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Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, MERS, is a mortgage database that was created in the mid-1990s by the nations’ top financial institutions and mortgage lenders.  Back then, a few county level elected officials, who were tapped with the responsibility to guard the integrity of their local land records, voiced deep concerns over MERS.  Those few dissenters were ignored or silenced.  MERS was, and remains, a crucial player behind the financial crisis, the foreclosure crisis, and the plunder of America’s pensions and retirement savings which are invested in mortgage-backed-security bonds.   Go here for information on how to check your own mortgage for MERS infection.
A great primer on MERS was written by Michael Powell and Gretchen Morgenson at on March 3, 2011, MERS, It May Have Swallowed Your Loan here.

Never heard of MERS? That’s fine with the mortgage banking industry—as MERS is starting to overheat and sputter. If its many detractors are correct, this private corporation, with a full-time staff of fewer than 50 employees, could turn out to be a very public problem for the mortgage industry.

Following the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the U.S. economy had gone into a depression, and a large number of banks failed. The Pecora Investigation sought to uncover the causes of the financial collapse.  Lasting from 1932 through 1934, and named for the Commission’s fourth and final chief council, Ferdinand Pecora, the Commission experienced a rocky political course but prevailed to uncover massive financial fraud and crimes.  The Commission’s findings were highly educational and formed the basis of many Congressional legislative moves that were enacted to prevent a subsequent crash.  In 1999, a key piece of this legislation was repealed in response to decades of heavily, well funded lobbying efforts on behalf of the financial industry.  Less than ten years later, America experienced a similar Wall Street crash based on much of the same conduct that was investigated and exposed by the Pecora Commission.

Most of our elected officials today don’t have the political will to form a strong, well funded foreclosure fraud (and mortgage-backed securities) investigative commission that would mirror the work of the Pecora Investigation.  We’ve seen a few good Congressional reports on the financial crisis, the most notable being the Levin-Coburn Report.  There have been some excellent reports out of the HUD Office of the Inspector General.  The rest of the governmental investigations and reports have been weak, inaccurate, subject to partisan bickering, or worse, whitewashed to ban words such as “Wall Street” and “shadow banking.”  Those employed at government oversight agencies who do wish to uncover and expose the fraud and it’s impact on the American people are often ostracized, fired, intimidated, or silenced like Neil Barofsky former inspector general of TARP fraud, Lam Pham, fired economist at the Congressional Budget Office, John Kelleher who “resigned” from the Nevada AG’s foreclosure fraud task force, and the two ousted assistant attorneys general in Florida, June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards.

In January 2012, President Obama announced during his State of the Union Address that he was establishing a Residential Mortgage Backed Securities Working Group.  This announcement was met with great fanfare, but eight months have passed and the nation has not heard anything meaningful about this working group’s efforts or accomplishments since Obama’s January 2012 speech.

If at any time since the year 2000, you purchased an American home financed with a mortgage, you most likely will have a MERS(Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) or MOM(MERS as Mortgagee) Mortgage. If you are in South Florida, you can look up mortgages online on the following County Official Records websites:

Palm Beach County 

Broward County

William Edinger, 44, and his wife, Laura Mannetta, 35, moved their son, Billy, 12, and two daughters, Jessica, 10, and Melissa, 2, to a hotel, when they could no longer afford their $975-a-month home. Jessica often asks if she will go back to her school. “We tell her the truth, that we don’t know when we are moving. She gets upset and angry. We are lucky the other two don’t understand,” Mr. Edinger said.

With limited space to play safely outdoors, the children stay inside with their parents.  Jessica drapes the window curtain over her to create a temporary room for a moment of privacy.

Tom Grady, a wealthy Naples resident and former Florida state representative (R-Naples), served in the Florida House from 2008 until 2010.  He did not run for re-election in 2010.  Instead, Kathleen Passidomo was ran unopposed in Naples.  In 2011, Grady was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to be the Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation.  He’s since left that job and is back in the private sector; watch for Tom Grady to run for public office again soon.   In 2010, Grady introduced the Florida House version of a bill that would make it much, much easier for banks to commit fraud to steal families’ homes.  Currently in Florida, and 23 other states, banks must go through the courts to foreclose and evict a family from their home.  This allows for a family to defend their foreclosure in front of a judge.  It’s called “Judicial Foreclosure.”  While this system often fails families due to a variety of reasons, it is preferable to the “non-judicial foreclosure” process that rolls out the red carpet for any financial institution that claims a family’s home.  Amazingly, Grady tried to get his dangerous, bank-serving bill passed by calling it the “Homeowner Relief and Housing Recovery Act.”  Representative Passidomo, who replaced Grady as Naples’ Florida House representative, carried on Grady’s legislative legacy by introducing similar non-judicial foreclosure legislation in 2011 and 2012.  Those bills also failed, but only after statewide citizen engagement, demonstrations, and protests.  She is running for re-election against challenger Peter Richter.

