Occupy Wall Street’s Enduring Message

Nicholas Kristoff at the NYTimes, has a very telling piece about the Bankers who brought about the 2007-2008 Financial meltdown. Recent disclosures by Bloomberg and others have made it clear that the $0.70 Trillion TARP bailout was just the tip of the iceberg as 10 time the TARP, or $7.0trillion has been spent to bailout the banks, hedge funds, and other “financial institutions”. And that bailout continue to be funneled to the banks. And the banks quid-pro has been declines in small business loans, increased fees for services, and stonewalling on foreclosures and prime mortgage [only homeowner accommodation]. So Kristoff’s arguments carry impact:

In 2007, his team wrote $2 billion in mortgages, he says. Sometimes those were “no documentation” mortgages…
Theckston says that borrowers made harebrained decisions and exaggerated their resources but that bankers were far more culpable — and that all this was driven by pressure from the top.Especially when mortgages were securitized and sold off to investors, he said, senior bankers turned a blind eye to shortcuts.One memory particularly troubles Theckston. He says that some account executives earned a commission seven times higher from subprime loans, rather than prime mortgages. So they looked for less savvy borrowers — those with less education, without previous mortgage experience, or without fluent English — and nudged them toward subprime loans.
These less savvy borrowers were disproportionately blacks and Latinos, he said, and they ended up paying a higher rate so that they were more likely to lose their homes. Senior executives seemed aware of this racial mismatch, he recalled, and frantically tried to cover it up.Theckston, who has a shelf full of awards that he won from Chase, such as “sales manager of the year,” showed me his 2006 performance review. It indicates that 60 percent of his evaluation depended on him increasing high-risk loans.In late 2008, when the mortgage market collapsed, Theckston and most of his colleagues were laid off….
Still, 28 percent of all American mortgages are “underwater,” according to Zillow, a real estate Web site. That means that more is owed than the home is worth, and the figure is up from 23 percent a year ago. That overhang stifles the economy, for it’s difficult to nurture a broad recovery unless real estate and construction revive.All this came into sharper focus this week as Bloomberg Markets magazine published a terrific exposé based on lending records it pried out of the Federal Reserve in a lawsuit. It turns out that the Fed provided an astonishing sum to keep banks afloat — $7.8 trillion, equivalent to more than $25,000 per American.

The article estimated that banks earned up to $13 billion in profits by relending that money to businesses and consumers at higher rates.The Federal Reserve action isn’t a scandal, and arguably it’s a triumph. The Fed did everything imaginable to avert a financial catastrophe — and succeeded. The money was repaid.Yet what is scandalous is the basic unfairness of what has transpired. The federal government rescued highly paid bankers from their reckless decisions. It protected bank shareholders and creditors. But it mostly turned a cold shoulder to some of the most vulnerable and least sophisticated people in America. Last year alone, banks seized more than one million homes.

Sure, some programs exist to help borrowers in trouble, but not nearly enough. We still haven’t taken such basic steps as allowing bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a mortgage on a primary home. Legislation to address that has gotten nowhere.My daughter and I are reading Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” aloud to each other, and those Depression-era injustices seem so familiar today.

This is the enduring Occupy Wall Street message – people will not forget what was done by ruthless bankers and their paid agents in government.

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