Mainstream media dissing Obama watchdogs?

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Defaults Rise in Loan Modification Program

Defaults Rise in Loan Modification Program

By DAVID STREITFELD

The number of homeowners who secured cheaper mortgages through the government’s modification program only to default again nearly doubled in March, continuing a worrisome trend that threatens to undermine the entire program.

Treasury Department data released Wednesday showed that 2,879 loans that were permanently modified have defaulted since the program’s inception in the fall, up from 1,499 in February and 1,005 in January.

Almost all the cancellations were apparently prompted by the buyer being unable to make the new payment. A scant handful — 37 in March — were due to the loan being paid off, presumably because the borrower sold the house.

The modification program, which the Obama administration says will help as many as three or four million households avoid foreclosure, is too new to have much of a track record. But the evidence is beginning to suggest that for some borrowers, having a loan modified is not the end of their struggle against foreclosure.

Julia R. Gordon, senior policy counsel for the Center for Responsible Lending in Washington, said she expected the number of post-modification defaults to continue to rise.

“It’s definitely alarming to look at those statistics,” she said. “The current model for modifications doesn’t necessarily produce sustainable results.”

The Treasury Department said the defaults were expected. “We always anticipated that some homeowners would not sustain a modification,” a Treasury spokeswoman, Meg Reilly, said.

As a result, she said, the foreclosure relief program has been greatly expanded. New elements focus on allowing distressed homeowners to sell their properties for less than they owe and on shaving the principal owed by borrowers.

The notion of cutting principal, however, has already run into some resistance by the big banks, and its fate in uncertain. That program will not be in place until the fall.

Many modification recipients are burdened by a tremendous amount of debt, both on their house and credit cards.

Treasury data shows that the median savings for borrowers receiving permanent modifications is $512 a month. But the borrower’s debt load, which includes not only the house, property taxes and insurance but homeowner association fees, home equity loans, car loans, alimony and credit card interest, remains very high.

Even after modification, $61 out of every $100 earned by the borrower goes to servicing his debt, government figures show. For increasing numbers of modification recipients, it is apparently still too much to stave off financial collapse.

Many of these private plans either kept the payments the same or increased them. Inevitably, these mortgages suffered the highest failure rate — about two-thirds of the borrowers were once again behind in their payments after a year, government data shows.

Loans where the payments were decreased by at least 20 percent failed at a slower but still significant rate of about 40 percent.

On the surface, the modification program appears to be doing better after a much-criticized start. The process begins with a trial period of several months, after which the modification becomes permanent if both parties agree.

While fewer people are entering trial modifications each month, more of them are expected to receive permanent modifications.

The number of active permanent modifications in March was 227,922, an increase of 35 percent from February. Another 108,212 permanent modifications are awaiting borrower approval.

Sarah Palin fires up Tea Party rally

Sarah Palin fires up Tea Party rally

By Joe Dwinell and Hillary Chabot  |   Wednesday, April 14, 2010  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Politics

Photo

Photo by Nancy Lane

A roaring Tea Party crowd cheered on Sarah Palin on the Boston Common today as she slammed President Obama promising it’s “nothing a good old fashioned election can’t fix.”

Palin, wearing a lipstick-red leather jacket, urged “less government” and “cut spending” and do more than “stall the spending spree we’ve been on.”

Check out reader-submitted photos from today’s Tea Party Express rally.

The common-sense hockey mom praised Bostonians for electing upstart GOP star U.S. Sen. Scott Brown as she stood in the shadow of the Democrat-controlled State House.

“Bostonians have never been afraid to stand up for their freedoms,” Palin said. “Shoot, look at what Massachusetts did in January. You shook up the U.S. Senate.”

She called for taxes to be cut so families can “keep more” of what they earn. She tossed in a call for “drill, baby drill” and to stop America from “bowing to Saudis.”

It was a speech aimed directly at the Democrats and it was the fuel that pumped up the Tea Party Express crowd.

The turnout – clearly well in the thousands – went beyond expectations, Tea Party organizers said. The crowd filled the Common to hear Palin who took the stage before 11 this morning.

Palin took to the stage to pound away at “Obamacare” and the borrowing that will tax future generations, she said.

“The first test will be at the ballot box in November,” she said, calling on Tea Partiers to get out the vote.

Almost everyone said they came today to catch a glimpse of the conservative shooting star, but she’s not the only draw.

Gold Star Mother Debbie Lee told the story of her son, Mark, who was killed2 in Iraq. She broke down in tears to remember a boy she lost to war who stood in the line of fire to save his squad.

