Guess Who Leads the Bribery World?
The USA is the most corrupt country in the world and I have 10,000 posts that point heavily to that fact…

Alabama immigration law on mobile homes blocked by judge December 14, 2011

A federal judge has temporarily blocked a part of Alabama‘s tough new immigration law that requires residents to show proof of citizenship when registering mobile homes with the state.

US district judge Myron Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama wrote in a 108-page opinion that the law leaves illegal immigrants “between a rock and a hard place.”

Alabama requires owners of mobile homes to register those properties with the state or face three months in jail, but the new immigration law passed by the state legislature in June also bars illegal immigrants from submitting those registrations, Thompson wrote.

“They can neither stay, nor can they go,” the judge said in his ruling.

That is because the state requires a permit to move a mobile home, and an owner must have registration of the vehicle to move it, the judge found.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by two unnamed Alabama residents, with assistance from fair housing groups.

Representatives for the Alabama governor and the state attorney general could not be reached for comment.

The judge found the plaintiffs would likely be successful in their case as it moves forward.

“This decision helps put the brakes on an inhumane law that has already forced some families out of their homes,” Justin Cox, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union immigrants’ rights project, said in a statement.

Thompson in his opinion found the provision of the Alabama immigration law relating to mobile homes infringes on the federal government’s preeminent jurisdiction over immigration matters. He also found the bill may violate the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Latinos.

“By focusing on housing, and thereby on the movement of Latinos into and out of the state” the law “falls outside the authority vested in state legislatures,” Thompson wrote.

In a separate legal challenge, a US appeals court last month blocked Alabama from enforcing part of the new law, including a controversial provision that permits the state to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children upon enrollment.

The US Justice Department has also sued Alabama, saying state lawmakers have no constitutional right to set immigration policy.

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Gingrich defends Freddie Mac work November 17, 2011

In 2008, Newt Gingrich criticised Barack Obama’s contributions from Freddie Mac

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has defended the large fees he was paid by a federal mortgage lender.

He was reacting to a Bloomberg report that he had earned up to $1.8m (£1.1m) as a consultant from 1999-2008.

The former congressman says he never lobbied on behalf of Freddie Mac and did not confirm how much he was paid by an organisation he would now abolish.

This week, opinion polls saw Mr Gingrich rise above rival Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.

Federally backed Freddie Mac and its larger sister institution, Fannie Mae, own or guarantee about half of all US mortgages.

Although embraced by many on the political left as champions of affordable housing, the lenders are blamed by Republicans for the US housing meltdown.

Monthly retainer

A Freddie Mac spokesperson said Mr Gingrich had been paid for consulting services, not lobbying.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Having someone who actually knows Washington might be a really good thing”

End Quote
Newt Gingrich

Campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, the former House of Representatives Speaker sought to cast his work with the lender in a positive light.

“It reminds people that I know a great deal about Washington,” he told reporters. “We just tried four years of amateur ignorance, and it didn’t work very well.

“So having someone who actually knows Washington might be a really good thing.”

Mr Gingrich said he had been hired to give “strategic advice over a long period of time” to Freddie Mac, although he could not specify exactly how much he was paid.

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Mr Gingrich had been hired “to build bridges to Capitol Hill Republicans and develop an argument on behalf of the company’s public-private structure that would resonate with conservatives seeking to dismantle it”.

The story said Mr Gingrich’s relationship with Freddie Mac began five months after he resigned in 1999 from Congress and as House Speaker.

He was paid a monthly retainer of between $25,000 and $30,000 until 2002. Mr Gingrich was contracted again by the group from 2006-08 for a total of $600,000.

In a CNBC televised debate last week, Mr Gingrich said he had been approached by the lender to give advice as a “historian”.

He told the debate that he had warned the organisation its lending practices were “insane”, and their business model was in a “bubble”.

Freddie Mac has disputed this account.

In his latest book, To Save America, Mr Gingrich has advocated replacing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae with smaller, private organisations.

But in Iowa on Wednesday, Mr Gingrich defended Freddie Mac’s work, saying: “Every American should be interested in expanding housing opportunities.”

