Banks Hedging Their Bets on Wrongful Foreclosures

13 Questions Before You Can Foreclose

foreclosure_standards_42013 — this one works for sure

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The selection of an attorney is an important decision  and should only be made after you have interviewed licensed attorneys familiar with investment banking, securities, property law, consumer law, mortgages, foreclosures, and collection procedures. This site is dedicated to providing those services directly or indirectly through attorneys seeking guidance or assistance in representing consumers and homeowners. We are available to any lawyer seeking assistance anywhere in the country, U.S. possessions and territories. Neil Garfield is a licensed member of the Florida Bar and is qualified to appear as an expert witness or litigator in in several states including the district of Columbia. The information on this blog is general information and should NEVER be considered to be advice on one specific case. Consultation with a licensed attorney is required in this highly complex field.

The need for continuing pressure on state and federal legislators who are relentlessly pursued by Bank lobbyists has never been greater.  Anyone who cares about the state of our economy and the state of our justice system needs to be writing and calling state and federal legislators as well as state and federal agencies to oppose these naked attempts to seal the deal against the homeowners.

Anyone who thinks that our falling bridges and decaying infrastructure is going to be fixed without fixing housing is dreaming. Both the tax revenue and the potential for private investment are severely diminished by the failure of this government and governments around the world to take actual control of the situation, return wealth to those from whom wealth was stolen, and recover taxes from those who have failed to report and pay taxes on transactions that were conducted in the United States but never reported in any detail as to the method utilized to create “off balance sheet” and “offshore” transactions.

Michigan homeowners in foreclosure would have less time to save, sell home under new proposal
http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/05/michigan_homeowners_in_foreclo.html

In Michigan the proposal put forth by the banks would extend the time that borrowers could contest an impending foreclosure but shorten the time that borrowers could attack a wrongful foreclosure seeking monetary damages or to overturn the fraudulent auction sale awarded to a party who submitted a credit bid but who was not a creditor.  It is a tacit admission by the banks that they are doing well before a foreclosure judgment is entered but they are afraid of the consequences after the sale.

The fact that they were not a creditor obviously also brings in the issues of jurisdictional standing and whether they have any potential rights to initiate foreclosure. The confusion here is closed by rulings in many states which seem to indicate that almost anyone can initiate a foreclosure proceeding. The mistake made by both pro se litigants and attorneys for homeowners is that they concede the rest of the case once a decision is made that a non-creditor can initiate foreclosure proceedings.

In the initial phase of litigation those early motions will obviously have an effect on the momentum of the case in favor of either the banks or the borrowers. But the fact remains that if the party initiating the foreclosure was doing so in a representative capacity, or if they were doing so in their own name lacking any history or facts supporting their assertions of being a “holder” then the point needs to be made to the court that there is no creditor based upon any evidence in the court record who can submit a credit bid.

The court is presented then with the choice of either dismissing the case because of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter and potentially lack of jurisdiction over the parties or entering a final order or judgment allowing the foreclosure to proceed but stipulating that the party conducting the auction may not accept a credit bid  in the absence of uncontested proof of payment, proof of loss and proof of ownership of the loan receivable. This step has less far been ignored in nearly all cases of foreclosure litigation throughout the country. It is time to invoke it.

The initiative in Michigan reflects the tacit admission of the banks that while they can still easily prevail in pre-judgment motions, they are highly vulnerable to enormous liabilities after the sale of the property at auction or at a closing table. The fact remains that they must show a canceled check, wire transfer receipts, ACH confirmation or check 21 confirmation in order to establish the loss;  in addition, they must show the same facts for each and every predecessor in the alleged securitization chain which we already know has been falsely presented.

 By hammering on the money trail, you will be educating the judge as to the difference between the actual transactions in which money was exchanged or in which consideration was exchanged and the paper  documents that refer to transactions which never actually occurred. Each transaction requires, for enforcement, and offer, acceptance and consideration. If you closely examine the documents used by the banks in the falsely presented securitization chain you might find an offer but you probably won’t find acceptance and you definitely won’t find consideration. The same holds true in the origination of the loan wherein the designated payee and secured party had nothing to do with the funding of the original loan. It is all smoke and mirrors.

The point needs to be made that if the judge is all fired up about whether or not the borrower made payments that the attorney representing the homeowner agrees that payments are an important issue which is why he is requiring the other side to present proof of their payments to creditors and their receipt of payments from parties other than the borrower. Your argument is obviously that either payments matter where they don’t. It should be pointed out to the judge that a double standard is being applied if the borrower’s payments are at issue but the so-called lenders’ payments and receipts are out of bounds. The point should also be made that rather than arguing about it, if there was no defect in the money trail and if there was therefore complete compliance between the money trail in the document trail, the party initiating foreclosure should be more than anxious to display the canceled check and end the debate.

JPMorgan exposed: Company found guilty of masterminding ‘manipulative schemes’
http://www.naturalnews.com/040481_JP_Morgan_Jamie_Dimon_too_big_to_fail.html

Wasted wealth – The ongoing foreclosure crisis that never had to happen – The Hill’s Congress Blog
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/301415-wasted-wealth–the-ongoing-foreclosure-crisis-that-never-had-to-happen

Negative Home Equity Still Plagues 13 Million Mortgage Loans
http://247wallst.com/2013/05/23/negative-home-equity-still-plagues-13-million-mortgage-loans/

Jon Stewart Tears Apart Obama, DOJ For Prosecuting Whistleblowers And Potheads But Not Bankers
http://www.mediaite.com/tv/jon-stewart-tears-apart-obama-doj-for-prosecuting-whistleblowers-and-potheads-but-not-bankers/

How Many People Have Lost Their Homes? US Home Foreclosures are Comparable to the Great Depression
http://www.globalresearch.ca/how-many-people-have-lost-their-homes-us-home-foreclosures-are-comparable-to-the-great-depression/5335430

As Of This Moment Ben Bernanke Own 30.5% Of The US Treasury Market… And Will Own All By 2018
http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-05-23/moment-ben-bernanke-own-305-us-treasury-market-and-will-own-all-2018

Banks Trying to Get Bill Through Congress Protecting MERS

Editor’s Comment: It is no small wonder that the banks are scared. After all they created MERS and they control MERS and many of them own MERS. The Washington Supreme Court ruling leaves little doubt that MERS is a sham, leaving even less doubt that an industry is sprouting up for wrongful foreclosure in which trillions of dollars are at stake.

