The Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification Program (known as "HAMP" to lenders and services, and MHA, or "Making Home Affordable" to the general public) is "failing."
I only learned this because I looked at the Associated Press's feeds on Christmas evening and saw this headline -- "No consequences for lying borrowers."
In an item time-stamped December 25, AP national business columnist Rachel Beck (note: not a reporter) used language that would ordinarily cause many in the press to characterize such a person as a hard-hearted meanie to describe the results of this core Obama initiative this far:
No consequences for lying borrowers
The government shouldn't reward liars. But that's the effect of changes to the Obama administration's failing program to help homeowners modify their mortgages.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department issued a press release, called "Update on Status of Support for Housing Programs." Its fourth paragraph reads as follows:
At the time the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship in September 2008, Treasury established Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs) to ensure that each firm maintained a positive net worth. Treasury is now amending the PSPAs to allow the cap on Treasury's funding commitment under these agreements to increase as necessary to accommodate any cumulative reduction in net worth over the next three years. At the conclusion of the three year period, the remaining commitment will then be fully available to be drawn per the terms of the agreements.
Translation: No matter how badly things further deteriorate at these former government sponsored enterprises, both of which since last year in essence have become government-controlled enterprises, Uncle Sam (i.e., current and future generations of taxpayers) will cover their losses.
Here is how three different news outlets headlined this Treasury/Obama administration move:
If there's a Ground Zero for America's foreclosure mess outside of much of California and metro Las Vegas, it's probably Cleveland, the Northeast Ohio city known in most of the rest of the state as the Mistake on the Lake.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mark Gillespie got out from behind his desk, committed some good old-fashioned journalism, and went looking for the mistakes that exacerbated the town's breathtaking home foreclosure rate. Lo and behold, he found that city government itself contributed mightily and extraordinarily negligently to the debacle. Go far enough into Gillespie's report, and you will also find an implicit admission that the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) also played a pivotal role (bold is mine):
How Cleveland aggravated its foreclosure crisis
The city of Cleveland has aggravated its vexing foreclosure problems and has lost millions in tax dollars by helping people buy homes they could not afford, a Plain Dealer investigation has found.
In a Washington Post opinion piece published on December 6, longtime expansionary entitlement program apologists Peter Edelman and Barbara Ehrenreich ripped into the 1996 welfare reform law and its alleged effect on the poor during the struggling economy of the past two years.
In the course of their rant, Edelman and Ehrenreich told readers something that the rest of the press has largely ignored since Barack Obama took office in January: Homelessness is up, as in way, way up:
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), the number of homeless Americans is up by 61 percent since the recession began in December 2007.
In fact, a new report from a source normally favored by the press tells us that new "tent cities" have sprung up, and that others in existence a year ago have grown. Does anyone think these facts would remain so well-hidden if Bush 43 were still in office?
Interestingly, it seems that Edeleman and Ehrenreich appear to have serendipitously misinterpreted their information source.
The seemingly creepy fixation some MSNBC on-air personalities have with Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann just continues to persist on the cable network.
The latest installment involves MSNBC's "Ed Show" host Ed Schultz relying on a left-wing publication, The Minnesota Independent, which found a high rate of foreclosures relative in Bachmann's district relative to the rest of the state of Minnesota. Schultz, on his Dec. 2 program, contended Bachmann was spending too much time as a conservative activist and not enough time focusing on the problems of her district. But it turns out the data might not be at all accurate.
"One last page in my playbook tonight," Schultz said. "It looks like Minnesota congresswoman and ‘Psycho Talk' regular Michele Bachmann needs to spend a little bit more time riling up the right-wing nut job partiers out there and focus on her own back yard."
It's a development that I wouldn't wish on anybody, but one that the City of New London, Connecticut largely brought upon itself by pursuing and winning the Kelo v. New London case at the Supreme Court in June 2005.