During a televised debate in October, he criticised Democrats for their close ties to Freddie Mac lobbyists.

And in the 2008 presidential race, Mr Gingrich criticised Barack Obama for accepting campaign contributions from executives of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Mr Gingrich’s rise in the polls has placed him under more scrutiny.

A Public Policy Polling survey published on Monday put him in first place at 28%.

Georgia businessman Herman Cain was at 25% and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on 18%.

A CNN/ORC International poll released on the same day put Mr Gingrich in second place, between Mr Romney and Mr Cain.

As House Speaker between 1995-99, Mr Gingrich presided over the longest federal government shutdown in US history.

The deadlock ended after 21 days when then-President Bill Clinton presented a budget that promised to close the federal deficit in seven years.

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Israeli Settlement Expansion Raises West Bank Tensions November 11, 2011

After the United Nations’ cultural organization UNESCO voted to grant membership to the Palestinians, Israel announced it would accelerate construction of Jewish settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  The move drew international outrage. One of them is Givat Hamatos, a settlement that was already in the scheduling phase.

It lies on a hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Twenty years ago, there was temporary housing here, for newly-arrived Ethiopian and Russian immigrants.

Only 40 families live here now. But Israel plans to change that.

Galia Cohen is a retired city worker. She has rented this house for 20 years. She would like to have a nicer home. “I heard about it many times. But nothing has happened here,” Cohen said.

Yaakov Baruchi moved to Givat Hamatos 20 years ago with his wife and two children.  Now he has nine kids and wants to expand.

“This housing is not appropriate for the 21st century.  Although it’s nice here, this is not a house.  This is what one calls a tin neighborhood,” Baruchi said.

Givat Hamatos lies between two districts that Israel built on West Bank land it captured in 1967 and later annexed to Jerusalem.

Palestinians say Israel wants to consolidate control over traditionally Arab East Jerusalem and undermine the demand that it be the Palestinian capital as part of any peace agreement.

Khalil Tufakji is a map specialist and member of the Palestinian delegation to peace talks.

“They want to reduce the Palestinians in this area. And at the same time they want to double the [number of Jewis] settlers in this area, [build] 2,610 housing units in this area — this is the first stage — and the final stage will be 4,000 [housing units],” Tufakji said.

Israel says these areas are integral parts of Jerusalem and will remain part of Israel under any peace agreement.  The Palestinians reject this.

The international community considers all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal.

Shaul Arieli, a map specialist for Israel’s negotiating team, says the Israeli government also wants to isolate East Jerusalem from Palestinian cities such as Ramallah to the north and Bethlehem to the south.

“Givat Hamatos is part of the plan to build a Jewish urban buffer between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. It will be much harder to achieve peace or a final status agreement for Jerusalem with these neighborhoods,” Arieli said.

The Palestinians say Israeli settlement building in places like Givat Hamatos is keeping them from returning to the negotiating table.  The Israeli government cites the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate and their bid for U.N. membership as a reason to continue and even accelerate settlement construction. The deadlock has diminished hopes for a resumption of the peace talks any time soon.

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GOP debate in Michigan – as it happened November 10, 2011

11.18pm ET: In summary: this was a cosmically awful debate. To talk about winners and losers here makes no sense. Like the Battle of the Somme, any gains were measured in inches.

Except that there was a clear loser: Rick Perry, who botched an answer so badly, when he failed to remember a list of three things, that it stopped being bad and actually turned funny. The Perry record now has too many gaffes and brain freezes, that the only thing he’s running for now is to retain his dignity.

Let’s review the tape, shall we? Unable to remember a major policy plank – the three government agencies he was going to boldly abolish and save many billions of dollars – Perry was reduced to doing an excellent impression of a goldfish tipped out of its tank. Mitt Romney even helpfully chipped in with some suggestions. Oh, the ignominies!

It may be fatal because Perry had already used up his lives with his awful botched attack on Mitt Romney a few debates back. One huge debate flub may be regarded as a misfortune; to make two seems like a campaign’s death knell.

