A bipartisan group of lawmakers this month introduced legislation that would allow the two government mortgage agencies to take drastic action to help struggling homeowners. The legislation would mandate principal reduction programs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, allowing the agencies to follow in the footsteps of other countries that have used debt forgiveness to alleviate the pain of the housing crisis.
Edward DeMarco, the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has been an ardent opponent of principal reduction but has been considering a proposal that would allow Fannie and Freddie to reduce debt on the mortgages it owns. Though DeMarco has yet to make a formal decision, a new study from Amherst Securities Group found that principal reduction is the most effective way of keeping homeowners from entering foreclosure, CNN Money reports:
Only 12% of borrowers who received principal reductions re-defaulted in 2011, Amherst found. That’s compared with 23% of borrowers who received mortgage modifications with interest rate reductions (but no principal reduction) and 30% who received forbearance, which postpones their debt repayment.
“[Modifications] with principal forgiveness are apt to be most effective, as the borrower no longer owes the money — so he is no longer hopelessly underwater,” said Laurie Goodman, Amherst’s housing market analyst and one of the authors of the report.
Principal reductions have accounted for 40 percent of the modifications done by banks in 2012, but with a few small exceptions, Fannie and Freddie will not authorize principal reductions on their loans.
The Amherst report is more evidence that principal reduction is good for homeowners and mortgage servicers, as Center for American Progress policy analyst John Griffith argued in March.
“Fewer foreclosures help more than just struggling homeowners. Local housing markets are better off, as each foreclosure decreases the value of every other home in the neighborhood,” Griffith wrote. “And since the average foreclosure costs more than $50,000 to the lender or investor, avoiding default often helps the books of Fannie and Freddie, which in turn benefits every taxpayer on the hook for their losses. So while principal reduction will give more struggling homeowners a fighting chance at staying in their homes, this is not a matter of charity. It?s good business.”
A week after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told his colleagues he intended to block every single appeals court nominee for the remainder of President Obama’s term, he is getting criticism from an unexpected source.
American Bar Association President Bill Robinson, a major Republican donor and Obama critic sent a letter this week to McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) encouraging the Republicans to end their obstruction of three appellate judges.
Robinson wrote that the group has “grave concern” about the number of judicial vacancies urged them to schedule floor votes on “pending, noncontroversial circuit court nominees before July and on district court nominees who have strong bipartisan support on a weekly basis thereafter.”
Three of the four circuit court nominees pending on the Senate floor are consensus nominees who have received overwhelming approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both William Kayatta, Jr. of Maine, nominated to the First Circuit, and Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, nominated to the Tenth Circuit, have the staunch support of their Republican senators. Richard Taranto, nominated to the Federal Circuit, enjoys strong bipartisan support, including the endorsement of noted conservative legal scholars. All three nominees also have stellar professional qualifications and each has been rated unanimously ?well-qualified? by the ABA?s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
With a growing number of vacancies on the federal bench, McConnell should recognize what Robinson and Chief Justice John Roberts have recognized as a judicial crisis and allow President Obama’s judicial nominees the same up-or-down votes he himself said were required by the U.S. Constitution during the George W. Bush administration.
In May of 2011, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Bullying Prevention Act, one of the nation’s most comprehensive anti-bullying law. The law, which includes LGBT students in the “protected classes,” requires all state school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.
Colorado LGBT advocacy organization One Colorado, which pushed heavily for the state-wide mandate, asked school districts to present their anti-bullying policies to check how many follow the law. Only 147 of the state’s 178 school districts responded. Of those 147, One Colorado discovered that more than a year after the state bullying mandate was signed, only 37 percent of school districts include sexual orientation in their anti-bullying policies. The group also found that only 62 percent include sexual orientation in their anti-harassment policy, and only 61 percent include the classification in their nondiscrimination policy. “It’s disheartening,” said Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado.
The study highlights the double-pronged approach required to address school bullying. States must enforce their policies so that they reach their intended aim of preventing the tangible harms of bullying. In a Human Rights Campaign survey released in June, 54 percent of LGBT youth said they had personally been attacked with slurs, and almost half said they did not feel accepted by their community. The survey also found that 21 percent said school bullying was the most important problem in their lives right now.
(DonkeyHotey)The right-wing coup of the nation's government could very well be complete, at least for now, since Justice Anthony Kennedy has decided to set up a permanent encampment with the dark side of the Supreme Court.
Next week's rulings, including that on the Affordable Care Act, will likely solidfy that, but for now just consider how the term has gone so far for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Constitutional Accountability Center, a left-leaning think tank and law firm, reviewed the cases in which the Chamber has provided briefs to the Court.
