Who holds the deed to your house?

You have probably heard of the moratorium on home foreclosures due to sloppy paperwork in the mortgage industry. But there is potentially a far bigger problem, one that may affect your own paid-up mortgage. A court in Kansas has ruled that the old practice of registering titles to property in the local courthouse is, in fact, the law of the land. This was largely ignored during the mortgage book, with its high-tech mortgage repackaging and speculating. Let’s let the New York Times explain it:

For centuries, when a property changed hands, the transaction was submitted to county clerks who recorded it and filed it away. These records ensured that the history of a property’s ownership was complete and that the priority of multiple liens placed on the property — a mortgage and a home equity loan, for example — was accurate.

During the mortgage lending spree, however, home loans changed hands constantly. Those that ended up packaged inside of mortgage pools, for instance, were often involved in a dizzying series of transactions.

To avoid the costs and complexity of tracking all these exchanges, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage industry set up MERS to record loan assignments electronically. This company didn’t own the mortgages it registered, but it was listed in public records either as a nominee for the actual owner of the note or as the original mortgage holder.

Cost savings to members who joined the registry were meaningful. In 2007, the organization calculated that it had saved the industry $1 billion during the previous decade. Some 60 million loans are registered in the name of MERS.

As long as real estate prices rose, this system ran smoothly. When that trajectory stopped, however, foreclosures brought against delinquent borrowers began flooding the nation’s courts. MERS filed many of them.

“MERS is basically an electronic phone book for mortgages,” said Kevin Byers, an expert on mortgage securities and a principal at Parkside Associates, a consulting firm in Atlanta. “To call this electronic registry a creditor in foreclosure and bankruptcy actions is legal pretzel logic, nothing more than an artifice constructed to save time, money and paperwork.”

The system also led to confusion. When MERS was involved, borrowers who hoped to work out their loans couldn’t identify who they should turn to.

As cases filed by MERS grew, lawyers representing troubled borrowers began questioning how an electronic registry with no ownership claims had the right to evict people. April Charney, a consumer lawyer at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in Florida, was among the first to argue that MERS, which didn’t own the note or the mortgage, could not move against a borrower.

Initially, judges rejected those arguments and allowed MERS foreclosures to proceed. Recently, however, MERS has begun losing some cases, and the Kansas ruling is a pivotal loss, experts say.

While the matter before the Kansas Supreme Court didn’t involve an action that MERS took against a borrower, the registry’s legal standing is still central to the ruling.

via Fair Game – The Mortgage Machine Backfires – NYTimes.com.

Now factor in this from the Washington Post:

The federal government’s pressure on lenders Wednesday to fix the paperwork problems plaguing foreclosures left unaddressed a far greater potential threat facing the financial system and the U.S. economy.

Financial and legal analysts are divided over how the ownership questions will be resolved and the scope of the potential damage. Lenders and investigators are in the midst of a painstaking process of unraveling the complex chain of loans that were sold from one party to another, a process that some analysts say could take years.

Of the nearly $11 trillion in mortgages in the United States, about two-thirds was turned into securities that were traded around the globe.

After a home buyer gets a mortgage, the lender typically pools that loan with hundreds of others to create a security that can be traded like a stock. This process is commonly called securitization and has been the preferred method of financing debt in America for more than a decade.

Wall Street firms would set up partnerships called “trusts” and would raise money from pension funds, university endowments, hedge funds and other investors to buy these mortgage securities. The investors would then share the cash flow from the payments made by homeowners every month.

However, local laws in most states dictate that each time a mortgage changes hands, the transaction needs to be recorded in courts or county offices. But the speed with which the loans were being generated during the housing boom and then pooled together and passed around Wall Street meant that big financial firms took shortcuts, consumer lawyers said.

Often the proper paperwork got lost or was passed along without being filled out, lawyers say. Some documents have been found retroactively signed or even forged.

“It now appears that in many cases: 1. the paperwork was not properly transferred and 2. it is unclear in many cases where the actual paperwork actually rests today,” Citigroup Global Markets analyst Josh Levin wrote in a note to investors this week.

Some think this can be fixed easily; others think it might paralyze the housing industry and bring down banks, investors, and the financial system.

Titles are a legal bulwark of private property. What we often dismissed as “mere paperwork” can be profoundly important. Or do you think physical titles and the like are obsolete in the age of internet transactions? But even if we need to adjust the system to the new technology, how do we get from here to there without going through an economic mess? And, in the meantime, who holds the deed to your house?


