Two Articles By Barack, Barack

Fine unscrupulous mortgage lenders

By Barack Obama

Published: August 29 2007 03:00

The implosion of the subprime lending industry is more than a temporary blip in our econ-omic progress. It is a cancer that, given today's integrated financial markets, threatens to spread with devastating impact to housing and to our economy as a whole, unless we act to contain it.

It is also a parable about how an excess of lobbying and influence can defeat common sense rules of the road, placing both consumers and our nation's economic well-being at risk.

This all started as a good idea - helping people buy homes who previously could not afford to. But over time, lenders began pushing low-income buyers into homes they could not possibly afford, abusing the system by lowering their lending standards, making loans that required no money down and offering low, teaser interest rates that explode after the initial grace period. Some borrowers were also lying to get mortgages or engaging in irresponsible speculation.

Nearly everyone - from lenders to investors to borrowers - fooled themselves into thinking that what they were doing was low risk when it in fact involved a lot of risk.

But we also know that Washington played a role. At a time when non-bank lenders were offering new kinds of mortgage, the federal government should have made sure it was all being done on the level. Instead, our government failed to provide the regulatory scrutiny that could have prevented this crisis.

There is a reason why this has happened. Over the past several years, while predatory lenders were driving low-income families into financial ruin, 10 of the country's largest mortgage lenders were spending more than $185m (£92m) lobbying Washington to let them get away with it. So if we really want to make sure this never happens again, we need to end the lobbyist-driven politics that made it possible.

Today, as we weigh our options on how best to resolve this crisis, many argue that bailing out the borrowers and investors will just encourage them to engage in more of the same irresponsible practices.

But I think we also have to recognise what will happen if we reward the mortgage industry's lobbying: they will keep using the same kinds of deceptive practices to make a quick buck, no matter what the consequences to home buyers and their communities. Rather than correct what they are doing wrong, these companies will know that if things go badly, they can always lobby Washington to let them off the hook.

The real victims in this crisis are the millions of borrowers who followed the rules, whose only crime was taking out mortgages that lenders told them they could afford. Normally, these borrowers could avoid foreclosure by refinancing their mortgages or selling their homes. The problem today is that they cannot refinance because no one will lend to them, and they cannot sell because the housing market has fallen. With some arguing that the effects of the worst subprime loans will not be felt until 2008 and 2009, this may be just the beginning.

We need to help struggling borrowers to weather this storm. One way to protect innocent homeowners - at least until this crisis passes - is to establish a fund to help people refinance or sell to avoid foreclosure. We can partially pay for this fund by imposing penalties on lenders that acted irresponsibly or committed fraud.

But we have to do more than just deal with the present crisis. If we do not address the root of these problems, it is just a matter of time before we will be dealing with them again.

The rules currently governing mortgages were written in the 20th century to make borrowing easier to understand for borrowers. We need to update these rules for the 21st century and enact the regulatory and disclosure laws that the mortgage industry has been lobbying against.

That is why I have proposed a Home Score system that would create a simplified, standardised metric for home mortgages - rather like the annual percentage rate (APR), the effective interest rate a borrower ends up paying on a loan - allowing prospective homebuyers easily to compare various mortgage products so they can find out whether they can afford to make the payments.

I have also introduced a bill in the US Senate called the Stop Fraud Act that would treat those who commit mortgage fraud as the criminals they are.

Owning a home represents a big part of the American dream and all Americans - no matter what their income level - should have the power to reach for that dream. But that is not going to happen until we stop the unlicensed, unregulated, fly-by-night mortgage brokers who are hoodwinking low-income borrowers into taking on loans they cannot afford.

If we are serious about stopping this crisis and preventing much larger turmoil in US housing markets, Washington needs to stop acting like an industry advocate and start acting like a public advocate.

Hit Iran where it hurts


Thursday, August 30th 2007, 4:00 AM

Americans need to come together to confront the challenge posed by Iran. Yet the Bush administration and an anonymous senator are blocking a bill with bipartisan support that would ratchet up the pressure on the Iranian regime. It's time for this obstructionism to stop.

The decision to wage a misguided war in Iraq has substantially strengthened Iran, which now poses the greatest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East in a generation. Iran supports violent groups and sectarian politics in Iraq, fuels terror and extremism across the Middle East and continues to make progress on its nuclear program in defiance of the international community. Meanwhile, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that Israel must be "wiped off the map."