The mortgages that were used for foreclosure are, in my opinion, and in the opinion of a growing number of courts and lawyers and regulatory agencies around the country, State and Federal, were fatally defective and that leads to the conclusion that (1) the foreclosures can be overturned and (2) millions of dollars in damages might be payable to those homeowners who were foreclosed and evicted from homes they legally owned.

But the problem for the megabanks is even worse than that. If the mortgages were defective (deeds of trust in some states), then the money collected by the banks from insurance, credit default swaps, federal bailouts and buyouts and other hedge instruments pose an enormous liability to the large banks that promulgated this scam known as securitization where the last thing they had in mind was securitization. In many cases, the loans were effectively sold multiple times thus creating a liability not only to the borrower that illegally had his home seized but a geometrically higher liability to other financial institutions and governments and investors for selling them toxic waste.

There is a reason that that the bailout is measured at $17 trillion and it isn’t because those are losses caused by defaults in mortgages which appear to total less than 10% of that amount. The total of ALL mortgages during that period that are subject to claims of securitization (false claims, in my opinion) was only $13 trillion. So why was the $17 trillion bailout $4 trillion more than all the mortgages put together, most of which are current on their payments?

The reason is that some bets went well, in which case the banks kept the profits and didn’t tell the investors about it even though it was investor with which money they were betting.

If the loan went sour, or the Master Servicer, in its own interest, declared that the value of the pool had been diminished by a higher than expected default rate, then the insurance contract and credit default contract REQUIRED payment even though most of the loans were intact. Of course we now know that the loans were probably never in the pools anyway.

The bets that ended up in losses were tossed over the fence at the Federal Government and the bets that were “good” ended up with the insurers (AIG, AMBAC) having to pay out more money than they were worth. Enter the Federal Government again to make up the difference where the banks collected 100 cents on the dollar, didn’t tell the investors and declared the loans in default anyway and then proceeded to foreclose.

The banks’ answer to this knotty problem is predictable. Overturn the Washington Supreme Court case and others like it appellate and trial courts around the country by having Congress declare that the MERS transactions were valid. The biggest hurdle they must overcome is not a paperwork problem —- it is a money problem.

In many if not most cases, neither MERS nor the named payee on the note nor the “lender” identified on the note and mortgage had loaned any money at all. Even the banks are saying that the loans are owned by the “Trusts” but it now appears as though the trusts were never funded by either money or loans and that there were no bank accounts or any other accounts for those pools.

That leaves nothing but nominees for unidentified parties in all the blank spaces on the note and mortgage, whose terms were different than the payback provisions promised to the investor lenders. And THAT means that much of the assets carried on the books of the banks are simply worthless and non-existent AND that there is a liability associated with those transactions that is geometrically higher than the false assets that the banks are reporting.

So the question comes down to this: will Congress try to save MERS? (I.e., will they try to save the banks again with a legal bailout?). Will the effort even be constitutional since it deals with property required to be governed under States’ rights under the constitution or are we going to forget the Constitution and save the banks at all costs?

When you cast your ballot in November, remember to look at the candidates you are considering. If they are aligned with the banks, we can expect slashed pension benefits next year along with a whole new round of housing and economic decline.

mers-is-dead-can-be-sued-for-fraud-wa-supreme-court.html

Bribery or Business as Usual?

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Editor’s Comment and Analysis:

There is only one way this isn’t an outright bribe that should land the senator in jail — and that is proving that he received nothing of value. Stories abound in the media about haircut rates given to members of government particularly by Countrywide, now owned by Bank of America. Now we see it on the way down where others go through hoops and ladders to get a modification of short-sale but members of Congress get special treatment.

The only way this could be considered nothing of value is if the banks that gave this favor knew that they didn’t lend the money, didn’t purchase the loan and didn’t have a dime in the deal. They can prove it but they won’t because the fallout would be that there are no loans in print and that there are no perfected mortgage loans. The consequence is that there can be no foreclosures. And it would mean that the values carried on the books of these banks are eihter overstated or entirely fictiouos. The general consensus is that capital requirments for the banks should be higher. But what if the capital they are reporting doesn’t exist?

We are seeing practically everyday how Congress is bought off by the Banks and yet we do nothing. How can you expect to be taken seriously by the executive branch and the judicial branch of goveornment charged with enforcing the laws? If you are doing nothing and complaining, it’s time to get off the couch and do something with the Occupy Movement or your own private war with the banks. If you are not complaining, you should be — because this tsunami is about to hit the front door of your house too whether you are making the payments or not.

The power of the new aristocracy in American and European politics is felt around the globe. People are suffering in the U.S., Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and other places because the smaller banks in all those countries got taken to the cleaners by huge conglomerate Wall Street Banks. Ireland is reporting foreclosures and defaults at record rates. It was fraud with an effect far greater than any other act of domestic or international terrorism. And it isn’t just about money either. Suicides, domestic violence ending in death and mental illness are pandemic. And nobody cares about the little guy because the little guy is just fuel for the endless appetite of Wall Street. 

If Obama rreally wants to galvanize the electorate, he must be proactive on the fierce urgency of NOW! Those were his words when he was a candidate and he owes us action because that urgency was felt in 2008 and is a vice around everyone’s neck now.

JPMorgan Chase & the Senator’s Short Sale:

It’s Hypocritical –But Is It Corrupt?

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

There’s a lot we have yet to learn about the story of Sen. Mike Lee, Tea Party Republican of Utah, and America’s largest bank. But we already know something’s very, very wrong:

Why is it that most Americans can’t get a principal reduction from Chase or any other bank, but JPMorgan Chase was so very flexible with a sitting member of the United States Senate?

The hypocrisy from Sen. Lee and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon overfloweth. But does the Case of the Senator’s Short Sale rise to the level of full-blown corruption? We won’t know until we get some answers.

People should be demanding those answers now.

When Jamie Met Mike

It’s not a pretty picture: In one corner is the Senator who wants to strike down Federal child labor laws and offer American residency to any non-citizen who buys a home with cash. In the other is the bank whose CEO said that the best way to relieve the crushing burden of debt on homeowners is by seizing their homes.

“Giving debt relief to people that really need it,” said Dimon, “that’s what foreclosure is.” That comment is Dickensian in its insensitivity – and Dimon’s bank offered real relief to the Senator from Utah.