Latest marriage findings

The news reports about this Pew Research study focuses on how more college graduates are getting married than non-college graduates, reversing an earlier trend. But there are a number of other curious findings:

For the first time, adults are more likely to wed by the age of 30 if they obtained a bachelor’s degree than the young adults who have not, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. . . .

The situation was more favorable for people without college degrees two decades ago, Fry said. Then, people without college degrees were more likely to get married than their college-educated counterparts. Those without college degrees could rely on the benefits of marriage to offset their lower salaries.

In 1990, 75 percent of 30-year-olds who did not have a college degree were married, a figure outnumbering the 69 percent of college-educated 30-year-olds who were married, according to the Pew study.

But the study now reveals a reversal, showing that the percentage of people with college degrees marrying has slightly eclipsed those without. In 2008, 62 percent of college-educated 30-year-olds were married or had been married, the center found after analyzing American Community Survey data from 2008. In contrast, 60 percent of 30-year-olds without a college degree were married or had been married. . . .

Economic hardships among young men create barriers to marriage, the report said. High school-educated men between 25 and 34 earned less money in 2008, about $32,000 a year on average, a 12 percent decline from $36,300 in 1990. Meanwhile, earnings for college-educated men in the same group rose 5 percent to $55,000 in 2008, up from $52,300 in 1990. (These median annual earnings were adjusted for inflation.)

The declining fortunes can be a detriment to marriage prospects, Fry said, because many people are seeking partners who can provide for a family and who are economically stable.

During the same time period, cohabitation has doubled and has consequently become a more acceptable alternative to marriage, Fry said. Half of those living together are under 35, and more than 80 percent lack a college degree, the study said, citing census data. . . .

[Researcher Sharon] Sassler points out weddings have become so expensive that they are often a status symbol among the college-educated middle class. Modern-day weddings also can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and there is a perception such costly ceremonies are necessary. Couples without a college degree, who may be struggling financially, are often unable to afford it, she said.

“Marriage means something different for the middle class because they have a college degree and better jobs,” Sassler said. “And because now we have expectations on what needs to be in place to be married.”

via College-educated more likely to marry, study says – CNN.com.

What other questions are raised by this study? For example, given co-habitation and other evidence of the decline of traditional marriage, why do you think couples think a “costly” wedding ceremony is so “necessary”?

HT:  Jackie

Blog arguments

Friends, way back on September 28–that’s last month, 16 days ago–I posted about our pastor’s sermon on a parable:  The Rich Man & Lazarus | Cranach: The Blog of Veith.  That innocent little post has now chalked up a record 422 comments at last count.  What happened is that a very heated debate broke out between Lutherans and non-Lutherans on the true meaning of John 20:23.  Before long, Luther was getting bashed, and non-Lutherans were getting bashed, and feelings were getting hurt on both sides.  Then, at about comment #359, people started talking about ME, taking me to task for allowing unkind things being said on my blog.  I should not allow certain things to be said.  I should establish a  code of conduct, require registration, moderate comments, monitor what people say, and delete negative remarks.

I actually do delete some comments when they go far over the line, but I can’t monitor everything that is said, especially what is said on posts from a month ago.  And in principle, I value open and free discussion.  That becomes impossible if people insist on silencing their opponents.  In general, this blog has the reputation of having a higher level of discourse than other blogs, a reputation I don’t want to lose.  At the same time, there seems to be some misunderstandings.  So I will offer some thoughts:

(1)  The word “argument” has become a synonym for “fight.”  (As in, “He had an argument with his wife.”)  That shows the decay of contemporary argumentation.  An argument is supposed to be a train of thought that leads to persuasion.  The goal of an argument is not to score points but to win over your opponent to your way of thinking.  An effective argument ends in agreement.

When you insult, mock, name call, or otherwise make your opponent angry, you will never win the argument.  That is, you will never persuade your opponent.  Instead, you will make him or her “defensive,” as we say, and from behind that defensive bunker, your opponent will never surrender, no matter how good your logic and evidence may be.   So mean and vicious and hurtful remarks are simply counterproductive.  I shouldn’t have to ban them.   They are the equivalent of an admission of defeat.

In the current case, both sides were giving as good as they got.  At the same time, it is unfair to zap your opponent, and then get all upset when you get zapped in return!  Again, both sides were doing that.