Some "win." In what Ed Morrissey at Hot Air calls "a fitting coda to a chapter of governmental abuse," pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer is leaving the global research and development headquarters it built in New London just eight years ago.
The significance of the move should resonate nationally, because, as the Washington Examiner explains, Pfizer's original decision to locate in New London was driven by the City's promises to eliminate a nearby neighborhood -- promises which led to the Kelo litigation once residents, including Susette Kelo (pictured above), pushed back:
To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of "public use."
The New London Day elaborates, while petulantly managing to avoid any mention of what has clearly become the local four-letter word -- "Kelo" (bold is mine):
It isn't often that one can see two decades of history re-written in under ten minutes. But such was the occasion on this morning's episode of Morning Joe. Max Blumenthal, author of "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party," spent his time on the show demonstrating the combined power of cognitive dissonance, wanton ignorance, and a willingness to re-write historical fact.
Let's take it in chronological order, shall we?
First, Blumenthal is asked to present the major thesis of his book:
No, that's not a made-up headline. The foreclosed and/or evicted homeowners that have played such a role in the current economic meltdown - are they irresponsible borrowers that lived beyond their means or are victims that got swindled? Michael Moore is clear on where he thinks they fall.
Moore matched up with Fox News and conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity on Hannity's Oct. 6 program and Hannity attempted to have Moore explain why he didn't think there was a personal responsibility angle to the home foreclosure crisis.
Here's how it unfolded (emphasis added):
HANNITY: If you put your name on the dotted line in a legal document, don't you bear responsibility? MOORE: These people have been deceived and they've been exploited. You know, this is like - this is like ... HANNITY: No responsibility at all for them? MOORE: No, this is like asking a woman how short was your skirt after she's been raped.
Has it really come to this? Is MSNBC so in the tank for the Democratic Party that it takes far-left documentary filmmaker Michael Moore to bring up malfeasance by a leading Democrat?
Moore appeared on MSNBC's Sept. 29 "Hardball" to promote his new film "Capitalism: A Love Story." With exception of "The Ed Show" fill-in host Lawrence O'Donnell noting the Senate Ethics Committee had cleared Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., of wrongdoing and only reprimanded him verbally, over the last couple of months, MSNBC's prime time shows have ignored a deal Dodd got on a mortgage with Countrywide. That is, until Moore brought it up.
"Chris Dodd may have a problem after being in this movie, I think," Matthews said.
In a great NewsBusters post early this morning, Rusty Weiss wondered how much local media coverage there has been of ACORN's suspension of services, and focused on potential vote fraud in Albany and Troy, New York.
Here's a question local reporters looking for an angle should be asking, even in the somewhat unlikely event they can't find anything corrupt or criminal at the ACORN office in their town: How effective is the organization's outreach?
Based on what little I've learned, a more legitimate question might be, "Is ACORN's so-called outreach really just a facade to conceal other not well-known activities it really considers more important"?
The issue first occurred to me when I read a September 18 report by WCPO in Cincinnati (WCPO apparently stands for "We Constantly Promote Obama") about the office's decision to suspend services (bolds are mine):
If you haven't been under a rock the last few weeks, or relying on the mainstream media as your sole source of news, you are likely aware of some of the questionable circumstances surrounding the organization Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
A pair of intrepid investigative reporters, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, with the help of Andrew Breitbart, made it possible for the public to be aware of these practices by ACORN. However, the embattled organization, in a retaliatory maneuver, has filed a suit against O'Keefe, Giles and Breitbart. Breitbart appeared on Fox News Channel's Sept. 24 "The O'Reilly Factor" and responded to the suit.
"So, all I can see is that this lawsuit is an attempt to stifle free speech and the First Amendment and an attempt to make sure that the American people don't see the rest of the tapes and there are more tapes," Breitbart said.
Last Wednesday, ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis promised that her organization would conduct a "total audit," and would name an independent auditor by Friday ("within 48 hours"). Later, it said it would do so yesterday.