The story of the short sale on Sen. Mike Lee’s home broke broke shortly not long after the world learned that JPM lost billions of dollars through trading that might have been illegal, and about which it certainly misled investors.

A Senator who doesn’t believe in child labor laws, and a crime-plagued bank that was just plunged into a trading scandal after losing billions in the London markets.

Why, they were practically made for one another.

Here in the Real World

This was also the week we learned from Zillow, one of the nation’s leading real estate data companies, that there are far more underwater homeowners than previously thought. Zillow collated all the information on home loans, including second mortgages, in order to develop this larger and more accurate number.

The new estimated amount of negative equity – money owed to the banks for non-existent home value – is $1.2 trillion.

Zillow found that nearly 16 million homeowners, representing roughly a third of all homes with a mortgage, were “underwater” (meaning they owe more than the home is now worth). That’s about 50 percent more than had been previously believed. Many of these homeowners are desperate for principal reduction, which would allow them to get back on their feet.

Banks can reduce the amount owed to reflect the current value of the house, which would lower monthly payments for many struggling homeowners. Another option is the “short sale,” in which the bank lets them sell the house for its current value and walk away. That would allow many of them to relocate in search of work.

But the banks, along with their allies in Washington DC, have been fighting principal reduction and resisting any attempts to increase the number of short sales. They remain out of reach for most struggling homeowners.

Mike’s Deal

But Mike Lee didn’t have that problem. Lee was elected to the Senate after buying his luxury home in Alpine, Utah at the height of the real estate boom. JPMorgan Chase agreed to a short sale, and it sold for nearly $400,000 less than the price Lee paid for it four years ago.

Sen. Lee says that he made a down payment on the home, although he hasn’t said how much was involved. But if he paid 15 percent down and put it $150,000, for example, then the Senator from Utah was just allowed to walk away from a quarter of a million dollars in debt obligations to JPMorgan Chase.

Let’s see: A troubled bank gives a sitting member of the United States Senate an advantageous deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? You’d think a story like that would get a little more attention than it has so far.

The Right’s Outrageous Hypocrisy

We haven’t seen this much hypocrisy in the real estate world since the Mortgage Bankers Association walked away from loans on its own headquarters even as its CEO, John Courson, was lecturing Americans their “legal obligation” and the terrible “message they would send” by walking away from their mortgages.

Then he did a short sale on the MBA’s headquarters. It sold for a reported $41 million, just three years after the MBA – those captains of real estate – paid $74 million for it.

The MBA calls itself “the voice of the mortgage banking industry.”

The hypocrisy may be even greater in this case. Sen. Mike Lee is a member in good standing of the Tea Party, a movement which began on the floor of Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a protest against the idea that the government might help underwater homeowners, even though many of the angry traders had enriched themselves thanks to government bailouts.

When their ringleader mentioned households struggling with negative equity, these first members of the Tea Party broke into a chant: “Losers! Losers! Losers!”

Mike Lee’s Outrageous Hypocrisy

Which gets us to Mike Lee. Lee accepted a handout of JPMorgan Chase after voting to end unemployment for jobless Americans. Lee also argued against Federal child labor laws, although he did acknowledge that child labor is “reprehensible.”

How big a hypocrite is Mike Lee? His website (which, curiously enough, went down as we wrote these words) says he believes “the federal government’s out-of-control spending has evolved into a major threat to our economic prosperity and job creation” and that he came to Washington to, among other things, “properly manage our finances”. Lee’s website also scolds Congress because, he says, it “cannot live within its means.”

As Ed McMahon used to say, “Write your own joke.”

Needless to say, Lee also advocates drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare while pushing lower taxes for the wealthy – and plumping for exactly the same kind of deregulation which let bankers to run amok and wreck the economy in 2008 by doing things like … well, like what JPMorgan Chase just did in London.

“Give Me Your Wired, Your Wealthy, Your Upper Classes Yearning to Buy Cheap”

Lee has also co-sponsored a bill with Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senator from Wall Street New York, that would grant US residency to foreigners who purchase a home worth at least $500,000 – as long as they paid cash.

The Lee/Schumer bill would be a big boon to US banks – banks, in fact, like JPMorgan Chase. If it passes, the Statue of Liberty may need to be reshaped so that Lady Liberty is holding a book of real estate listings in her right hand while wearing a hat that reads “Million Dollar Sellers’ Club.”

Mike Lee’s bill would also have propped up the luxury home market, offering a big financial boost to people who are struggling to hold to the equity they’ve put into high-end homes, people like … well, like Mike Lee.

Jamie Dimon’s Outrageous Hypocrisy

Then there’s Jamie Dimon, who spoke for his fellow bankers during negotiations that led up to the very cushy $25 billion settlement that let banks like his off the hook for widespread lawbreaking in their foreclosure fraud crime wave.

“Yeah,” Dimon said of principal reductions for homeowners like Sen. Lee, “that’s off the table.”

Dimon’s been resisting global solutions to the negative equity problems for years. He said in 2010 that he preferred to make decisions about homeowners on a “loan by loan” basis.

The Rich Are Different – They Have More Mortgage Relief

“The rich are different,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, and (in a quote often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway) literary critic Mary Colum observed that ” the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.”

And they apparently find it a lot easier to walk away from their underwater homes.There’s been a dramatic increase in short sales lately, and the evidence suggests that most of the deals have been going to luxury homeowners. Among other things, this trend toward high-end short sales the lie to the popular idea that bankers and their allies don’t want to “reward the underserving,” since hedge fund traders who overestimated next year’s bonus are clearly less deserving than working families who purchased a modest home for themselves.

Nevertheless, that’s where most of the debt relief seems to be going: to the wealthy, and not to the middle class.

Guess that’s what happens when loan officers working for Dimon and other Wall Street CEOs handle these matters on a “loan by loan” basis.

Immoral Logic

While this “loan by loan” approach lacks morality, there’s some financial logic to it. Banks typically have a lot more money at risk in an underwater luxury home than they do in more modest houses. A short sale provides them with a way to clear things up, recoup what they can, and get their books in a little more order than before. That’s why JPMorgan Chase has been offering selected borrowers up to $35,000 to accept short sales. You can bet they’re not offering that deal to middle class families.

There are other reasons to offer short sales to the wealthy: JPM, like all big banks, is pursuing very-high-end banking clients more aggressively than ever. That’s where the profits are. So why alienate a high-value client when they may offer you the opportunity to recoup losses elsewhere?