(2)  Ah, but Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.”  If Jesus can call people names, I can too.  No, Jesus spoke as one with authority, and not as one of their scribes.  We are not Jesus and lack His authority.  We are scribes.

When I read that passage, I do confess and feel that I am a viper.  Some people do bear God’s authority by virtue of their vocation.  When I am castigated by my pastor, or parents, or boss, or the police officer who caught me breaking the law, they do have the calling to deal with me and I take their words to heart. When someone without that calling castigates me, it does not convict me but only makes me angry.

(3)  Ah, but we must proclaim the Law to convict people of sin!  First of all, not all disputes involve moral failure.  But, setting that aside, applying the Law is far more involved than just calling people bad  names or even saying they will go to Hell.  Applying the theological use of the Law means holding up God’s Law as a mirror so that people will see themselves and their sin, provoking repentance and then a turning to Christ, to the Gospel which also must be proclaimed.   But if the person you are attacking does not see his sin, but rather is provoked into self-righteous indignation, you have failed to apply the Law successfully.  Preaching the Law is more like surgery than beating with a blunt instrument, which is why Luther and Walther call the ability to apply and to distinguish Law and Gospel is the highest art.

(4)  It is good to hold discussions with people whom we do not agree with.  We have a tendency to only talk with people like ourselves (Lutherans with Lutherans, Christians with Christians, conservatives with conservatives, liberals with liberals).  But if we ever want to, again, win anyone over to our side, we need practice talking with those who do not believe as we do.

One of the great strengths of this blog is that it attracts–how, I don’t really know–people of many different views.  I loved it when that Muslim guy joined in recently, stating his objections to Christianity, which many of you–including diehard opponents usually–joined together to defend.  I’m glad to have the “spiritual but not religious” Bunnycatch3r here.  And the whole gamut of Christian theologies.  And the atheists who chime in.  Don’t you see how good that is?

The old record for most comments was held by a series of posts involving Michael the atheist.  You commenters, for the most part,  treated him with great gentleness.  And do you remember how he said, at one point, something to the effect that this blog was his support group!  I don’t think we came to an agreement with him before he stopped posting, but who knows what might have happened to him since then and what part some of you might have played in his life?  If I excluded him or deleted his negative comments about Christianity, or if you just resorted to calling him names or got all offended at his very presence, the opportunity to talk with him seriously about Christ would never have happened.

So, in conclusion, I’ve got to trust you, and I do.  Learn how to argue.  Don’t have a thin skin.  Talk with people you don’t agree with.  Try to win each other over.  Realize that we have in common both the wretchedness of our sin and the forgiveness of our Savior.

Out of the depths

As the 33 Chilean miners are finally being rescued, one at a time, from their 68 days being trapped 2,000 feet below the surface, Christianity Today has an interesting report:

Jimmy Sanchez, one of the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for over two months in the San Jose copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert, would like to make one small correction to all the stories about life in the mine:

“There are actually 34 of us,” the nineteen-year-old miner wrote in a letter sent up from the mine on Tuesday, “because God has never left us down here.”

Amid reports of squabbling on the surface among families of the trapped miners, some say things are much calmer underground as everyone prepares for this week’s attempt to bring them back up. The men have worked hard to keep their spirits buoyant during the ordeal, organizing themselves into a community and dividing up their living-room-sized space. Early on, they set aside a space to pray daily, and religious groups have converged on the mine to serve the miners’ spiritual needs. Once a supply line was established, Seventh-Day Adventists sent down mini-Bibles with magnifying glasses; the Jesus Film Project loaded 33 MP3 players with an audio adaptation of the famous JESUS film. A crucifix was sent down in August, and it’s said that miners also requested statues of Mary and the saints. The miners signed a flag which was presented to Pope Benedict this weekend.

Christian leaders of various denominations have come to the San Jose mine; the Guardian is rather bemused by all the activity, describing a “surge in religious fervor” as the rescue operation takes shape.

Baptist Press reports that two miners have “made professions of faith” since their entombment started. Pastors are also ministering to the families of the miners, who have camped out nearby. . . .

Spirits are so high that the miners are fighting among themselves about who will be the last to ascend—too many men are volunteering to stay down till the end.