“He did that for each and every one of you today,” she said of her son’s death. “We’ve got political insurgents in Washington, D.C. And will you have the same response my son did? ‘Roger that. Let’s go get ‘em.”’

The rally, which kicked off before 10 a.m. and will last until about 1 p.m., has made the corner of Charles and Beacon the epicenter of the Tea Party movement today.

“This may be our only opportunity to see her live on the East coast,” said Dennis McHale, a police sergeant who worked a night shift on Long Island and then hit the road to the Hub.

John Philip Souza IV was the first speaker to take to the podium, where he railed against big government. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for the restoration of smaller government,” he ended his speech with.

It’s still Palin who is the big draw.

“She’s a political up-and-comer and I’m excited to see her,” said Franklin High senior Taylor Trenchard.

“It’s a great experience. I want to see Sarah Palin speak,” said Nick Melfi, 18, also from Franklin High. He came along with others in his AP government class to witness democracy in action.

Historian and Plymouth preacher Paul Jehle said the Tea Party picked the perfect location to hold an anti-tax, anti-big government rally.

“There’s a hunger here to return to liberty and constitutional law – and that’s a good thing,” said Jehle, who is dressed as a Minuteman as he works the crowd.

“In 1773, Boston voted against paying a 3 cent tea tax. It was lawful resistance to an unjust tax,” Jehle said, adding he hopes the Tea Party movement can cling to those ideals.

Protesters also milled around the packed Boston Common, including Theresa Pope, 49, who dressed up as Alice from Alice in Wonderland.

“This is all madness, so we’re going mad a little ourselves,” said Pope, of Jamaica Plain.

Another protester, who would only give his first name Peter, said police kicked him out of the area.

“This is what these people talk about, freedom of speech, but when I practice it they don’t want to hear it,” he said.

Israel Says Syria Gave Missiles to Hezbollah

Israel Says Syria Gave Missiles to Hezbollah

By ETHAN BRONNER

JERUSALEM — Israeli officials say that Syria has delivered accurate long-distance Scud missiles to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, placing Israeli cities deep in its heartland, including Tel Aviv, within range.

The officials added that the delivery of the missiles — strongly denied by Syria and yet to be confirmed by sources outside of Israel — would change the strategic balance in the area and increase the risk of war.

The issue was raised by President Shimon Peres, who during a visit to Paris told journalists earlier this week, “Syria claims that it wants peace, while simultaneously delivering Scud missiles to Hezbollah, which is constantly threatening the security of the State of Israel.” He added, after meeting with the French prime minister, Francois Fillon, that Syria was playing “a double game.” Mr. Fillon, who was recently in the Syrian capital of Damascus, had told Mr. Peres that the government of President Bashar el-Assad wanted peace with Israel.

Mr. Peres did not specify which type of Scud missiles had been delivered. However, aides accompanying him and officials in Jerusalem said that the missiles in question were of a ballistic nature normally used only by state armies. One official said they were Scud D, the most accurate and long range.

“This creates a new situation,” another Israeli official said, insisting on anonymity because there were continuing diplomatic efforts to deal with the concern. “These are more accurate and far more dangerous.”

American and French officials have both said they were aware of the Israeli concerns but did not know whether the missiles had actually been delivered. “If such an action has been taken, and we continue to analyze this issue,” the State Department spokesman said on Wednesday, “clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk.”

Israel has long charged that Syria permitted and facilitated the arming of Hezbollah, which would make Lebanon a theater for clashes between Israel and Syria or Hezbollah.

Other Israeli officials speaking publicly have made somewhat more veiled charges than did Mr. Peres, indicating a concern over the possibility of new weapons deliveries.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday, for example, that Israel had no aggressive intentions toward Lebanon. But he noted that Hezbollah continued to build up its weapons supply, and that “introducing systems which change the strategic balance endangers the stability and calm here.” He did not say whether the systems had been introduced.Israel fought a month-long war against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 in which the Shiite militia fired hundreds of mostly short-range rockets at Israel’s north. Since then, Israeli military officials have repeatedly said that Hezbollah is building up a far larger and more lethal arsenal, storing up to 40,000 rockets in underground bunkers in southern Lebanon.

Israeli officials have often said that the arsenal includes small numbers of both medium and longer-range rockets. But this appears to be the first time that they have gone public with their concern over Scud missiles.

In Washington, word of the possible transfer of such weapons may slow Senate confirmation of Robert Ford as the next ambassador to Syria. The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in 2005 after the assassination in Lebanon of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which was said by many to be the work of Syrian or Syrian-backed agents.

Some Republican senators have indicated that they may delay dispatching Mr. Ford if the Scuds are shown to have been transferred.