(“Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Dimon, but it’s London calling.”)

Corruption Or Not: The Questions

Both the bank and the Senator need to answer some questions about this deal. Here’s what the public deserves to know:

Could the writedown on the home’s value be considered an in-kind gift to a sitting Senator?

If so, then we have a very real scandal on our hands. But we don’t know enough to answer that question yet.

What are JPMorgan Chase’s procedures for deciding who receives mortgage relief and who doesn’t?

Dimon may prefer to handle these matters on a “loan by loan” basis, but there must be guidelines that bank officers can follow. And presumably they’ve been written down somewhere. Were they followed in Mike Lee’s case?

Who was involved in the decision to offer this deal to Mike Lee?

Offering mortgage relief to a sitting Senator is, to borrow a phrase, “a big elfin’ deal.” A mid-level bank officer isn’t likely to handle a case like this without taking it up the chain of command. So who made the final decision on Mike Lee’s mortgage?

It wouldn’t be unheard of if a a sensitive matter like this one was escalated to all the way to the company’s most senior executive – especially if that executive has eliminated any checks on his power, much less any independent input from shareholders, by serving as both the Chair(man) of the Board and the CEO.

In this, as in so many of JPM’s scandals, the question must be asked: What did Jamie know, and when did he know it?

Is Mike Lee a “Friend of Jamie”?

Which raises a related question: Is there is a formal or informal list of people for whom JPM employees are directed to give preferential treatment?

Everybody remembers the scandal that surrounded Sen. Chris Dodd when it was learned that his mortgage was given favorable treatment by Countrywide – even though the Senator apparently knew nothing about it at the time. The world soon learned then that Countrywide had a VIP program called “Friends of Angelo,” named for CEO Angelo Mozilo, and those who were on the list got special treatment.

Is there a “Friends of Jamie” list at JPMorgan Chase – and is Mike Lee’s name on it?

Were there any discussions between the bank’s executives and the Senator regarding the foreign home buyer’s bill or any other legislation that affected Wall Street?

Until this question is answered the issue of a possible quid pro quo will hang over both the Senator and JPMorgan Chase.

Seriously, guys – this doesn’t look good.

Was MERS used to evade state taxes and recording requirements on Sen. Lee’s home? 

JPMorgan Chase funded, and was an active participant, in the “MERS” program which was used, among other things, to bypass local taxes and legal requirements for recording titles.

As we wrote when we reviewed hundreds of internal MERS documents, MERS was instrumental in allowing banks to bundle and sell mortgage-backed securities in a way that led directly to the financial crisis of 2008. It also helped bankers artificially inflate real estate prices, encourage homeowners to take out loans at bubble prices, and then leave them holding the note (as underwater homeowners) after the collapse of national real estate values that they had artificially pumped up.

“Today’s Wall Street Corruption Fun Fact”: MERS was operated by the Mortgage Bankers Association – the same group of real estate geniuses who lost $30 million on a single building in three years, then gave a little lecture on morality to the homeowners they’d been so instrumental in shafting.

Q&A

I was also asked some very reasonable questions by a policy advocacy group. Here they are, with my answers:

If this happened to the average American, would they be able to walk away from the mortgage as well?

If by “average American” you mean “most homeowners,” then the answer is: No. Although short sales are on the rise, most underwater homeowners have not been given the option of going through a short sale. Mike Lee was. The question is, why?

Will Mike Lee’s credit rating be adversely affected?

This is a very important question. The credit rating industry serves banks, not consumers, and it operates at their beck and call.

The answer to this question depends on how JPM handled the paperwork. Many (and probably most) homeowners involved in a short sale take a hit to their credit rating. If Lee did not, it smacks of special treatment.

Given the fact that it was JPMorgan who financed the loss, does that mean, indirectly through the bailout, that the taxpayers paid for Lee’s mortgage write-off?

That gets tricky – but in a moral sense, you could certainly say that.

Short Selling Democracy

There’s no question that this deal is hypocritical and ugly, and that it reflects much of what’s still broken about both our politics and Wall Street. Is it a scandal? Without these answers we can’t know. This was either a case of the special treatment that is so often reserved for the wealthy, or it’s something even worse: influence peddling and political corruption.

it’s time for JPMorgan Chase and Sen. Mike Lee to come clean about this deal. If they did nothing wrong, they have nothing to hide. Either way the public’s entitled to some answers.


Student Loans Are The Next Major Crack in Our Finance

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Disclosure to Student Borrowers: www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/opinion/sunday/disclosure-to-student-borrowers.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

Editor’s Comment: 

“We have created a world of finance in which it is more lucrative to lose money and get paid by the government, than to make money and contribute to society.  In the Soviet Union the government ostensibly owned everything; in America the government is a vehicle for the banks to own everything.”—Neil F Garfield LivingLies.me

While the story below is far too kind to both Dimon and JPMorgan, it hits the bulls-eye on the current trends. And if we think that it will stop at student loans we are kidding ourselves or worse. The entire student loan mess, totaling more than $1 trillion now, was again caused by the false use of Securitzation, the abuse of government guaranteed loans, and the misinterpretation of the rules governing discharge ability of debt in bankruptcy.

First we had student loans in which the government provided financing so that our population would maintain its superior position of education, innovation and the brains of the world in getting technological and mechanical things to work right, work well and create new opportunities.

Then the banks moved in and said we will provide the loans. But there was a catch. Instead of the “private student” loan being low interest, it became a vehicle for raising rates to credit card levels — meaning the chance of anyone being able to repay the loan principal was correspondingly diminished by the increase in the payments of interest.

So the banks made sure that they couldn’t lose money by (a) selling off the debt in securitization packages and (b) passing along the government guarantee of the debt.  This was combined with the nondischargability of the debt in bankruptcy to the investors who purchased these seemingly high value high yielding bonds from noncapitalized entities that had absolutely no capacity to pay off the bonds.  The only way these issuers of student debt bonds could even hope to pay the interest or the principal was by using the investors’ own money, or by receiving the money from one of several sources — only one of which was the student borrower.

The fact that the banks managed to buy congressional support to insert themselves into the student loan process is stupid enough. But things got worse than that for the students, their families and the taxpayers. It’s as though the courts got stupid when these exotic forms of finance hit the market.