At the burial place of Perry’s campaign, the headstone will read: “Let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Winners? Only in the sense that Charlie Sheen defines “winning”. Herman Cain got a friendly platform to shift the spotlight off his sexual harassment woes – although his ghastly “Princess Nancy” jibe would have been the talking point of the night if Perry hadn’t won that prize so easily. Mitt Romney escaped unscathed, once again. He rebuffed a couple of attempts to knock him off balance, so in that sense he won.

In an alternative universe, Jon Huntsman won, but it’s clear that alternative universe is a very different place. Back in earth’s harsh reality, Newt Gingrich – running a campaign powered by his own bullshit – is deemed to have had a good night, although God alone knows why.

Well, there’s another debate on Saturday – no, really – so the game continues. I’m taking bets that Perry won’t actually show up.

Summing up tonight’s debate, Nate Silver, New York Times politics guru, tweets:

The 2012 Nobel Prize has been awarded to Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich for discovering that all bubbles are caused by Barney Frank

Yes, and that was the problem with this debate. Asked to discuss hard, very real economic issues, almost all of the candidates – other than Jon Huntsman and, from time to time, Mitt Romney – offered simplistic bromides, political point-scoring, half-assed non-solutions and trivial distractions. The worst offender was Herman Cain, who plainly has no grasp whatsoever of the very basics of economic policies or their timescale.

(I should also exempt Ron Paul from all this, since he moves to the beat of his own drum.)

Good night, and thank you for reading.

10.39pm ET: Larry Sabato issues his report card for the debate tonight:

Mitt: B (untouched but undistinguished)

Newt: B (crowd pleaser but irritating)

Cain: C+ (decent but tainted by frenzy)

Perry: W (withdrawn, returning to Texas)

Other candidates: AU (auditing class)

That sounds about right.

10.33pm ET: Fox News appears to have Rick Perry’s bumble clip on high rotate. As will all cable news stations, in between footage of Joe Paterno.

“I think all of us felt very bad for him,” says Michele Bachmann to Greta Van Susteren. Sympathy from Michele Bachmann? That’s got to hurt.

10.25pm ET: Some actual breaking news: AP reports that the trustees of Penn State University have sacked Joe Paterno and college president Graham Spanier.

10.14pm ET: Speaking after the debate, Rick Perry says:

Speaking of boots, I’m glad I had my boots on tonight because I sure stepped in it out there.

Yep, that’s for sure. There seems to be a note of sympathy for Perry out there. Which is even worse.

10.05pm ET: OK then, Herman Cain turns up on CNBC for the post-match analysis – and is asked about his nasty “Princess Nancy” reference to Nancy Pelosi. Cain has the good sense to say: “That was a statement I probably should not have made.”

9.58pm ET: Right, it’s all over. Thank God. More importantly, here’s the transcript of Rick Perry’s epic fail:

Rick Perry: But the fact of the matter is we better have a plan in place that Americans can get their hands around. And that’s a reason my flat tax is the only one of all of the folks – these good folks on the stage, it balances the budget in 2020. It does the things to the regulatory climate that has to happen.

And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the – what’s the third one there? Let’s see.

(LAUGHTER)

Ron Paul: You need five.

Perry: Oh, five, OK. So Commerce, Education, and the…

Mitt Romney: EPA?

Perry: EPA, there you go.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

John Harwood: Seriously, is the EPA the one you were talking about?

Perry: No, sir, no, sir. We were talking about the agencies of government – the EPA needs to be rebuilt. There’s no doubt about that.

Harwood: But you can’t, you can’t name the third one?

Perry: The third agency of government I would — I would do away with, Education, the…

Romney: Commerce.

Perry: Commerce and, let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.

And, of course, the YouTube clip is here.

9.51pm ET: Oh no. Asked another question, Rick Perry paused – and we all thought: Oh God, not again! But he held it together.

9.49pm ET: Now even Herman Cain is taking the piss out of Jim Cramer, who has been let out of his cage again. To be fair, it’s not hard.

