Sunday, July 22, 2012

Matt Taibbi on a New Developing Greatest in History Scandal

Since Taibbi has been pumping out the idea that the LIBOR "scandal" is the greatest in financial history, please allow me to shout out my own "greatest scandal." Apparently, a plan is in the works for local governments to take huge swaths of mortgages by eminent domain.

Taibbi is, of course, touting this as the greatest thing since the iPhone, but to anyone that understands that at the core of a healthy economy is respect for private property (including mortgages), this is very alarming.

Here's Taibbi cheering on the mad plan:
Something very interesting is happening.

There’s been so much corruption on Wall Street in recent years, and the federal government has appeared to be so deeply complicit in many of the problems, that many people have experienced something very like despair over the question of what to do about it all.

But there’s something brewing that looks like it might eventually turn into a blueprint to take on the financial services industry: a plan to allow local governments to take on the problem of neighborhoods blighted by toxic home loans and foreclosures through the use of eminent domain. I can't speak for how well this program will work, but it's certaily been effective in scaring the hell out of Wall Street.

Under the proposal, towns would essentially be seizing and condemning the man-made mess resulting from the housing bubble. Cooked up by a small group of businessmen and ex-venture capitalists, the audacious idea falls under the category of "That’s so crazy, it just might work!" One of the plan’s originators described it to me as a "four-bank pool shot."

Here’s how the New York Times described it in an article from earlier this week entitled, "California County Weighs Drastic Plan to Aid Homeowners":

Desperate for a way out of a housing collapse that has crippled the region, officials in San Bernardino County … are exploring a drastic option — using eminent domain to buy up mortgages for homes that are underwater.

Then, the idea goes, the county could cut the mortgages to the current value of the homes and resell the mortgages to a private investment firm, which would allow homeowners to lower their monthly payments and hang onto their property.

I’ve been following this story for months now – I was tipped off that this was coming earlier this past spring – and in the time since I’ve become more convinced the idea might actually work, thanks mainly to the lucky accident that the plan doesn’t require the permission of anyone up in the political Olympus.

Cities and towns won’t need to ask for an act of a bank-subsidized congress to do this, and they won’t need a federal judge to sign off on any settlement. They can just do it. In the Death Star of America’s financial oligarchy, the ability of local governments to use eminent domain to seize toxic debt might be the one structural flaw big enough for the rebel alliance to exploit.

Got that? If you have held for sometime or recently bought some mortgages securities on the idea that the housing market was improving and that discounted mortgages might go up in price, local governments might take the mortgages underlying those mortgages away from you via eminent domain and pay you what they think is a "fair price", even if you don't want to sell.

Naturally, there will be some crony creep businessman behind the scenes working with the local governments, who will make a pretty penny by taking the mortgage away from you. Taibbi explains how one creep is going to do it in San Bernadino: 
The plan is being put forward by a company called Mortgage Resolution Partners, run by a venture capitalist named Steven Gluckstern. MRP absolutely has a profit motive in the plan, and much is likely to be made of that in the press as this story develops. I've heard many arguments on both sides about this particular approach to the eminent domain concept. But either way, I doubt this ends up being entirely about money. 
“What happened is, a bunch of us got together and asked ourselves what a fix of the housing/foreclosure problem would look like,” Gluckstern. “Then we asked, is there a way to fix it and make money, too. I mean, we're businessmen. Obviously, if there wasn’t a financial motive for anybody, it wouldn’t happen.” 
Here’s how it works: MRP helps raise the capital a town or a county would need to essentially “buy” seized home loans from the banks and the bondholders (remember, to use eminent domain to seize property, governments must give the owners “reasonable compensation,” often interpreted as fair current market value).
Once the town or county seizes the loan, it would then be owned by a legal entity set up by the local government – San Bernardino, for instance, has set up a JPA, or Joint Powers Authority, to manage the loans.
At that point, the JPA is simply the new owner of the loan. It would then approach the homeowner with a choice. If, for some crazy reason, the homeowner likes the current situation, he can simply keep making his same inflated payments to the JPA. Not that this is likely, but the idea here is that nobody would force homeowners to do anything.

Yeah, no one forces homeowners, but there is obscene force of the mortgage holders. Just how does a creep like Gluckstern get to make a profit off of mortgages by paying a what has to be an under market price to current the mortgage holders?

Once again we find Taibbi ignoring the causes of the mortgage crisis, everything from the role of the Federal Reserve money printing to current regulations which make it difficult for banks to liquidate or otherwise dispose of the loans, and jumping to another mad interventionist "solution", which just so happens results in even more government control of the economy and a crony capitalist cashing in.


  1. Why would the JPA cut the borrower a break on the loan? The eminent domain seizure would not affect the loan terms one bit, and the city needs (more like wants) the money.

  2. Taibbi is the elitist version of Business Insider, i.e. he steals breaking news from other sites and passes it off as his own discoveries after dressing it up with sensationalist, link baiting headlines and statements, in this case both the mortgage and the LIBOR scandals were broke weeks ago by ZeroHedge.

  3. Good question, Jason Kelly.

    Kind of seems like they are setting themselves up to be landlords if you ask me. Didn't Gary North write an article showing how renting out three bedroom houses was a great plan? Maybe that's what they will be doing?

  4. What the plan ignores is that the owner of the property the government intends to take doesn't have to accept the government's "fair" offer. The owner can go to court and slug it out.

    I used to work for an electric utility that had to occasionally have property condemned to make right of way for a new line. Most land owners would settle, but a few would go to court for more money. The proceeding would be so boring the jury would sleep through most of it, wake up at the end and split the difference. Then the utility had to go back and pay everyone else the higher price.

    Mortgage owners could easily tie this up in court so long and make the purchase of mortgages too expensive for local governments.

  5. Taibbi forgets one thing about theft, and that is when you steal something the stolen property is worth far less in the hands of the thief then it is in the hands of a legal owner. No investor is going to pay anything close to current market value for these mortgages knowing that if this plan of theft does not work out, they could be subjected to the same form of theft themselves. Therefore, any investor that would buy these mortgages will do so at a deep, deep discount. And forget future market liquidity in these areas as there would be far too much risk to own these mortgages.

    Although, I have to admit, I would really enjoy watching a California town try this just see it blow up in their faces. Unfortunately, too many good people (property owners) would get hurt in this little experiment as their properties would be unmortgageable, so let's hope this horrible idea dies a quick death. Dishonesty is never a proper solution to the dishonesty of others.

  6. What an insane Stalinist idea.
    EXPANDING the government's confiscatory powers?
    Hasn't everyone had enough pain?
    If Taibbi is seriously touting this Gluckstein guy's "business" proposal, while railing about crony-capitalism at all other times, then he isn't just a dim bulb, he's a world-class shill.

  7. If I may attempt to nutshell this:

    Vast swathes of men in government and government-connected business refuse to give up the fairy tale of fiat currency and an economy based on building houses, so they resort to the crudest Keynesianism: the digging holes and refilling them strategy, only those holes will also have foundations and houses built on them.