Here is the bottom line: students who took private loans were encouraged and sold on an aggressive basis to borrow money not only for tuition and books, but for housing and living expenses that could have been covered in part by part-time work. So, like the housing mess, Wall Street was aggressively selling money based upon eventual taxpayer bailouts.

Next, the banks, disregarding the reason for government guaranteed loans or exemption from discharge ability of student loan debt, elected to change the risk through securitization. Not only were the banks not on the hook, but they were once again betting on what they already knew — there was no way these loans were going to get repaid because the amount of the loans far exceeded the value of the potential jobs. In short, the same story as appraisal fraud of the homes, where the prices of homes and loans were artificially inflated while the values were declining at precipitous rate.

Like the housing fraud, the securitization was merely trick accounting without any real documentation or justification.  There are two final results that should happen but can’t because Congress is virtually owned by the banks. First, the guarantee should not apply if the risk intended to be protected is no longer present or has significantly changed. And second, with the guarantee gone, there is no reason to maintain the exemption by which student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Based on current law and cases, these are obvious conclusions that will be probably never happen. Instead, the banks will claim losses that are not their own, collect taxpayer guarantees or bailouts, and receive proceeds of insurance, credit default swaps and other credit enhancements.

Congratulations. We have created a world of finance in which it is more lucrative to lose money and get paid by the government, than to make money and contribute to the society for which these banks are allowed to exist ostensibly for the purpose of providing capital to a growing economy. So the economy is in the toilet and the government keeps paying the banks to slap us.

Did JPMorgan Pop The Student Loan Bubble?

Back in 2006, contrary to conventional wisdom, many financial professionals were well aware of the subprime bubble, and that the trajectory of home prices was unsustainable. However, because there was no way to know just when it would pop, few if any dared to bet against the herd (those who did, and did so early despite all odds, made greater than 100-1 returns). Fast forward to today, when the most comparable to subprime, cheap credit-induced bubble, is that of student loans (for extended literature on why the non-dischargeable student loan bubble will “create a generation of wage slavery” read this and much of the easily accessible literature on the topic elsewhere) which have now surpassed $1 trillion in notional. Yet oddly enough, just like in the case of the subprime bubble, so in the ongoing expansion of the credit bubble manifested in this case by student loans, we have an early warning that the party is almost over, coming from the most unexpected of sources: JPMorgan.

Recall that in October 2006, 5 months before New Century started the March 2007 collapsing dominoes that ultimately translated to the bursting of both the housing and credit bubbles several short months later, culminating with the failure of Bear, Lehman, AIG, The Reserve Fund, and the near end of capitalism ‘we know it’, it was JPMorgan who sounded a red alert, and proceeded to pull entirely out of the Subprime space. From Fortune, two weeks before the Lehman failure: “It was the second week of October 2006. William King, then J.P. Morgan’s chief of securitized products, was vacationing in Rwanda. One evening CEO Jamie Dimon tracked him down to fire a red alert. “Billy, I really want you to watch out for subprime!” Dimon’s voice crackled over King’s hotel phone. “We need to sell a lot of our positions. I’ve seen it before. This stuff could go up in smoke!” Dimon was right (as was Goldman, but that’s another story), while most of his competitors piled on into this latest ponzi scheme of epic greed, whose only resolution would be a wholesale taxpayer bailout. We all know how that chapter ended (or hasn’t – after all everyone is still demanding another $1 trillion from the Fed at least to get their S&P limit up fix, and then another, and another). And now, over 5 years later, history repeats itself: JPM is officially getting out of student loans. If history serves, what happens next will not be pretty.

American Banker brings us the full story:

U.S. Bancorp (USB) is pulling out of the private student loans market and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is sharply reducing its lending, as banking regulators step up their scrutiny of the products.

JPMorgan Chase will limit student lending to existing customers starting in July, a bank spokesman told American Banker on Friday. The bank laid off 24 employees who make sales calls to colleges as part of its decision.

The official reason:

“The private student loan market is continuing to decline, so we decided to focus on Chase customers,” spokesman Thomas Kelly says.

Ah yes, focusing on customers, and providing liquidity no doubt, courtesy of Blythe Masters. Joking aside, what JPMorgan is explicitly telling us is that it can’t make money lending out to the one group of the population where demand for credit money is virtually infinite (after all 46% of America’s 16-24 year olds are out of a job: what else are they going to?), and furthermore, with debt being non-dischargable, this is about as safe a carry trade as any, even when faced with the prospect of bankruptcy. What JPM is implicitly saying, is that the party is over, and all private sector originators are hunkering down, in anticipation of the hammer falling. Or if they aren’t, they should be.

JPM is not alone:

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank sent a letter to participating colleges and universities saying that it would no longer be accepting student loan applications as of March 29, a spokesman told American Banker on Friday.

“We are in fact exiting the private student lending business,” U.S. Bank spokesman Thomas Joyce said, adding that the bank’s business was too small to be worthwhile.

“The reasoning is we’re a very small player, less than 1.5% of market share,” Joyce adds. “It’s a very small business for the bank, and we’ve decided to make a strategic shift and move resources.”

Which, however, is not to say that there will be no source of student loans. On Friday alone we found out that in February the US government added another $11 billion in student debt to the Federal tally, a run-rate which is now well over $10 billion a month an accelerating: a rate of change which is almost as great as the increase in Apple market cap. So who will be left picking up the pieces? Why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, funded by none other than Ben Bernanke, and headed by the same Richard Cordray that Obama shoved into his spot over Republican protests, when taking advantage of a recessed Congress.

“What we are likely to see over the next few months is a lot of private education lenders rethinking the product, particularly if it appears that the CFPB is going to become more activist,” says Kevin Petrasic, a partner with law firm Paul Hastings.

“Historically there’s been a patchwork of regulation towards private student lenders,” he adds. “The CFPB allows for a more uniform and consistent approach and identification of the issues. It also provides a network, effectively a data-gathering base that is going to enable the agency to get all the stories that are out there.”

The CFPB recently began accepting student loan complaints on its website.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of emphasis and focus … in terms of what is deemed to be fair and what is over the line with collections and marketing,” Petrasic says, warning that “the challenge for the CFPB in this area is going to be trying to figure out how to set consumer protection standards without essentially eviscerating availability of the product.”