It found that the Chamber has had a "string of seven straight victories brings the chamber?s overall win/loss rate before the Roberts Court up to 68 percent (60 of 88 cases)." That's significantly better than the Chamber did under the past two chief justices, William Rehnquist (it had a 56 percent win rate) and Warren Burger (a 43 percent success rate).
Without much fanfare, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is edging towards what could be its first ?perfect? Term before the Supreme Court since at least 1994. With [Thursday's] decision in Southern Union Company v. United States, the Chamber has declared victory in all seven of its cases that have reached a clear outcome. [...]There are still two cases the Chamber has weighed in on to come, the Affordable Care Act and First American Financial Corporation v. Edwards, where the Chamber is arguing that "violations by banks and title companies of the anti-kickback provision of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act should not, by themselves, be sufficient to give homebuyers 'standing' to sue violators in court." How Chamber-esque: Being the victim of bank lawlessness isn't in itself sufficient cause to be able to sue the bank!
As the CAC says, "one thing is clear already: the Chamber is quietly having a very, very good year before the Supreme Court." All indications from the Court point to the Chamber cleaning up this term.
Tar sands mining in Alberta (Monthly Review)Five times House Republicans have okayed the Keystone XL pipeline project. But the latest effort to force administrative approval of the pipeline promoted by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) and Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) ran into a snag Thursday as part of a package of GOP-initiated energy legislation.
Fixing the screw-up is something Terry says hopes he can work out with Speaker John Boehner. Not that it really matters. The entire package of myopic House legislation has little chance of clearing the Senate, much less getting the president's signature.
Terry introduced his legislation?the North American Energy Access Act?last November. The bill would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve an application for the pipeline from builder TransCanada within 30 days of receiving it. If FERC did not move that quickly, the application would be automatically approved.
But, as reported by Andrew Restuccia, an aide to Terry said that, in the rush to get the amendment approved Thursday, four crucial lines in the wording went missing, adding "another layer of approval that we did not intend." Terry hopes to add the amendment to another piece of legislation, the aide said.
The Keystone XL pipeline, problematic for numerous reasons, including inevitable leaks along its path from the Alberta tar sands to Port Arthur on the Texas Gulf Coast, became a major focus for both regional and national protesters last summer. Opposition has linked ranchers and farmers in Nebraska and Texas, First Nations people in Canada and the United States, and environmental advocates determined to change policies in order to deal with the impacts of global warming.
In January, President Obama refused to give in to Republican demands that he approve the pipeline within 60 days. But he left the door open for TransCanada to reapply with a slightly altered route. That alteration is being sought to meet concerns about the pipeline's potential impact on the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides irrigation and drinking water to eight heartland states. The president has already approved a leg of the pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Port Arthur. Many environmental advocates expect him to approve the leg from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, as well.
The State Department issued a statement last week saying it would only provide a supplemental environmental impact statement on the pipeline for the new application. That means the wholly inadequate Final EIS issued for the original application in August 2011 would be allowed to stand. Among the many issues: Burning the oil the pipeline would transport would generate polluting emissions that are the equivalent of four million automobiles.
Since Obama's rejection of the original TransCanada route, Republicans have used it as a cudgel against the White House, pounding on it with bogus claims about tens of thousands of jobs that would be generated and generally presenting it as an example of the administration's allegedly backward energy policies. In the latest iteration, National Review Online calls the pipeline a "winning issue." NRO is urging Mitt Romney to take another bus tour along its route, and meet not only with citizens but also with several Democratic lawmakers who support the project, including Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.
Federal Reserve forecasts for GDP growth in 2012 have steadily fallen. In 2010, the Fed forecast an impressive 4% growth for 2012. By June of this year, they have lowered that to a little over 2%. And yet the Fed is also a policymaker, rather than[...]
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"Thank goodness for water-carrying fact-checkers." (Darren Hauck/Reuters)The Washington Post's major story about Mitt Romney's Bain Capital investments in companies that specialized in sending jobs overseas went online Thursday night. Thursday morning, Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post's fact-check columnist, gave the Obama campaign four Pinocchios for an ad saying that "Running for governor, Mitt Romney campaigned as a job creator. But as a corporate raider, he shipped jobs to China and Mexico. As governor, he did the same thing: Outsourcing state jobs to India."
When Kessler told the Obama campaign he'd be calling their ad false, the campaign actually provided him with some of the exact same material that the Post was putting on its front page: Bain investing in companies that were opening up overseas call centers and in other ways promoting and profiting from offshore outsourcing. Kessler specifically mentions Stream International and Modus Media, companies that provided outsourcing help to other companies, concluding that "Some of this business predated Romney?s departure from Bain, but thus far it seems a slim case for this particular ad."