The group finally acted today, in totally underwhelming fashion. We're not going to get a "total audit" after all. Instead, there's going to be an "internal investigation," and it will be conducted by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger.
If this were a Republican group, or if the press were doing its job, this change in mission would be correctly labeled a watered-down cop-out. Instead, the Associated Press's Sharon Theimer played along with it and made no reference to ACORN's high-minded promises last week.
Early this morning (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I posted on the Associated Press's treatment of the firing of two employees at ACORN's Baltimore office. These employees were successfully stung by undercover filmmaker James O'Keefe, who posed as a pimp (one who said he has plans to use the money from his "enterprise" to run for Congress), and Hannah Giles, who posed as a prostitute.
In a pair of videos (full script here) released on Thursday, viewers saw the two helpful ACORN Baltimore employees tell O'Keefe and Giles, among many jaw-dropping things, that:
Giles should call herself a “freelance performing artist” for tax purposes.
That they should claim three of 13 underage girls the pair planned to bring in from El Salvador to work as prostitutes as dependents.
That the prostitute should also claim child tax credits for those declared as "dependents."
O'Keefe and Giles piled on Friday morning by releasing a second pair of videos showing that they had pulled off a similar sting at ACORN's DC office.
But if we're to believe the Associated Press's Hope Yen, Friday's out of the blue decision by the Census Bureau to sever its ties with ACORN in connection with the 2010 census had nothing or at most very little to do with what O'Keefe and Giles pulled off. Instead, Yen portrayed the decision as a cave-in to the minority party in Washington known as Republicans. Uh-huh.
Thursday night, the Associated Press reported on the Baltimore ACORN sting carried out by James O'Keefe of Andrew Breitbart's new BigGovernment.com web site. A paragraph near the end of the report is virtually a de facto commercial for the controversial group.
As to the sting itself, in case you missed it -- in two devastating videos originally posted here that you must see, O'Keefe and Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and prostitute who, as summarized in original Fox News coverage, told officials at ACORN's Baltimore office that they "wanted to secure housing where the woman could continue to maintain a prostitution business."
ACORN said Thursday that it has fired the two employees who are seen on tape telling O'Keefe and Giles the following, among a host of sickening howlers:
Nightline correspondent Vicki Mabrey profiled self-described "financial terrorist" Bruce Marks on Friday, painting his actions in a religious light as a "revival of spirits" and "hopes." Co-host Cynthia McFadden began the show by rhapsodizing, "The financial terrorist. He’s on the front lines of the foreclosure front using guerrilla tactics on a crusade to restore the American dream."
She continued, "And he's taking dead aim at the big banks. Is there anything he could do for you?" Mabrey did offer Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) CEO Marks a few tough questions, noting that his organization, which tries to help homeowners restructure their loans, also uses extreme tactics, such as protesting outside the homes and schools of the children of financial executives.
It's been nearly seven months since CNBC reporter Rick Santelli took a stand against the Obama administration, which inspired the tea party movement - and the White House hasn't forgotten.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked by CNBC Washington correspondent John Harwood why the administration decided to go after Santelli after his Feb. 19 call for a metaphorical revolt over President Barack Obama's economic policies.
"Truthfully, one primary reason," Gibbs said in comments aired on CNBC's Sept. 4 "Squawk on the Street." "And that was - I thought the argument that he was making was both disingenuous and not based on the facts. It was clear that Rick was very passionate about the issue. And look, we have differing opinions from both sides of the political aisle. It was clear to me that the argument that he was making wasn't based on him having actually read our plan."
The announcement of Sen. Ted Kennedy's death came at 2 a.m. Eastern on Aug. 26 and a little over 15 hours later, two prominent liberal voices were scheming as to how the president and other Democratic leaders could use his passing to advance a political agenda.
Huffington Post editor Arianna Huffington appeared on MSNBC host Ed Schultz's Aug. 26 program and was asked by Schultz if it somehow could be used to push "real reform" for health care.