9.48pm ET: Apparently the end is near. Of this debate. But also western civilisation, and certainly the US economy.

9.47pm ET: Jon Huntsman has a go at Mitt Romney for pandering over a trade war with China. He’s right, of course.

“Governor Romney: are you pandering?” wonders John Harwood. “I’ve been in business all my life,” says Mitt. Well, not really, since you’ve been a full-time politician for the last 10 years.

This is such obvious pandering by Mitt that it should be in a zoo trying to mate.

9.42pm ET: Ewen MacAskill wonders about Newt Gingrich’s taking huge fees from US mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:


Now that Newt Gingrich has moved from single digit poll figures around 14% and a third-place slot, maybe he will come under more media scrutiny. Interesting when he was asked about his role with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose reckless lending was the catalyst for the slump. Although Gingrich is a critic of government involvement and a champion of cutting regulation, he worked as a consultant for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taking $300,000 in fees.

Many or all of the consultants were employed to block government regulation. How’s Gingrich square this? He claimed tonight he had advised them to stop handing mortgages to people with poor credit ratings and they had ignored his advice. Anyone around in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at the time that can corroborate this version?

Yes, it would be helpful to know more. Not that Gingrich has any chance, really, but because he’s a s-h-one-t of the highest order.

9.41pm ET: Herman Cain slips into parody. Asked about the state of California buying hi-tech goods from China and what he would do about it, Cain replies: “I have a bold plan: 9-9-9.”

No, it really is Cain’s answer to everything. He’s a fool.

9.38pm ET: Larry Sabato agrees with my sense of doom over Perry’s meltdown just now:

To my memory, Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate.

Well, at least something came out of this debate, eh?

9.35pm ET: This YouTube clip has the Perry meltdown in full.

9.34pm ET: Ah, now Perry says he was trying to remember that he wanted to abolish the Department of Energy. Ironic cheers from the crowd.

Meanwhile, a lot of talk about student loans. And guess what? The answer from the candidates is the same as to Italy and home owners: suck it, students.

9.32pm ET: I’m searching my memory – which has been diminished by just watching this debate – and I can’t recall anything as devastating as Rick Perry’s self-immolation right then.

We’d have to go right back to Sir Alec Douglas-Home and his fuddled attempt to explain how the economy worked by admitting he used matchsticks.

9.25pm ET: I can’t wait for the transcript of that Rick Perry brain freeze. Until then I’m reminded of that old quote:

“It adds a new terror to life and makes death a long-felt want.”

9.22pm ET: Trending right now on Twitter: Princess Nancy.

9.20pm ET: Oh God, Rick Perry is having to cast around for the names of the three departments and government agencies he says he would abolish as president. He frantically names various ones, can remember two, but the final one eludes him.

Perry finally finishes with: “Oops.”

I think that’s the end of Rick Perry as a presidential contender for 2012. Thanks Rick, it’s been entertaining.

Taxi for Governor Perry.

9.17pm ET: While Rick Santorum is speaking – because, frankly, who cares? – here’s the transcript of the Herman Cain sex question earlier:

Maria Bartiromo: Mr Cain, the American people want jobs, but they also want leadership. They want character in a president. In recent days, we have learned that four different women have accused you of inappropriate behavior. Here we’re focusing on character and on judgment.

(BOOING)

Bartiromo: You’ve been a CEO.

Herman Cain: Yes.

Bartiromo: You know that shareholders are reluctant to hire a CEO where there are character issues. Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?

Cain: The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations. That’s…

(APPLAUSE)

Cain: And I value my character and my integrity more than anything else. And for every … one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably … there are thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.

You’re right. This country’s looking for leadership. And this is why a lot of people, despite what has happened over the last nine days, are still very enthusiastic behind my candidacy. Over the last nine days…

(APPLAUSE)

Cain: Over the last nine days, the voters have voted with their dollars, and they are saying they don’t care about the character assassination. They care about leadership and getting this economy growing and all of the other problems we face.