And with all private players stepping out very actively, it only leaves the government, with its extensive system of ‘checks and balances’, to hand out loans to America’s ever more destitute students, with the reckless abandon of a Wells Fargo NINJA-specialized loan officer in 2005. What will be hilarious in 2014, when taxpayers are fuming at the latest multi-trillion bailout, now that we know that $270 billion in student loans are at least 30 days delinquent which can only have one very sad ending, is that the government will have no evil banker scapegoats to blame loose lending standards on. And why would they: after all it is this administration’s sworn Keynesian duty to make every student a debt slave in perpetuity, but only after they buy a lifetime supply of iPads. Then again by 2014 we will have far greater problems (and for most in the administration, it will be “someone else’s problem”).

For now, our advice – just do what Jamie Dimon is doing: duck and hide for cover.

Oh, and if there is a cheap student loan synthetic short out there, which has the same upside potential as the ABX did in late 2006, please advise.

GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS NEGOTIATING (SELL-OUT!) WITH BANKS AND TAKING POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS SIMULTANEOUSLY

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EDITOR’S COMMENT: WHAT ARE THEY NEGOTIATING ABOUT AND WITH WHOM ARE THEY NEGOTIATING? This is theater in the most absurd. Our government is negotiating with the very people who have demonstrated that they must fabricate and forge documents in order to establish their authority to do anything. Even in hostage negotiations we don’t give as much as we are giving to the servicers. They have no authority.

By definition they don’t own the obligation which means the obligation of the borrower is not owed to them. They are not the authorized agent of the real owner of the obligation until the real owner is identified and says they give authority to the agent to negotiate on their behalf.

Those documents don’t exist because those facts don’t exist. The investors are not going to give the servicers anything. If they were going to do that it would have happened en masse and avoided lots of paperwork problems for the banks. If it were not for political contributions, thousands of people would be headed for jail cells.

Instead we are negotiating away the future of America — for what? All homeowners are affected by these negotiations because when the so called honest Joe Homeowner goes to sell his home he is going to be hopping mad that not only can’t he deliver marketable title, he now has nobody to sue because the government sold him out. AND he still can’t sell his house because there is no way to clear up title.

These negotiations are a farce because down the road, they will be meaningless except that they will have added time to the already corrupted title registries across the country.

Mortgage servicers spend millions on political contributions

Banks under scrutiny as housing crisis festers

Posted Aug 8, 2011, 2:55 pm

Michael Hudson & Aaron Mehta Center for Public Integrity

As the financial markets roil, one of the critical factors weighing down the U.S. economy is the flood of home foreclosures. Thursday’s crash underscores how difficult it will be for the economy to make significant strides while the housing market is still in tatters.

The pace of the housing market recovery may depend in part on the outcome of intense negotiations underway among state and federal authorities and the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers.

Government officials are negotiating with the firms — Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, Wells Fargo & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. — over allegations of widespread abuses in the foreclosure process. State attorneys general around the country have been investigating evidence that the big banks used falsified documentation to process foreclosures.

Four of the five companies under scrutiny—Bank of America, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — are major donors for state and federal political campaigns. Between them, they have donated at least $8 million since the start of 2009 to candidates, party committees and other political action committees, according to an iWatch News analysis of campaign finance data.

(Ally Financial hasn’t given money during that period to campaigns under its current name or is previous name, General Motors Acceptance Corp., or GMAC).

The fate of foreclosure negotiations could go a long way toward determining where the housing market will go in the next few years.

Normally, the housing market plays a leading role in any economic recovery. But that hasn’t been the case in the aftermath of the U.S. financial crisis of 2008.

“It’s has been a negative factor in this recovery — or lack of recovery,” housing economist and consultant Michael Carliner said.

Generally, when interest rates go down, that spurs the mortgage and housing markets and helps move the economy in the right direction. But that hasn’t happened this time around, said Carliner, a former economist for the National Association of Home Builders. “We have lowest mortgage rates since the early 1950s and it’s not doing anything,” he said.

Interest rates on 30-year fixed rate mortgages averaged 4.39 percent for the week ending Aug. 4, according to a survey by mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

What’s holding back the housing market, Carliner said, is a glut of available homes for sale, due in part to overbuilding during the housing boom and to continuing foreclosure woes. An “excess inventory” of perhaps 2 million homes is making it hard for the housing market to get going again, he said.

The inventory of foreclosures continues to grow. In June, one out of every 583 housing units in the United States received a foreclosure notice, according to data provider Realty Trac. The numbers are even worse in the hardest hit markets, where housing prices climbed the fastest during the housing boom and fell the most when the housing crash came. In Nevada, one out of every 114 housing units was the subject of a foreclosure filing in June.

Investigations and negotiations over allegations of fraudulent foreclosure practices by big banks have helped slow down the foreclosure process, making it harder for the market to work through defaults and readjust, Carliner said.

He would like to see a deal between government officials and mortgage servicers that would pave the way to swifter foreclosures that would help put the foreclosure problem in the past. “If people haven’t paid their mortgages in two years, they shouldn’t be able to keep their house,” Carliner said.

Not everyone agrees.

Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, a consumer attorneys group, argues that any national settlement should be about keeping people in their homes. He wants a settlement that would require banks to reduce the amount of mortgage debt held by distressed homeowners.

Reducing their payments and overall debts would help keep them in their homes and reduce the number of foreclosures, he said. It would also provide a measure of justice, he said, for homeowners who were defrauded via bait-and-switch salesmanship, falsified documentation and other predatory tactics that were common during the mortgage frenzy of the past decade.

Rheingold acknowledges, though, that extracting large concessions from big banks will be a “tough slog.”

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The banks have high-powered legal talent and lobbyists on their side, and four of the top five mortgage services have given generously to state and federal political campaigns, according to an iWatch News analysis of election data provided by the subscription-only CQMoneyLine. 