"The passing of Ted Kennedy - could this be a rallying cry for progressives to carry this fight through and to see real reform and health care in this country?" Schultz said. "Because, of course, I think everybody on the left knows that this was his passion, this was his cause."
The Bloomberg administration in New York has happened upon an idea for at least partially solving the city's homeless problem: Buy them tickets to get to the homes of relatives in the U.S. or abroad who will take them in.
Along the way, the New York Times's coverage of the story throws out an estimate of annual costs to take care of a homeless family that is either ridiculously high, or indicative of out-of-control bloat. The story also reveals the dense logic of a so-called "homeless advocate" who believes that the people sent away are still homeless. Finally and separately, though I couldn't find a reference myself, a well-known blogger asserts that a similar approach to the problem taken by another city was derided as uncaring.
New York Times reporter Edmund Andrews is again writing about housing -- and about a proposed government agency that could have helped him during his own housing crisis -- on the front page of Wednesday's Business section, "Banks Balk At Agency Meant to Aid Consumers."
Andrews courted controversy in May upon the release of his book "Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown," about his own personal mortgage crisis. But his denunciations of greedy banks left out vital information -- his wife's previous two bankruptcies.
From Andrews's story on Wednesday:
Banks and mortgage lenders are placing top priority on killing President Obama's proposal to create a new consumer protection agency that would regulate home loans, credit card fees, payday loans and other forms of consumer finance.
The Obama administration fired an opening shot on Tuesday, sending Congress a detailed, 150-page proposal for an agency that would set new standards for ordinary mortgages, restrict or prohibit risky loans, investigate financial institutions and enforce new laws aimed at protecting credit card customers.
"This agency will have only one mission -- to protect consumers," said Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, in a written statement on Tuesday.
Leave it to the British press to once again do the job of real reporting that U.S. journalists apparently won't do.
This time, it's Tom Leonard at the UK Telegraph. From Flint, Michigan, he tells us of a "pioneering scheme" that involves tearing down entire neighborhoods and simply abandoning them -- oops, I'm sorry, I meant to say, "returning them to nature."
This is apparently what passes for sophisticated urban planning these days.
Here are key paragraphs from Leonard's story. Especially note the breathtaking anti-progress hostility of the idea's champion (bolds are mine; Getty picture at top right is from that story):
The government is continuing to encroach on freedoms more and more in the name of climate change. Case in point: An ordinance that went into effect June 1 stating if you sell your home in Austin, Texas and you fail to get a clean energy "green" audit, you will likely face criminal charges.
According to an ordinance passed by the Austin City Council in November 2008, any home 10 years or older will require an "Energy Conservation Audit. Failure to comply - criminal charges as explained by the local community-owned electric utility:
What if I sell the house without having an audit?
Non-compliance with the ECAD ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor. Reported violations will be forwarded to the City of Austin Legal Department for review and action.
Housing Boom Aided Minorities Homeownership Reached Record Levels, Narrowing the Gap With Whites
Lead: “Minorities in the U.S. increased their levels of homeownership at a faster clip than whites during the recent housing boom, according to a new report, and narrowed the ownership gap with the majority despite taking a bigger hit during the subsequent bust.”
Homeownership Losses Are Greatest Among Minorities, Report Finds
Lead: “After a decade of growth, the gains made in homeownership by African-Americans and native-born Latinos have been eroding faster in the economic downturn than those of whites, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center.”
Remember back in March when Congress had the brilliant idea to retroactively tax bonuses paid out by bailed out insurer American International Group (AIG)? The House voted 328 to 93 for the 90-percent tax on the $165 million in bonuses, but it later died in the Senate.
Steve Moore, a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, explained on CNBC's May 13 "Street Signs" that the punitive retroactive tax was just a distraction to divert attention away from the culpability of Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., for the current financial crisis.