In a news analysis in Wednesday’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, military writers Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff speculated that the Syrians were making the missile transfer because while they may want to trade the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for peace, “they do not sense that there is a genuine Israeli partner with whom they can reach agreement. Thus they prefer to bolster deterrence, which will prevent Israel from once again striking their territory, as it did in September 2007.”

Israel struck what many believe was a nascent nuclear reactor in Syria then.

Hezbollah is heavily supported by Iran, which Israel and Washington fear is developing a nuclear weapon. Israeli analysts say that the Hezbollah arsenal may be there largely to serve as potential retaliation should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. Obama’s Nowhere Discussions–President Obama could rather easily restore his credibility. But to do so, he would have to stop talking and start making hard policy decisions.

Mr. Obama’s Nowhere Discussions

President Obama could rather easily restore his credibility. But to do so, he would have to stop talking and start making hard policy decisions.

Barack Obama has a marvelous way of sounding innovative, fresh, and novel while offering stale, predictable bromides. His policies at home are an extension of LBJ’s old Great Society. Abroad we’ve been getting a more sonorous version of Jimmy Carter’s global self-righteous sermonizing.

The public wanted a racially transcendent figure and got instead a Chicago ward boss. The problem now for Mr. Obama — reflected in growing popular discontent — is that on matters of debt, taxes, energy, jobs, and race, he apparently has very little new to offer. He just serves up in new wording the them/us divides of the past.

We are at a point where each new proposed federal initiative — health care, cap-and-trade, a “jobs bill,” stimulus, education — is synonymous with more debt. Mr. Obama has exhausted the time-honored Beltway gimmicks of promising to root out “fraud and abuse,” of “streaming” or “reinventing” government, of “freezing” discretionary spending.

His proposed restoration of the Clinton income-tax rates does not come in a vacuum, but coincides with massive new taxes imposed by the states, health-care surcharges, and proposed raising of the caps on income subject to payroll taxes. As the deficit still grows, talk of a new federal value-added tax spreads.

In other words, when one piles up over $3 trillion in debt in less than two years of governance, all the soaring rhetoric in the world, all the borrowing from Japan and China, and all the new taxes cannot change the fact that the money is running out. There really is a finite sum that we can continue to borrow at low interest or to collect in taxes from “them.” End of discussion.

Obama has never addressed our dependence on imported oil, other than by borrowing billions to subsidize wind and solar power, alternative energy sources that so far have been more inspirational than concrete in easing the immediate energy crunch. When the worldwide economy rebounds (and it will, regardless of the degree of American “stimulus”), the price of gas at the pump will soar. It is well over $3 a gallon right now in California.

Again, all the gimmicks in the world will not change our immediate need for foreign fuel. Loud but disingenuous pledges to drill offshore and tap new gas fields do not actually equate to pumping more oil and tapping more natural gas in places like Alaska and off the California and Florida coasts. Bold new statements about nuclear power matter little; that we haven’t built a plant in three decades matters a lot.

So Mr. Obama can once again soar with “millions of new green jobs” and point to all sorts of innovative new energy sources; but for the next five years rising gas and power prices will crush the American public unless he is serious about developing the energy sources we have that could carry us through the crisis until private enterprise creates viable alternatively fueled transportation and electrical production. End of discussion.

Unemployment seems stuck at right under 10 percent. When it was under 6 percent during the 2004 campaign, the media tore George Bush apart with the charge of a “jobless recovery.” That’s not what they’re saying now. Instead we hear of an ongoing recovery from the downturn. But we won’t get robust job growth until Mr. Obama comes clean with the private sector and honestly lists how much additional revenue it will need to generate to pay his higher taxes.

The psychology of uncertainty really does matter. As long as those in industry and commerce hear that the government is the solution to the problems that they supposedly created, browbeaten individuals will not take risks and begin hiring. All the populist rhetoric, all the sympathetic statistical gymnastics from the liberal pundits, all the euphemisms of “jobs saved,” still won’t change the fact that American business believes Mr. Obama wants to take more of their money to redistribute rather than empowering them to hire and make a profit. Again, end of discussion.

Mr. Obama is also at an impasse in matters of race. His promise of a postracial era was wounded by the revelations about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his own racialist quips about “typical” white people, those who “cling” to guns and religion, and police who indulge in racial stereotyping and who act “stupidly.” His pledge was put into a coma with Van Jones’s racist remarks, Eric Holder’s “cowards” smear, and Justice Sotomayor’s lectures about the superiority of a “wise Latina.”

Fairly or not, the president has lost all credibility as a racial uniter. The public now expects an elite to mine any trace of racial insensitivity in order to create grievances, bank sympathy, and translate that into political capital — while avoiding the promised honest discussion about race.