But according to the Post's own research, Bain had money in Stream's predecessor, CSI, starting in 1993, long before Romney left Bain. Modus Media, originally a subsidiary of Stream, became an independent company in early 1998 with Bain as the largest shareholder. Romney left Bain in 1999.
Kessler's logic appears to be that, yes, Bain acquired stakes in these companies under Romney and, yes, he continued to profit from the deals after he stopped actively running Bain, but because he wasn't personally involved in every single decision Bain subsequently made about Stream and Modus, it's a lie to say that he shipped jobs overseas. Or something. Maybe he's just pissed that the ad used the term "corporate raider" in a way he doesn't like and is extending his pissiness outward. But whatever it is, once again, we have an alleged fact-checker looking at hard facts and twisting himself into knots to say that it's somehow a lie to use the facts in a way he doesn't like.
Here's the question: Would Kessler hit his employer's front-page story with four Pinocchios? If not, what's the difference between the Obama ad's claims about Romney's history of outsourcing and the Post's story, besides that one is a political ad? If so, can I please be a fly on the wall during that conversation with the paper's editors?
This Obama campaign ad received four pinocchios from the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, the fact-checking guru of WaPoLand.
Regarding the outsourcing claims, we have frowned on these before. The Obama campaign rests its case on three examples of Bain-controlled companies sending jobs overseas. But only one of the examples ? involving Holson Burns Group ? took place when Romney was actively managing Bain Capital.
Regarding the other claims, concerning Canadian electronics maker SMTC Manufacturing and customer service firm Modus Media, the Obama campaign tries to take advantage of a gray area in which Romney had stepped down from Bain ? to manage the Salt Lake City Olympics ? but had not sold his shares in the firm. We had previously given the Obama campaign Three Pinocchios for such tactics.
The Modus Media case is also not an example of shipping jobs overseas. The company closed one plant in California and transferred the jobs to North Carolina, Washington and Utah. At the same time, it opened an unrelated plant in Mexico. The Obama campaign once trumpeted the fact that we had dinged a conservative Super PAC for making the same leap in logic.
Bad, naughty Obama campaign, misleading viewers that way. Oh, wait. Because the Washington Post also has this story running on page 1 this morning about how Romney did, in fact, outsource jobs to China and Mexico during his time at Bain Capital. And it directly contradicts Mr. Pinnochio-Giver Kessler:
Until Romney left Bain Capital in 1999, he ran it with a proprietor?s zeal and attention to detail, earning a reputation for smart, hands-on management.
Bain?s foray into outsourcing began in 1993 when the private equity firm took a stake in Corporate Software Inc., or CSI, after helping to finance a $93 million buyout of the firm. CSI, which catered to technology companies like Microsoft, provided a range of services including outsourcing of customer support. Initially, CSI employed U.S. workers to provide these services but by the mid-1990s was setting up call centers outside the country.
Two years after Bain invested in the firm, CSI merged with another enterprise to form a new company called Stream International Inc. Stream immediately became active in the growing field of overseas calls centers. Bain was initially a minority shareholder in Stream and was active in running the company, providing ?general executive and management services,? according to SEC filings.
By 1997, Stream was running three tech-support call centers in Europe and was part of a call center joint venture in Japan, an SEC filing shows. ?The Company believes that the trend toward outsourcing technical support occurring in the U.S. is also occurring in international markets,? the SEC filing said.
Stream continued to expand its overseas call centers. And Bain?s role also grew with time. It ultimately became the majority shareholder in Stream in 1999 several months after Romney left Bain to run the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Bain sold its stake in Stream in 2001, after the company further expanded its call center operations across Europe and Asia.
Oh, and there is more. Much, much more. Mr. Glenn Kessler should have to retract his judgment, though I'm certain he will follow in Politifact's footsteps and find a way to dig in harder. He will do this despite hard, factual evidence that Bain Capital not only invested in companies specializing in outsourcing services, but also invested in companies that moved operations overseas, just like the OFA ad claims.
In addition to taking an interest in companies that specialized in outsourcing services, Bain also invested in firms that moved or expanded their own operations outside of the United States.
One of those was a California bicycle manufacturer called GT Bicycle Inc. that Bain bought in 1993. The growing company relied on Asian labor, according to SEC filings. Two years later, with the company continuing to expand, Bain helped take it public. In 1998, when Bain owned 22 percent of GT?s stock and had three members on the board, the bicycle maker was sold to Schwinn, which had also moved much of its manufacturing offshore as part of a wider trend in the bicycle industry of turning to Chinese labor.