"Remember, Barney Frank was one of the guys right at the center of the financial crisis," Moore said. "I think he had a lot of the blame of this lays at his foot. He said roll the dice on Fanny and Freddie. So the point is I think that these Democrats are trying to redirect the populist storm against members of Congress like Chris Dodd and Barney Frank towards executives. So, I'm not so sure he didn't want that to pass as a way of deflecting criticism."
Roubini, often called Dr. Doom and known for crazy parties, predicted back in 2005 the speculative housing bubble would be the eventual undoing of the economy - and he was correct. However, as Jeff Macke, founder and president of Macke Asset Management and panelist on "Fast Money" explained May 11, being two years early with that prediction wasn't something to hang your hat on.
"Let me give you a little hint on trading," Macke said. "If you're two years early on any idea, what you are mostly is dead. You're a professor, as opposed to a trader. And if we still have time to talk after the five-minute butt kissing we gave the guy, I'll tell you what - he hasn't made anyone a cent. Until he does, as far as I'm concerned, it's a nice opinion but it's not making me money."
Shoot, he's only talking about pulling $8 billion in state-controlled money because a bank won't go easy on a business borrower who can't pay. What's the big deal?
Well, the story involves the company that makes suits for President Barack Obama (pictured at right). Beyond that, the union at that company is citing the US Treasury Department's Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) as a reason that company's bank should in essence bail it out.
You might think that these two factors, combined with what I'm characterizing as a loyalty oath all financial institutions who do business with the State of Illinois must soon agree to (covered later), might make the Treasurer's and union's threats a national story. You would be wrong.
Here is most of the very short AP item, carried at the Springfield (IL) State Journal-Register, and referred to me by a NewsBusters commenter:
For whatever reason, CNBC keeps lining up challengers to take on its Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor reporter Rick Santelli over his self-reliance, pro-taxpayer persona - whether it's Steve Liesman, Arianna Huffington or this time, Keith Boykin - editor of The Daily Voice, a CNBC contributor and a BET TV host.
ON CNBC's May 7 "The Call," Santelli took on Boykin in the program's "The Call of the Wild" segment. Boykin was armed with the usual anti-George W. Bush talking points to defend President Barack Obama and his policies.
"Look what he inherited first of all," Boykin said.
"He didn't inherit anything," Santelli said. "He ran for office, it was his choice."
While Fox News has celebrated the Taxpayer Tea Party rallies and MSNBC has denigrated them, the impetus of the movement - CNBC and specifically Rick Santelli, its inspiration - had been conspicuously quiet about it.
"A lot of articles about these tea parties," Kernen said. "They all have your name in them, like you caused it. Are you actually attending any or are you just sort of got the idea going initially? What do you think? I mean, you're like a cultural phenomenon at this point."
Once again, someone has squared off against one of CNBC's star personalities, and this time it's a liberal economist taking aim at the old standby, "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer.
An April 8 Associated Press story reported that, on the heels of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart taking Cramer "to task for trying to turn finance reporting into a game," New York University Professor and Huffington Post contributor Nouriel Roubini blasted Cramer in an interview. Predictably, Cramer responded.
"Cramer is a buffoon," Roubini said to the AP. "He was one of those who called six times in a row for this bear market rally to be a bull market rally and he got it wrong. And after all this mess and Jon Stewart he should just shut up because he has no shame."
Arianna Huffington, who appeared as a guest host on CNBC's March 31 "Squawk Box" has following of left-wing readers and bloggers, as the editor of the very popular Huffington Post blog. The two faced off on "Squawk Box" about how the housing crisis should be handled. Huffington asked Santelli what his thoughts were on more government assistance for underwater homeowners to prevent another round of foreclosures.
"Well, the whole country is underwater I guess," Santelli replied. "It's just a matter of where you want to point the bailout gun. I would certainly like to see some of those mortgage contracts gone through to find out where the erroneous and inaccurate and illegal contracts and separate those from the rest because I think that a lot of the information on the original mortgage contracts is not accurate and I don't think it would be very fair to put those in the same camp as other foreclosures."