(APPLAUSE)

John Harwood: Governor Romney, when you were at Bain Capital, you purchased a lot of companies. You could fire the CEO and the management team or you could keep them. Would you keep a CEO – are you persuaded by what Mr Cain has said? Would you keep him on if you bought his company?

(BOOING)

Mitt Romney: Look, look, Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions. He just did. The people in this room and across the country can make their own assessment.

(APPLAUSE)

9.12pm ET: Another ad break. The wicked Sam Stein of the Huffington Post tweets:

Princess Nancy, I took the liberty of upgrading your hotel room

9.09pm ET: Romney points out that the US spends such a large share of national income on healthcare, more than the rest of the world and wants to keep it down with more “market-based” healthcare. And yet, and yet … all those other countries with lower healthcare spending have far less market-based health provision. Such as Britain’s NHS.

So, let’s draw the opposite conclusion from that than the obvious one, shall we?



Mitt Romney: ‘I know, markets work.’ Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

9.05pm ET: Ha: asked about healthcare, Mitt Romney reels off his experience and says: “I know, markets work.”

Strangely enough, he omits one little, tiny detail in that list: Romneycare, which he instituted as governor of Massachusetts. Where markets didn’t work. Apparently.

But they work everywhere else, eh, Mitt?

9.01pm ET: Now Newt Gingrich is complaining that 30 seconds isn’t long enough to answer detailed policy questions. Windbag. Has he not noticed that’s how these debates work?

“Would you like to try to answer the question?” jibes Maria Bartiromo. And he does. It’s a meaningless shopping list of bad ideas that have no connection except in Newt’s brain.

Larry Sabato, the sage of the University of Virginia, tweets rather cruelly:


“Newt gets big bucks from Freddie, gave them “advice as a historian”. Yeah, I’m sure that’s why he was hired.”

8.58pm ET: Healthcare reform, and the candidates are asked what they will replace “Obamacare” with. And there are some mildly coherent replies – or maybe my brain is melting. Apart from Cain, of course.

Cain just referred to Nancy Pelosi, the then Speaker of the House, as “Princess Nancy”. He really does have a problem with women, doesn’t he?

8.55pm ET: Ewen MacAskill is slowly being driven to hard liquor:


This is the worst debate yet, worse than the Bloomberg one. We are now 45 minutes in, and I haven’t heard anything remotely informative about the candidates’ economic policies.

8.54pm ET: Jon Huntsman is playing the adult, pointing out that for people who have just lost their jobs, blathering on about long-term reform is no use.

Now Huntsman is bashing Goldman Sachs. Commie.

8.52pm ET: Ah, Herman Cain is asked about the housing market and the answer is … 9-9-9.

But what about the three years it will take to reform the tax code first? Do nothing? Yes, says Cain.

8.50pm ET: Oh, now Newt Gingrich is being asked why his company took $200,000 from Fannie Mae in 2006. He says he predicted everything and that’s what he told them and they ignored him. Really? How convenient.



Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman: BFFs? Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/EPA

8.49pm ET: Rick Perry doesn’t appear to subscribe to the “tough luck home owners” policy of all the other candidates.

8.47pm ET: Now the CNBC economics wonk is asking a sensible question, pointing out that jobs have been added and yet the housing market keeps falling.

“Now exactly what would you do instead?” says Romney.

“I’m asking you,” says Mr Wonk.

Mitt falls back on flannel, blaming US housing market regulators. Bzzt.

8.46pm ET: Haha, Newt Gingrich just called Michele Bachmann “Congressman Bachmann”.

Yes, it’s come to this, I’m afraid.

The question is the housing market, and what to do about it. Sadly, all the candidates have nothing to say about the housing market – they think it’s a symptom of the poor economy rather than being a cause. This is a fundamental error.

Anyway, in summary: like Italy, the housing market can go suck it.

8.42pm ET: Ad break. Yes, this is the Worst. Debate. Ever. The questions are, to be frank, tediously limited. I think what CNBC is trying to do is show that these guys know nothing about economics, or at least catch them out, but the result is blather rather than gotcha.