In response, the Bush administration's policy has been tough talk with little action and even fewer results. While conventional Washington thinking says we can only talk to people who agree with us, I believe that strong countries and strong Presidents shouldn't be afraid to talk directly to our adversaries to tell them where America stands. The Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to Iran has not worked. As President, I will use all elements of American power to pressure the Iranian regime, including the power of tough, smart and principled diplomacy.

For diplomacy to work, we need to dial up our political and economic pressure - not just our tough talk. Iran's troubling behavior depends in large part on access to billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue. That is why I introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act last May, to build on a movement across the country to divest from companies that do significant business with Iran. This would send a clear message about where America stands, increasing Iran's isolation and hitting the Iranian regime where it hurts.

The bill works in three ways. First, it would educate investors and pressure foreign companies to reconsider doing business with Iran by requiring the U.S. government to publish - every six months - a list of companies that invest more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector. Second, it would give explicit congressional authorization to state and local governments to divest the assets of their pension funds and other funds under their control from any company on the list. Third, it would give private fund managers who divest protection from lawsuits, while urging the government's own 401(k) fund to create "terror-free" and "genocide-free" investment options for government employees.

This common-sense approach enjoys broad support. Sam Brownback, a Republican senator and presidential candidate, joined me in introducing this bill. A companion bill passed the House of Representatives 408 to 6. The only obstacle now is a single senator who placed an anonymous "hold" on the bill, blocking it from coming to a vote.

This is exactly the kind of unaccountable obstruction that needs to change in Washington. Instead of having a debate in the open, a Bush administration ally is blocking the bill through a secret Washington maneuver - a maneuver that would be banned if a sweeping bipartisan ethics reform bill that I led the fight to pass is signed into law.

Talking tough and keeping our troops in the middle of Iraq's civil war has only served to strengthen Iran's position. It's time to turn the page on a failed foreign policy. It's time for strong diplomacy backed by common-sense measures that pressure the Iranian regime.

In The News

Potentially Dangerous Chemical Found Inside UN Building WNBC Potentially dangerous chemicals were found in vials in a United Nations Office building and FBI, NYPD and FDNY hazardous materials responded to remove them Thursday. ...... the vials were found at 866 East 48th Street and possibly included one vial of phosgene, a chemical warfare agent. .... the vials are sealed and the public is not at any risk. Officials said the vials were recovered from a former Iraqi chemical weapons facility by UN weapons inspectors back in 1996. ...... "There is no hazard tot he people of New York from this operation." ... the items were sealed and were in plastic bags and a metal box. .... during a routine archives check. ..... shipped more than 10 years ago and that "There is no indication of questionable activity."
UN Inspectors Find Chemical in UN Office Forbes
Vials of dangerous nerve gas found at UN building
Immigration Raid at Ohio Poultry Plant Forbes About 160 illegal immigrants were arrested in a raid Tuesday at a poultry processing plant ...... most of the illegal immigrants are believed to be from Mexico, other Latin American countries and Africa .... deportation proceedings will begin immediately in most cases. .... Meat-processing plants around the country have been frequent targets of immigration authorities as they have stepped up efforts to track down undocumented workers.
Spitzer Talks of Suing to Expand Health Plan New York Times New York would consider suing federal health officials if the state was not granted a waiver to expand its federally subsidized health insurance program for children. ..... “It is not right. It is not fair,” Mr. Spitzer said of the new federal requirements ...... Bush, who has called New York’s and other states’ plans a step toward socialized medicine ..... Under the new rules, states seeking waivers for a higher income ceiling would have to show that they have already enrolled 95 percent of children whose parents make less than twice the poverty level. Currently, no state in the country meets that standard, which Mr. Spitzer said violated federal laws that give governors broad discretion in setting the income eligibility levels in their states. ....... the change would have effectively made health insurance universal for children in New York. .... the one sought by New York would give the state the highest income ceiling in the country .... the new rules include what Mr. Spitzer called “poison pill” requirements that he said would effectively kill New York’s and others states’ plans. .... “If they come back to us and refuse to budge from the positions they’ve taken, then we will sue,” he said.
For Obama, Nothing is the Matter with Kansas Washington Post In 2004, 78% percent of White Evangelicals voted for George W. Bush. ....... Obama may be able to do is siphon off scads of “Swing Evangelicals” in battleground states ...... It’s mid-October and the senator is addressing a room full of Kansans in a non-college town. ..... Obama opens his talk by reminding them that he too is from Kansas (being from Kansas: Kansans love that!). He then surprises his listeners by pointedly noting his disagreements with certain secular mantras of his party (Indeed, it suddenly dawns upon the lone, closeted village atheist in the room that when it comes to separation of church and state, Barack Obama is no Michael Dukakis). ....... he fires up his audience with Jimmy Carter like gospel-based oratory, except that it’s interesting and fun to listen to. He speaks out-loud about an awesome God and his awesome God does not appear to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU ...... the Kansans head home in advance of their self-imposed, statewide 7:30 pm curfew ...... pleased to learn that Mr. Obama is a Good Christian Man (because Kansans are fair, big-hearted folks ...... Twenty five percent of his listeners, however, will now consider casting their vote for a Democrat (because Kansans are open-minded folks, after all). The next evening the scene repeats itself in Columbus Ohio. ...... if there is any present Democratic candidate who can manipulate faith-based rhetoric to trigger a political conversion among conservative religious voters it is the talented junior senator from Illinois.
Hillary Clinton Expresses Surprise at Big Money Donor's Wanted Status FOX News
Castro backs Hillary Clinton
Obama brings his pen on vacation
Boston Globe For the second time in two days, Obama has penned an op-ed in a major publication outlining his views on a pressing issue. ..... in The New York Daily News urging Congress to pass a bill that would increase pressure on the Iranian government. ...... "It's time to turn the page on a failed foreign policy," he writes. "It's time for strong diplomacy backed by common-sense measures that pressure the Iranian regime." ..... in The Financial Times on the mortgage lending crisis, calling for sanctions on unscrupulous lenders. "If we are serious about stopping this crisis and preventing much larger turmoil in US housing markets, Washington needs to stop acting like an industry advocate and start acting like a public advocate

