them were set up to pay usurious amounts of interest and are still, even as I write this, making their payments. And they're suffering as a result.

What we’re really seeing is what I call “wealth recapture.” It’s reverse wealth-distribution; Washington likes to take from the rich and give to the poor. In response, the rich figured out how to get it back from the lower-middle and middle classes through the mortgage and credit-card industry and a hopelessly-fraudulent credit-scoring schema that was used to artificially inflate interest rates. There were enough people in Washington who were willing to see the duplicitous nature of the system but not do anything about it.

What most people don’t realize is the roots of this problem can be found with just a little research. Once the industry succeeded in getting rid of usury laws, the game began. And any potential interference was quickly thwarted by among others, one very powerful Senator, Phil Gramm of Texas. With all the warning flags being raised about predatory lending years back, it was Senator Gramm that blocked any meaningful controls with his ‘you can’t regulate it because you can’t define it’ nonsense.

That effectively cleared the playing field of any defenders and the birth of the monster was at hand. The money flowed like water and large amounts of it went to Washington in both campaign contributions and lobbying expenses.

Millionaires were created by the thousands. All while the average person loaded themselves up with exorbitant interest debt because, conveniently, the game was rigged to provide a tax deduction for it, and still is in terms of the mortgage industry.

There was so much money made so quickly that they got even more creative with it. Too creative. And this creativity has come home to roost – for the gamblers who thought they had the game rigged, that is.

But they couldn’t have rigged the game if folks like Phil Gramm hadn’t been willing to protect them early on and folks like Bob Ney weren’t there to cheer them on in the early part of this decade. (Gramm is now with UBS Investment bank and is an economic advisor to John McCain. Ney is serving time.)

Yet we still have the news fools lapping up the industry PR flack’s line about “loose lending standards” being the root cause of the debacle, without finishing the sentence, which should read: “Loose lending standards designed to entrap as many people as possible."

Then there’s the “call your lender if you think you’re going to have trouble with your payment,” dogma. What that provides for most people who’ve already been abused is a quicker ticket to hell. Instead of a bus, you’ll be on the next plane to moving out of your home. First, the servicer they’re supposed to call is the only party who stands to actually make money in the foreclosure process. Everyone else loses, especially the borrower. Worse yet, the alleged workout deals will effectively shield the lender and servicer’s illegal and fraudulent acts.

“You want a lower payment?”


“Here, sign this.”

“But it says I can’t sue you for the violations of the law you’ve already engaged in or might engage in in the future.”

“You want a lower payment?”

“We, well, we, yes."

“Then sign it.”

Neat system, eh Mr. Gramm?

The Honorable Judge Roy Bean