Ewen MacAskill says Herman Cain isn’t the force he was in previous debates:


The sexual harassment row is having an impact on Cain – he’s not as ebullient as in previous debates. Even talking about 9-9-9 he sounds subdued. Hardly surprising given the pounding he has taken in the last 11 days.

8.40pm ET: Ha ha. Ron Paul bangs on about the money supply: M1, in fact – haven’t heard that one for a while (it’s a narrow measure of money supply) – and how it is rising.

“That means inflation!” says Ron.

Inflation? In this economy?

8.38pm ET: Asked what’s to stop his 9-9-9 tax plan turning into 19-19-19, Cain delivers a magnificent non-sequitur:

“Tax codes don’t raise taxes. Politicians do.”

8.36pm ET: Cain is asked about the regressive nature of his 9-9-9 tax plan. Naturally, he ignores it and defends the fairness of his tax plan by giving a dictionary definition of “fair”. Yes, that will do it.

8.34pm ET: My Guardian colleague Ewen MacAskill is watching, and says that the moderators dropped the ball in quizzing Herman Cain:


Cowardice on the part of the journalists on the debate panel. Having raised the sexual harassment issues with Cain, they backed off after being booed by the audience. Having raised it, they should have seen it through, putting it to at least a few of the candidates.

8.31pm ET: Jim Cramer is asking some nutty question about whether companies should make profits or create jobs. These are Republican party candidates; they’re obviously going to say “both”.

Newt Gingrich blames the media for the way it reports on the economy – and Maria Bartiromo comes back at him, asking for an example. Newt goes with some snide response about that being a position dressed up as a question. What?

When he finally answers it’s some nonsense about reporters not asking Occupy Wall Street protesters who would pay for Zucotti Park if there were no companies making profits. No, I have no idea either.

Newt Gingrich is only called a thinker by those with a lisp.

8.27pm: I have to say, that was a lame attempt to ask a question about Cain’s sexual harassment problems, by dressing it up as an “economic” question. Meh.

8.25pm ET: Back to Cain … oh, here we go, it’s the sexual harassment question. Hey, the audience is booing, while Maria Bartiromo asks about “character issues” in a chief executive – and a president.

Herman Cain says: “There are thousands that would say that none of that came from Herman Cain.”

Cain’s going full bore for the “character assasination” defence, and the crowd seems to like it.

More boos! When Mitt Romney is asked if he would keep on Cain as a CEO given his character problems. Romney brushes it off.

There’s a heckler – I can’t hear what he said but it gets a big laugh from the crowd.

8.20pm ET: Hey, Michele Bachmann is still in the race. Well, she’s on stage, anyway, which isn’t really the same thing, I guess.

The pattern here is that none of the candidates are actually answering any of the pointed economic questions they are being asked. They may as well be wearing iPods. In fact I think Rick Perry is.

8.18pm ET: Now it’s Newt Gingrich, who once again launches into his own personal warfare with the Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke – and says he should be fired. Which he can’t be, under law. Good one, Newt.

8.17pm ET: Romney is being pushed about his history of dodgy, ever-shifting statements. But Mitt says he’s a pretty straight sort of guy. So that’s ok.

Now Rick Perry – his first question here – is asked a sly question aimed at Romney, which he ignores and instead answers the question that was in his head. It ends with:

“If you are too big to fail, you are too big.”

8.14pm ET: Mitt Romney is now having his weasel words about not backing the auto industry in Michigan quoted back to him. But Mitt is ready, and somehow blames emissions legislation that helped foreign carmakers. That’s hardly the reason why the US auto industry collapsed under its own weight.

Mitt mentions his family history here – but doesn’t mention that his father was head of a now defunct US carmaker American Motors Corporation.

8.13pm ET: Oh God, Jim Cramer really is taking part as a moderator, and is ranting away about Italy being too big to fail. Seriously, whose bright idea was it to let Jim Cramer get in on this? He’s a clown.

Despite Cramer. Jon Huntsman actually gives a sensible reply about the size of banks being the problem. Very un-Republican.