The Four Gods

Baylor sociologists Paul Froese and Christopher Bader have conducted research into people’s conception of God. They published their findings in a new book America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God — And What That Says About Us. They found that Americans have four different assumptions about what God is like. They also found correlations between the kind of God someone believes in and their political and moral beliefs. Here are America’s four Gods:

The Authoritative God. When conservatives Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck proclaim that America will lose God’s favor unless we get right with him, they’re rallying believers in what Froese and Bader call an Authoritative God, one engaged in history and meting out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him. About 28% of the nation shares this view, according to Baylor’s 2008 findings.

“They divide the world by good and evil and appeal to people who are worried, concerned and scared,” Froese says. “They respond to a powerful God guiding this country, and if we don’t explicitly talk about (that) God, then we have the wrong God or no God at all.”

The Benevolent God. When President Obama says he is driven to live out his Christian faith in public service, or political satirist Stephen Colbert mentions God while testifying to Congress in favor of changing immigration laws, they’re speaking of what the Baylor researchers call a Benevolent God. This God is engaged in our world and loves and supports us in caring for others, a vision shared by 22% of Americans, according to Baylor’s findings.

“Rhetoric that talks about the righteous vs. the heathen doesn’t appeal to them,” Froese says. “Their God is a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts and will comfort all.”

Asked about the Baylor findings, Philip Yancey, author of What Good Is God?, says he moved from the Authoritative God of his youth — “a scowling, super-policeman in the sky, waiting to smash someone having a good time” — to a “God like a doctor who has my best interest at heart, even if sometimes I don’t like his diagnosis or prescriptions.”

The Critical God. The poor, the suffering and the exploited in this world often believe in a Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the next, Bader says.

Bader says this view of God — held by 21% of Americans — was reflected in a sermon at a working-class neighborhood church the researchers visited in Rifle, Colo., in 2008. Pastor Del Whittington’s theme at Open Door Church was ” ‘Wait until heaven, and accounts will be settled.’ ”

Bader says Whittington described how ” ‘our cars that are breaking down here will be chariots in heaven. Our empty bank accounts will be storehouses with the Lord.’ ”

•The Distant God. Though about 5% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, Baylor found that nearly one in four (24%) see a Distant God that booted up the universe, then left humanity alone.

via Americans’ views of God shape attitudes on key issues – USATODAY.com.

Isn’t it true that none of these, in isolation, is anything like the Christian God?  Surely Christians believe that God has ALL of these qualities.  Christians believe that God is a Trinity, that He is complex and a mystery.  (And if natural laws, such as we are seeing with quantum physics are complex and mysterious, shouldn’t God be far more so?  And yet people insist on these simplistic, anthropomorphic, unitarian deities.)  While each of these deities can be adapted into an ecumenical paradigm in which all religions “have the same God,” the Christian God is completely different from these four, each of which is some variation of a transcendent deity looking down on the creation.  Notice that there is no category for God Incarnate.

No wonder churches are so weak and Christians’ faith is so anemic, if they don’t have the right God.

The reverse Okie syndrome

During the Great Depression, thousands of Okies left the dust bowl that was the Sooner State for brighter prospects in California, as well as other states.  Now, during the Not-So-Great Depression, thousands of Californians, as well as denizens of other states, are flowing to Oklahoma.  Here the economy is much better, there are lots of jobs, and housing costs are astonishingly low (with the median homes in Oklahoma City selling for $150,000).  This article details why Oklahoma is flourishing and what turned the state around: More Californians reverse course and head to Oklahoma – USATODAY.com.

I was born in Oklahoma and grew up there.  I too left the state to find work, but I do miss it.  One factor the article cites in the state’s growth is people who left the state moving back.  A good line from the article:  ”Oklahoma is one of those places you have to come from to think it’s beautiful.”

But here is something to discuss:  One of the reasons Oklahoma City has become cool all of a sudden is that the local government pushed a number of new initiatives.  Voters imposed upon themselves a sales tax, which, among other things, developed “Bricktown,” a fun downtown entertainment district, including a river walk, music venues, good restaurants, lively bars, a minor league baseball stadium, and (a short distance away) the home of the new NBA team the Oklahoma Thunder.  Reasons the state has been attracting businesses is that the state and local governments have been promising tax breaks, subsidies, and other sweeteners.

In other words, it isn’t just the free market that has brought prosperity to Oklahoma.  Do you think these government programs are legitimate?  (Take into consideration the difference between local governments and federal governments.)