  • Since the start of 2009, Bank of America has donated at least $3.2 million to candidates, party committees and other PACs. Among the top recipients was Rep. Jeb Hensarling (at least $17,500), a Texas Republican who is vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Another Texan Republican, Randy Neugebauer , received at least $16,000 from the financial giant. Neugebauer also serves on the Financial Services Committee, and chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
  • JPMorgan Chase has donated over $ 2.8 million to candidates, party committees and other PACs since the start of 2009. The firm has made donations to the Republican Governors Association (at least $50,000), the National Republican Senatorial Committee (at least $45,000) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (at least $45,000), the Democratic Governors Association (at least $25,000) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (at least $15,000). The firm also donated at least $15,000 to the Blue Dog PAC, the fundraising arm of the Blue Dog Democrats who were vital to financial corporations when the Democrats controlled the House.
  • and ranking member on the financial services committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.
  • Wells Fargo gave over $1 million to candidates, party committees and other PACs since the start of 2009. Wells Fargo has given at least $45,000 each to the NRCC and NRSC and at least $30,000 each to the DSCC and DCCC. It also donated at least $17,000 to Rep. Ed Royce , a California Republican who serves on the Financial Services committee. Another top recipient was Democrat Carolyn Maloney of New York, the vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee
  • Citigroup has given $850,000 to candidates, party committees and other PACs since the start of 2009. Among its top individual recipients is Democrat Gregory Meeks of New York. Meeks, who sits on the House Committee on Financial Services, has received at least $10,000 from Citi. Another is Ohio Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi (at least $15,000), a member of the powerful Ways and Means committee. Tiberi is currently the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Select Revenue, which has jurisdiction over federal tax policy.

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Barofsky: HOW TARP FAILED HOMEOWNERS

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“The act’s emphasis on preserving homeownership was particularly vital to passage. Congress was told that TARP would be used to purchase up to $700 billion of mortgages, and, to obtain the necessary votes, Treasury promised that it would modify those mortgages to assist struggling homeowners. Indeed, the act expressly directs the department to do just that.”


Where the Bailout Went Wrong

By NEIL M. BAROFSKY

Washington

TWO and a half years ago, Congress passed the legislation that bailed out the country’s banks. The government has declared its mission accomplished, calling the program remarkably effective “by any objective measure.” On my last day as the special inspector general of the bailout program, I regret to say that I strongly disagree. The bank bailout, more formally called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, failed to meet some of its most important goals.

From the perspective of the largest financial institutions, the glowing assessment is warranted: billions of dollars in taxpayer money allowed institutions that were on the brink of collapse not only to survive but even to flourish. These banks now enjoy record profits and the seemingly permanent competitive advantage that accompanies being deemed “too big to fail.”

Though there is no question that the country benefited by avoiding a meltdown of the financial system, this cannot be the only yardstick by which TARP’s legacy is measured. The legislation that created TARP, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, had far broader goals, including protecting home values and preserving homeownership.

These Main Street-oriented goals were not, as the Treasury Department is now suggesting, mere window dressing that needed only to be taken “into account.” Rather, they were a central part of the compromise with reluctant members of Congress to cast a vote that in many cases proved to be political suicide.

The act’s emphasis on preserving homeownership was particularly vital to passage. Congress was told that TARP would be used to purchase up to $700 billion of mortgages, and, to obtain the necessary votes, Treasury promised that it would modify those mortgages to assist struggling homeowners. Indeed, the act expressly directs the department to do just that.

But it has done little to abide by this legislative bargain. Almost immediately, as permitted by the broad language of the act, Treasury’s plan for TARP shifted from the purchase of mortgages to the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation’s largest financial institutions, a shift that came with the express promise that it would restore lending.

Treasury, however, provided the money to banks with no effective policy or effort to compel the extension of credit. There were no strings attached: no requirement or even incentive to increase lending to home buyers, and against our strong recommendation, not even a request that banks report how they used TARP funds. It was only in April of last year, in response to recommendations from our office, that Treasury asked banks to provide that information, well after the largest banks had already repaid their loans. It was therefore no surprise that lending did not increase but rather continued to decline well into the recovery. (In my job as special inspector general I could not bring about the changes I thought were needed — I could only make recommendations to the Treasury Department.)

Meanwhile, the act’s goal of helping struggling homeowners was shelved until February 2009, when the Home Affordable Modification Program was announced with the promise to help up to four million families with mortgage modifications.

That program has been a colossal failure, with far fewer permanent modifications (540,000) than modifications that have failed and been canceled (over 800,000). This is the well-chronicled result of the rush to get the program started, major program design flaws like the failure to remedy mortgage servicers’ favoring of foreclosure over permanent modifications, and a refusal to hold those abysmally performing mortgage servicers accountable for their disregard of program guidelines. As the program flounders, foreclosures continue to mount, with 8 million to 13 million filings forecast over the program’s lifetime.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has acknowledged that the program “won’t come close” to fulfilling its original expectations, that its incentives are not “powerful enough” and that the mortgage servicers are “still doing a terribly inadequate job.” But Treasury officials refuse to address these shortfalls. Instead they continue to stubbornly maintain that the program is a success and needs no material change, effectively assuring that Treasury’s most specific Main Street promise will not be honored.

Finally, the country was assured that regulatory reform would address the threat to our financial system posed by large banks that have become effectively guaranteed by the government no matter how reckless their behavior. This promise also appears likely to go unfulfilled. The biggest banks are 20 percent larger than they were before the crisis and control a larger part of our economy than ever. They reasonably assume that the government will rescue them again, if necessary. Indeed, credit rating agencies incorporate future government bailouts into their assessments of the largest banks, exaggerating market distortions that provide them with an unfair advantage over smaller institutions, which continue to struggle.

Worse, Treasury apparently has chosen to ignore rather than support real efforts at reform, such as those advocated by Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to simplify or shrink the most complex financial institutions.

In the final analysis, it has been Treasury’s broken promises that have turned TARP — which was instrumental in saving the financial system at a relatively modest cost to taxpayers — into a program commonly viewed as little more than a giveaway to Wall Street executives.

It wasn’t meant to be that. Indeed, Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals — whether born of incompetence, timidity in the face of a crisis or a mindset too closely aligned with the banks it was supposed to rein in — may have so damaged the credibility of the government as a whole that future policy makers may be politically unable to take the necessary steps to save the system the next time a crisis arises. This avoidable political reality might just be TARP’s most lasting, and unfortunate, legacy.

Neil M. Barofsky was the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program from 2008 until today.

MORTGAGE BACKED SECURITIES: LEGAL COUNTERFEITING

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EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to get the FEEL of what just happened in our world of finance and the ensuing effects on our economy, you might be better off reading a book like “Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters” (Penguin, $27.95), Ben Tarnoff. It might come as some surprise that proprietary issuance of currency was all the rage in this country and was used not only legally and illegally, but as an instrument of warfare. Ben Franklin and others saw the “moral hazard” of allowing for paper money because the paper had no intrinsic value — unlike the universal perception of gold or silver.