Some antics for the web Economist FOR all the tricks that the world wide web can perform, it still resembles a collection of one-trick ponies rather than a concerted cavalry charge. You can book an airline ticket, hire a car at your destination, arrange concert tickets for the evening that you arrive and even get directions from the airport to the concert hall. But you have to do it all yourself, one element at a time. You cannot delegate the process to a website as you might delegate it to your secretary or your long-suffering spouse. ...... The semantic web is so called because it aspires to make the web readable by machines as well as humans, by adding special tags, technically known as metadata, to its pages. .... a trio of new technologies: the Resource Description Framework (RDF), the Web Ontology Language (OWL), and the SPARQL query language. Together, they allow computers to group objects and their features—from prices and measurements to locations and user ratings—into meaningful relationships and hierarchies, by analysing their associated metadata. ........ In the field of travel, attaching metadata to everything makes it possible to link up airline schedules, car rental and hotel bookings. ..... TripIt .... Wesabe refers to as “bank puke”

Virginia Tech Criticized for Actions in Shooting New York Times
Two prominent senators call for Craig to resign
Kansas City Star
Senator claims plea was error, denies being gay Concord Monitor
Senator's scandal rocks Republicans ABC Online
Blood-red eclipse stops nation Daily Telegraph the moon was eaten by darkness before emerging a bright red colour. .... If you missed out the next blood moon will be visible about 11.45pm on December 10, 2011.
Obama Dominates GOP Rivals in Illinois Angus Reid Global Monitor, Canada
In US Race, Obama Leads Giuliani and Thompson Angus Reid Global Monitor
Obama Tops Rudy, Thompson New York Press
Obama’s Attack
Town Hall, DC
The God Vote Washington Post “Everybody digs Barack Obama.” .... he does possess qualities that make him uniquely attractive to people with advanced degrees in religious studies and other subjects. Obama can sound awfully professorial, as opposed to wonkish, when discussing issues pertaining to faith. The decade he spent as a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago has clearly left its mark. When reading or listening to him analyze questions of public policy and religion many scholars undoubtedly experience the pleasure of recognition. They may even conclude--somewhat narcissistically-- that “Senator Obama is one of us!” ....... “a narrative of faith.” ..... As a child, he was schooled in both Catholic and Muslim institutions. Too, there is reason to believe that prior to his later-life baptism he was under-churched or non-churched and may even have flirted with a casual sort of non-belief. All of these experiences tincture his thinking on religion with more sophistication and edge than any other candidate in the race. ....... Obama is a very original and cunning operator. .... Obama can lampoon the faith and values game while playing it with extraordinary skill. ... His quip about the “politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps (off rhythm) to the gospel choir” is a classic zinger. It is a mustard-filled paint-ball aimed at John Kerry that then ricochets directly into one of Hillary Clinton’s preferred photo-ops.