Not deterred by the failure of his bill, Grady found a much more powerful method of letting financial fraud rein supreme in Florida.  He did everything he could when he was head of a powerful state banking regulatory agency to use Florida’s taxpayers’ dollars to fund a luxurious lifestyle while hacking off Florida’s oversight into the  financial industry.

Two journalists at the Tampa Herald-Tribune recently wrote As Fraud Soars, Funds are Cut for Watchdogs.  Grady was on a “mission to slash costs at the state agency that oversees mortgage brokers, banks and securities firms. The moves come even as a new report shows Florida continues to lead the nation in mortgage fraud.”  The article, and another previous one from the Herald-Tribune, also highlight a few of the expensive perks Grady enjoyed while “serving” the state of Florida, for example, “more than $6,000 on in-state travel, including $296 for a night at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota and $240 for a night at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.”

Yesterday, blog published on the Education Debt Crisis here. 

Now, this blog has not yet garnered the status of the New York Times, but on the same day, the NYT, published both a video and an article on the exact same topic.  One of the only ways to shed student loan debt, even in bankruptcy, is to be found “hopeless” by the court. Doug Wallace, who is now legally blind and owes $89,000, is awaiting a ruling.  He is blind from diabetes, unemployed, and has no income.   With more and more education-debt loaded graduates finding their degrees worthless in an economy that failed them, Wallace is far from alone in his desperation.

Watch the video here.

“When the banks went under and the stock market went way down … I lost [most] of it,” said Charlotte Wahlstrom, 74,  who lives in a trailer in a small town in Michigan and gets by on $140/month in food stamps.

This wasn’t part of her retirement plan. After her divorce in 1976, Wahlstrom continued to work as an administrative assistant and went back for her college degree, later landing a solid job at a university. Growing up on a small farm in Minnesota, Wahlstrom learned to stretch a dollar, and by her late 50s she had accumulated roughly six figures in her retirement account. Unfortunately, it was mostly invested in stock mutual funds.  Wahlstrom is part of a group experts call “the hidden hungry.”

“When the banks went under and the stock market went way down … I lost [most] of it,” she said.  This is point where she would have been bailed out if she were a major financial institution who “lost most of it” when the financial crisis hit.

A new report from the National Employment Law Project highlights America’s Low Wage Recovery.  This is not news to anyone living in the real world outside of politics, high level government, or finance. What this report shows is that the poor and teens struggle to find any jobs at all because of the downward displacement of the formerly middle class white and blue collar workers into retail, fast food, and other low wage jobs.

The five main findings of this report are:

  1. Lower-wage occupations were 21 percent of recession job losses but 58 percent of recovery growth

When financed through complex credit schemes that lack basic consumer protections, homeownership and higher education can quickly become debt shackles instead of the promised brass ring of financial security and middle class status.  In today’s harsh economic and jobs climate, education debt that burdens millions of young Americans is often far in excess of their foreseeable earning capabilities.  Often, the cost of borrowing to fund certain types of education is not commiserate with the realistic future earning power gained.  The Department of Justice along with many states’ Attorneys General are probing for-profit education outfits that promise a valuable education but actually offer a paper degree for which there is often little or no demand in the real world.

When financial institutions lure millions of families to take on predatory debts to finance an over-valued home or an over-valued education the end result is the same, an asset that is worth far less than the debts incurred to obtain that asset.  In the aftermath of the financial run-up of the housing market and the prolonged foreclosure crisis, homeownership is at it’s lowest rate in fifteen years. Today, there is an ongoing financial run-up of education. How will this end for families and students? published an article yesterday, Student Loan Debt Rises as Most Other Debt Falls, which points out that both the total debt load and the delinquency rate for education debt is rising at alarming rates.  It offers some sage advice, If you’re considering borrowing to help pay for college, be sure to research your options and determine a smart amount to borrow, based on your financial situation, academic major, and career plans.

The National Mortgage Settlement which gave Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, and Citi a very easy out for massive financial and real estate crimes is getting a lot of mainstream media coverage in the wake of the release of the first report card.

The full report card is here.  Florida’s stats are on page 42.

Florida’s portion of the “relief” which was originally intended to allow families to stay in their homes with a modified, sustainable mortgage has been doled out thus far (notice the heavy concentration of short sale “relief”).  Without the short sales, the total relief is $244,221,629 for 10,086 homeowners.

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