Eventually in 1862 the U.S. Government made government issued currency “legal tender” but there were so many loopholes that while it had an effect, it has yet to take hold 150 years later.

Banks issued their own Banknotes in early U.S. History and lately, for the past 20 years, they have returned to the same practice calling them derivatives, mortgages backed securities and other exotic names. The Bank Notes, as observed by many during that period had no value except that they supposedly DERIVED their value from the gold that the bank had on deposit. They were not the first “derivatives” but they were the most important up to that point in history.

In a 1996 article Alan Greenspan articulated the free market view that the value of those bank notes or proprietary currency would be resolved in a free market as people found out which banks were issuing more bank notes than they could support. In fact, he predicted that proprietary currency would take over as a the principal currency stock of the world — hardly a difficult prediction since it had already happened by the time he wrote that article.

Now for every monetary unit of value issued by any government in the world, the private sector has issued 12 units. In other words the proprietary currency volume is 12 times as big as the fiat currency — fueled largely by the use of derivatives that derived their value from credit instruments, most of which were loans that were supposedly backed by notes and mortgages and which now are like rare earths when it comes to producing one in the flesh.

In 1998, Congress passed and Clinton signed into law the death knell of the American economy. The law specifically excluded this proprietary currency from regulation of ANY sort from government. In short, they created a sovereign country out of the oligopoly that controlled Wall Street and hence the world of finance. Counterfeiters are usually put in jail. But certain types of counterfeiters have prospered as this article and the book it reviews shows clearly.

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Early America, Ripe for Counterfeiters

By NANCY F. KOEHN

NY Times

“THERE is properly no history; only biography,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1841. In “Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters” (Penguin, $27.95), Ben Tarnoff lends ample credence to that notion. He shows how three con men were able to thrive in America’s early days because of a weak central government, an often-chaotic banking system, a turbulent economy and an entrepreneurial populace.

Few countries, Mr. Tarnoff writes, “have had as rich a counterfeiting history as America.” Creating fake currency, he states, “gave enterprising Americans from the colonial era onward a chance to get rich quick: to fulfill the promise of the American dream by making money, literally.”

Mr. Tarnoff, who graduated from Harvard in 2007 and has worked at Lapham’s Quarterly, focuses on the lives of three counterfeiters who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. Taken together, he writes, these three biographies “tell the story of a country coming of age — from a patchwork of largely self-governing colonies to a loosely assembled union of states and, finally, to a single nation under firm federal control.”

The first subject of this rollicking good read is Owen Sullivan, an Irish immigrant who was born around 1720 and originally was a silversmith in Boston. In the seven years he was a counterfeiter, he built a loosely organized team called the Dover Money Club.

Like his partners, Sullivan was behind bars several times in the course of his career. Until his final arrest, however, these encounters with the law were small detours on an entrepreneurial journey in pre-industrial crime. When he was hanged in New York City in 1756, he claimed to have forged more than £25,000 worth of colonial money.

Sullivan capitalized on a number of prevailing conditions in the colonies: the collective thirst for liquidity to fuel a growing economy, the often unruly nature of the financial system, and scanty law enforcement.

Underlying these factors was a deep, abiding ambivalence about paper money. Many early Americans, like Benjamin Franklin, recognized the pressing need for paper money as a medium of exchange and a store of value in a world where specie like that made of gold and silver was in short supply.

At the same time, paper money made the economy more mercurial. Unlike precious metals that could be bought and sold as commodities, paper money had no intrinsic value; it could become worthless overnight. Paper money had other dangers, including a greater vulnerability to inflation. Cognizant of all this, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 voted against giving the federal government explicit authority to print paper notes, coming down squarely “on the side of a hard currency under national control.”

But the demand for a ready medium of exchange and a recognized measure of value in the burgeoning American economy continued to outstrip the meager supply of precious metals in circulation.

By the early 1800s, paper money in the form of individual bank notes had returned in force. And with it came enterprising counterfeiters like David Lewis (1788-1820), who worked the rural counties of southwestern Pennsylvania forging notes and stirring up populist rage against financial elites.

Lewis became something of a popular hero, known for audacious jailbreaks and sporadic generosity toward strangers. Mr. Tarnoff argues that in the financial panic of 1819, crime acquired a certain status. “Not only was it a way for the dispossessed to make a living, but compared with the perfectly legal frauds perpetuated by the nation’s banks, lawbreaking seemed honest.” Lewis was apprehended for the last time after being shot in the arm and leg. He died from these injuries in a jail in central Pennsylvania.

Finally, Mr. Tarnoff recounts the story of Samuel Upham (1819-1885), a Philadelphia shopkeeper who, in 1862, began printing $5 Confederate notes, which he sold as “mementos of the Rebellion” for a cent each. Along the bottom of each note, he included a strip with the following lettering: “Fac-Simile Confederate Note — Sold Wholesale and Retail by S. C. Upham, 403 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.”

Backed by heavy newspaper advertising, Upham’s souvenir notes became best sellers, and at some point he must have known that they were no longer being viewed as facsimiles, Mr. Tarnoff says. Borne by Union soldiers, they found their way into the Confederate money supply as counterfeits, and helped fuel rampant inflation and monetary disruption.

As the war progressed, Confederate authorities became convinced that Upham and others were part of a Union campaign to wage economic war on the South. There is no historical evidence that Abraham Lincoln or his administration was involved in such tactics.

But Upham and other moneymakers did play a de facto role in the Union war effort. As Lincoln and his Treasury head, Salmon Chase, understood all too well, the military prospects of either side owed much to the reliability of their respective money supplies. Without a stable, trustworthy form of liquidity, neither combatant could continue to wage war while sustaining its citizens.

Responding to this imperative, Congress in 1862 passed a law that, for the first time since the Revolutionary War, made money printed by the federal government legal tender. A year later, legislation set up federally chartered banks that printed a uniform national currency — making counterfeiting more difficult, though not impossible.

Mr. Tarnoff is an engaging writer who has a fine eye for detail and the relevance of larger, historical forces. But the book ignores a larger question, raised by its description of early American capitalism as an “evolving confidence game” that oscillated “between manic exuberance and total collapse”: Is there something in the speculative nature of the American character and the nation’s economic beginnings that continues to produce people like Bernard Madoff, as well as excessive volatility in the system itself?

Though this and similar questions are unanswered, they do not tarnish the power of the stories that Mr. Tarnoff so delightfully uses to teach us history.

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