That taboo debate would inevitably address the degree to which the depressing per capita statistics on incarceration, illegitimacy, violent crime, gangs, entitlement dependency, and lack of education within the African-American community are due to residual racism, and to what degree they stem from a failure of the black leadership to address personal responsibility, or the disastrous entitlement policies of the federal government. Giving preference to the children of a Valerie Jarrett, an Eric Holder, or a Barack Obama to enter Harvard or Yale, or wading out into a crowd of tea-partiers in hopes of snagging a racial slur for political purposes, does nothing to alleviate the tragedy in the D.C. school system or the implosion of Detroit.

So we know what lies ahead for the next two years. Sympathetic observers in the media will detect racism in the tea parties and in non-mainstream-media coverage of Mr. Obama’s disappointing performance. As never before, any African-American politician mired in ethics problems (e.g., Charles Rangel) or facing political oblivion (e.g., David Paterson) will claim he is a victim of racial intolerance.

Privately, a majority of Americans accepts that the African-American elite enjoys a particular leeway in promiscuously leveling accusations of racism — and that such exemption from criticism ultimately derives from the fact that on a percentage basis much of the African-American community is not doing as well as the rest of America, and the culprit must be either racism or a lack of government financial assistance. End of discussion.

In short, we are witnessing a public soon asked to pay higher taxes as the debt grows and jobs remain scarce, while its energy costs spike — and popular protests over any and all of that earn charges of racism.

Mr. Obama could rather easily restore his credibility by offering a plan to balance the budget that matched his tax hikes with tough budget cuts. He could offer a jobs plan centered on incentives for business and psychological support for entrepreneurs. He could offer a landmark new tax code that rewards income and savings, and taxes consumption. A multifaceted energy program might tap all the oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power we could produce as a bridge to next-generation fuels without bankrupting the Treasury or endangering our autonomy. And a fair-minded discussion of race would explore how obsession with elite racial grievances has little to do with the causes of a too-large African-American underclass.

Until then, the more mellifluously the president lectures, the more he will exhaust the voters.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

THE STIMULUS AT WORK

THE STIMULUS AT WORK 
 
 
 
Some have said that the stimulus hasn’t saved any jobs, but here is a case where at least one job was saved. Oregon State University Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis was considering firing their basketball coach, Craig Robinson, after an 8-11 start (2-5  in the Pac 10 conference). When word of this reached Washington , Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter was dispatched to Corvallis with $17 million in stimulus money for the university. Craig Robinson’s job is safe for this year. For those of you unfamiliar with Coach Robinson, he just so happens to be Michelle Obama’s brother. Just a coincidence I’m sure! 

The Government Greenpeace

The Government Greenpeace

Posted By Rich Trzupek On April 14, 2010 @ 12:10 am In FrontPage | 6 Comments

National unemployment rates may be high, but there’s no shortage of work if you happen to be an academic type willing to conduct Environmental Protection Agency-funded research and undertake EPA directed studies. Last October, the EPA formally began the process of creating new stormwater management rules. We’ve actually got quite the pile of stormwater management rules already, including measures crafted during the Clinton administration and then implemented during the Bush administration. But, having never met a regulatory program that went far enough for her tastes, EPA head Lisa Jackson took one look at a report prepared the National Research Council [1] that reviewed the Agency’s stormwater management programs and fell in love. This will come as a shock, but the NRC committee [2] that looked into the issue – a committee consisting mostly of academics – concluded that new stormwater regulations are desperately needed.

The NRC’s recommendations are troubling, but entirely typical of what happens when a group of professors get together to decide how to run the world. It should be noted up front that I did not read the NRC’s report in full, since the organization charges the public more than forty bucks [3] to purchase copies of this study, notwithstanding that it is being used to set public policy. No doubt the full report contains a number of hidden gems, but the Executive Summary, which NRC kindly allows citizens to download for free, provides enough of a peek behind the curtains. If Jackson’s EPA follows the NRC’s advice – and history suggests that Jackson generally takes the most radical environmental advice available – then there are more rules coming, more restrictions on your lives and, of course, more tax dollars that need to be redistributed. If you think that using the adjective “radical” to describe the advice Jackson is getting from NRC is a bit over the top, don’t take my word for it. Here’s how NRC describes what is needed in their Executive Summary:

“Radical changes to the current regulatory program (see Chapter 6) appear necessary to provide meaningful regulation of stormwater dischargers in the future.”