Another Bain investment was electronics manufacturer SMTC Corp. In June 1998, during Romney?s last year at Bain, his private equity firm acquired a Colorado manufacturer that specialized in the assembly of printed circuit boards. That was one of several preliminary steps in 1998 that would culminate in a corporate merger a year later, five months after Romney left Bain. In July 1999, the Colorado firm acquired SMTC Corp., SEC filings show. Bain became the largest shareholder of SMTC and held three seats on its corporate board. Within a year of Bain taking over, SMTC told the SEC it was expanding production in Ireland and Mexico.
The dates aren't an accident. These companies were on track to close and move operations overseas along with the jobs long before Romney left Bain. Long before.
The Obama campaign responded to the article with the following statement:
?Tonight's story in the Washington Post exposed Mitt Romney's breathtaking hypocrisy. He has campaigned all over this country, vowing that he would be an advocate for American jobs. But tonight we learned that he made a fortune advising companies on how to outsource jobs to China and India. Maybe that explains why, despite his campaign rhetoric, Romney continues to support tax policies that would reward companies who send American jobs overseas."
It really is devastating to Romney, after all. The whole premise of his candidacy rests on his so-called better ability to create jobs. Yet here he is, working hard to destroy them.
The next time you hear Mitt Romney claim that he's all about jobs, just remember how many he sent overseas. Oh, and fire the fact-checkers.
We have a report from Reuters that Syria just shot down a Turkish military jet over Syrian territorial waters. (Remember, Syria and Turkey share a border and are scrunched up against each other in the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea.) Given[...]
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Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
I?ve written a bit about June 2012 and Pride earlier (see here ), but wanted to take another quick look, via a couple of articles I?ve recently read.
This isn?t just a Queerdom thing, of course, for at least two reasons. One, equality ? and Pride both marks progress and points to work to be done ? is an ?issue? which includes us all ? race, gender, orientation, immigration status, ?class? (and we know we are divided by ?class,? whether we want to admit it or not), etc., shouldn?t be a factor in determining how ?rights? are determined. And two, LGBT advocates at every level, from local to national, have and need the support of straight allies.
The progress toward LGBT equality is measured in lots of ways, some more ?different? than others. From Michael Gormley:
One by one, courts around the country are deciding it?s no longer slander to falsely call someone gay ? a measure of how attitudes are changing in the era of same-sex marriage and gays in uniform.
I?m not sure how this relates to efforts to insult someone who is actually gay, by calling them gay. I remember one time when I had that experience: an LGBT group was volunteering to answer fundraising phone calls at the local public television station, and I took a call from a guy who began by saying, ?So, you?re a lezzie?? To which I responded, ?Yes.? Which seemed to thoroughly confuse the guy, who clearly anticipated denial, embarrassment, apologies or something by which he could measure a ?score.? I?ll admit his sputtering made me smile.
But back to the court decisions about it not being slander to falsely call someone gay ? that doesn?t mean, of course, that ?faggot,? ?dyke? and ?that?s so gay,? aren?t still rather widely considered insulting, but
… some judges have concluded that it is not damaging to anyone?s reputation, just as calling a white man black is no longer grounds for legal action as it was a generation ago.
Legal decisions don?t define personal perceptions and judgments, but the decisions often do reflect, and help strengthen, societal changes. One easy measure of changes, legal and social, is the evolution of Pride as a statement of liberation and equality.
LGBT Pride is tied to the Stonewall Riots (more about that next week), but the evolution of Pride as an annual event, and as a key focus of the movement, is more complex. From Loni Shibuyama at ONE Archives, one theory about how ??pride? became a mantra of the LGBTQ movement? (emphasis mine):
In their book, Gay L.A., Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons write about an LA group called Personal Rights in Defense and Education, or PRIDE. Formed in 1966, PRIDE was a gay and lesbian rights group that was more in-your-face than its predecessors, and it?s believed to be one of the earliest instances of use of the word ?pride? in regard to LGBTQ politics. The group didn?t last very long, but during its run it published a newsletter, held monthly ?pride night? meetings, attempted (unsuccessfully) to open a gay community center, and organized the 1967 demonstrations against the Black Cat bar raid in Silver Lake. Check this out, the very first newsletter from PRIDE in May 1966:
Incidentally, that that very newsletter changed its name to the The Los Angeles Advocate (?a PRIDE publication?) in 1967, which you may now know simply as Advocate. You know, Advocate, that national magazine with a bunch of famous people on the covers?that?s the one.
Attempt to insult me by calling me a ?lezzie? ? you just added to my pride in simply being who I am. Attempt to insult one of my straight friends by calling her a ?lezzie? ? well, apparently she can?t sue you, but then, she might have the same response as did one such friend, when the smirking young guy loudly remarked, to the snickers of his appreciative friends: ?I?ll bet you?re a lesbo fag, too.? ?Why thank you,? she said, as we walked on.
(Pride 1966 photos via ONE)