The wreck of ’97

Scene 1, Tuesday, Feb 5 2012: I’m listening to DRshow radio discussion about  the foreclosures debacle, and being informed, to whit…

Back in ’07, the decades-long  housing boom starting turning to bust. In the retractive credit  emergencies of ’08, a plethora of foreclosures broke out rather suddenly, like mushrooms on neglected suburban lawns. Since the big banks had been set up for many years to mostly just dish out loans, the sudden onslaught of foreclosures caught them bureaucratically unprepared.

Swamped with overwhelming unprofitable paperwork, the banks sought to simplify their numerous foreclosure processes. They cut corners and got sloppy in documentation. The big banks got together and devised a way to cut costs, most notably those expenses incurred through courthouse fees and title registrations; they instituted the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS). Unfortunately, this newly-improvised MERS  greatly complicated the later questions surrounding actual ownership of each home.  According to Arly in Vermont, a caller on yesterday’s (Tuesday, Feb 7) Diane Rehm show, the MERS “broke the chain of title.” This later gave rise to mucho confusion. The banks had put MERS together in–remember this–1997.

About ten years later, as the sheer volume of mortgaged-backed-securities slicing and dicing jammed up our banking system, the loss of an easily identifiable thread of ownership for each foreclosed house became, cumulatively, a huge problem, a can of worms, as it were.

But Kathleen Day, of the Center for Responsible Lending, used a better metaphor to describe the situation. During Diane Rehm’s discussion, Kathleen referred to the foreclosure mess as a “train wreck.”  A few minutes later on the radio program Ed Pinto, of the American Enterprise Institute, also used the “train wreck” analogy in his description.

Scene 2, blast from the past…

All of which solved a problem about a phrase–the “wreck of ’97– I had written into a song  a few years ago. In composing Boomer’s Choice, I included a verse about each decade of our collective American experience, beginning with the 1950’s, then covering the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s. After the turn of the century, I was having motivation problems in the writing of a verse for the 90s. In fact, I dilly-dallied around and didn’t get to the 1990s verse until the mid-’00s. And when I  finally did write that last verse, I combined that decade with those first years of the ’00s. I don’t know why. But I tossed the phrase “wreck of ’97” into that last verse, perhaps flippantly, because I didn’t know why the image of a wreck in 1997 arrested my imagination. In fact, I have often wished that I had sung the metaphor as “wreck of ’07’ because 2007 is when the housing boom really jumped the tracks and ran off the rails.

But now I understand. The wreck of ’97  was the MERS contortion of ownership tracks that  later provoked a jumping off the financial rails– the  wreck of ’07!

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