What kind of radical changes appear necessary? How about having USEPA use its licensing authority to place further restrictions on the formulation and use of even more consumer products? Quoting again from the Executive Summary:

“EPA should engage in much more vigilant regulatory oversight in the national licensing of products that contribute significantly to stormwater pollution. De-icing chemicals, materials used in brake linings, motor fuels, asphalt sealants, fertilizers, and a variety of other products should be examined for their potential contamination of stormwater. Currently, EPA does not apparently utilize its existing licensing authority to regulate these products in a way that minimizes their contribution to stormwater contamination. States can also enact restrictions on or tax the application of pesticides or other particularly toxic products. Even local efforts could ultimately help motivate broader scale, federal restrictions on particular products.”

In other words, if a product is used outdoors or is part of a machine that is used outdoors, like your automobile for example, it needs to be regulated, restricted and possibly taxed. Just what an ailing economy needs. What could possibly go wrong? It’s easy to imagine some well-meaning EPA committee deciding that tire residue left on the street, to take one example, helps deteriorate stormwater quality. Ergo, the EPA should come up with standards for tire wear. Of course such standards might make tires more expensive, but that’s not EPA’s problem; they’re here to save a planet or two. Or perhaps such standards would unintentionally lead to more blowouts, but that will be the tire manufacturer’s fault, not EPA’s. Of course I don’t know if any of this is going to happen as far as tires are concerned, but that kind of thing will inevitably happen somewhere when EPA sticks its nose into the free market. It always does. The EPA is Exhibit A when it comes to demonstrating the timeless truth that is the Law of Unintended Consequences.

NRC also believes that another layer of bureaucracy is necessary to better manage stormwater. They believe that stormwater permitting should be “watershed based,” a proposal that would essentially create a new regulatory authority in between the local agencies that already have jurisdiction over stormwater and state and federal agencies charged with overseeing their programs. How to pay for more rules and more bureaucracy? The federal government ought to pour more money into these programs of course.

The regulated community isn’t quite as fired up about NRC’s recommendations as is Lisa Jackson. Many members of the regulated community recently commented most unfavorably about these proposals. Their comments are part of the USEPA docket [4] covering a proposal to start gathering information in anticipation of formulating new rules. Ironically, the regulated community offering damning comments in this case doesn’t consist of evil corporations, it’s rather made up of the organizations that are currently responsible for stormwater management which, like the EPA itself, are units of government. The question of whether one regulatory agency can regulate so much so as to offend fellow regulators has thus been answered in the affirmative. The National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies [5] (NAFSMA) commented on EPA’s proposed Information Collection Request (ICR) wondering, among other things, why EPA was abandoning the Phase 1 and Phase 2 stormwater management practices that have been put into place already. From NAFSMA’s comments, dated December 23, 2009:

“In addition to our comments on the specific elements of the ICR, NAFSMA must express its strong concern that EPA’s announced intention to promulgate a substantial change to the Phase I and Phase II stormwater program, based on this ICR, constitutes a breach of the current regulations and the program evaluation agreement reached through the Stormwater Phase II Federal Advisory Council Act (FACA) in which NAFSMA was an active and involved participant with three of our members involved throughout the process.”

That’s from an organization representing almost one hundred state and local stormwater management agencies, serving about 76 million people. Many comments in the docket from individual agencies themselves are similarly critical, of both the approach the EPA is taking and the manner in which it’s approaching the issue. I can’t recall the last time local environmental agencies were this critical of their federal counterpart. That ought to tell you something about what’s happening in Lisa Jackson’s EPA. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of the EPA, but then I have to work them, so my perspective is a tad jaded. Still, while no friend of industry, the EPA has traditionally blunted most of the worst excesses that extreme environmental groups would otherwise foist on America. No longer. There’s little to distinguish between Greenpeace and Lisa Jackson’s EPA.

When pressed, you can usually get an honest, informed environmental advocate to admit that our air and water actually got cleaner under George W. Bush’s administration, as they have under every administration since Nixon’s. The problem they say, such as it is, is the Bush didn’t “go far enough.” That’s a political argument, not a scientific one, because no Republican president can ever “go far enough” to satisfy the environmental movement. Bush’s EPA promulgated regulations reducing mercury emissions from power plants on a massive scale. It wasn’t enough. Bush’s EPA faithfully followed George H.W. Bush’s wetlands restoration policies, such that we had many more wetlands when W left office than when he first took the oath of office.

It wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. Most veterans in the EPA understand the politics involved and take that kind of criticism with more than a few grains of salt. Lisa Jackson appears to have swallowed the most extreme environmental activist arguments whole and, mostly unnoticed by both the press and policy-makers, has unleashed a series of crippling initiatives that will do untold damage to the nation’s economy at a time we can least afford it.