8.10pm ET: Maria Bartiromo asks Mitt Romney if the US will keep funding the IMF, which would bail out Italy. Mitt chunters on for a bit, and sort of says yes but no but no but no bailouts.

8.07pm ET: First question to Herman Cain – is it sex? No, it’s the stock market, and Italy. What will Herman Cain do to save Italy, and so on?

Two things says Herman. One is meaningless fluff about growing the US economy. The other is meaningless fluff about the dollar.

Allow Italy to fail, Cain is asked? “There’s not a lot the United States can do for Italy right now, because there’s not a lot that we can do to save them right now.”

Suck on that, Italy, says Herman Cain.

8.04pm ET: Here we go, then: live from the campus of a university somewhere in Michigan – Rochester? Isn’t that in New York state? That’s another Rochester. Anyway, Rochester, Michigan, as close to Detroit as CNBC felt safe enough to come.

And the candidates are being introduced. They are there, and managing to stay standing up. The rules: no kicking, no gouging – unless they have to.

8.00pm ET: Back to the CNBC screen: with the stock market ticker and news scrolling along on the bottom, and the Nikkei and oil prices running along the top, watching this debate is akin to peering at your television through your letterbox.

As they say on Twitter: #cnbcfail

7.59pm ET: Did you know that, including tonight, there are four – four! – Republican debates in the next 13 days?

At this rate, the Nick Junior kids cartoon channel will be hosting one.

7.56pm ET: Former White House speech writer Jon Lovett tweets:


“I’m worried that the people who normally watch CNBC will catch tonight’s GOP debate and it’ll spook the markets.”

7.52pm ET: Lord, Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer are going to be taking part in this debate? It’s shaping up to be The Worst Debate Ever. Worse that that CNN one where they asked questions via robots.

Santelli is the guy who supposedly set off the Tea Party with his televised rant. And Jim Cramer? Well.

7.42pm ET: I’d like to welcome Daisy Benson, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Reading borough council, to this live blog.

She just followed me on Twitter so I figured it would be nice to say hello. Hi Daisy!

7.38pm ET: CNN’s Peter Hamby tweets this true fact:

What is Newt Gingrich doing right now before the debate? Watching ‘Bridesmaids.’ No joke.

OK, it’s a good movie. And frankly, not knowing tedious facts is hardly Newt Gingrich’s weakness. If anything, knowing too many facts is his problem. Or knowing when to shut his mouth re: said facts.

7.34pm ET: Seriously, CNBC, please drop that stupid stock market ticker running across the bottom of the screen. For the love of the TV Gods.

7.32pm ET: This debate is on CNBC, a cable news channel that is usually hyperactively covering share prices (even more so in recent weeks, as you can imagine).

The presenter just said, with a straight face: “The housing market will be a key topic tonight…” Yes, that’s right, just after the discussion on the awesomeness of unicorns and rainbows.

7.27pm ET: Here’s some late breaking news, and another huge setback for Herman Cain:

Amid a storm of allegations levied against Herman Cain, the American Mustache Institute today announced it had rescinded its endorsement for his presidential candidacy.

The institute is concerned about “allegations came to light that Cain’s mustache is not real, but actually a theater quality upper lip garment”.

This is precisely what Herman Cain does not need right now.

7.05pm ET: One thing you may have noticed from Herman Cain’s recent appearances is that Herman Cain refers to Herman Cain in the third person. A lot.

Talking Points Memo have mashed up a tiny sliver of Herman Cain on
Herman Cain
.

7pm ET: Good evening and welcome to live blogging of the – what is this, 10th? – Republican presidential candidates’ debate. Like a tired, long-running sitcom, the same cast of characters is back: unloved patriarch Mitt Romney, weird uncle Ron Paul, angry neighbour Rick Santorum, local blowhard Newt Gingrich and … Herman Cain.

Yes, tonight’s debate is the first since Cain’s insurgent campaign raced to the top of the opinion polls and then ran into a brick wall of serial sexual misconduct allegations, as first revealed by Politico newspaper and subsequently confirmed by two women.

Cain has tried ignoring, ridiculing and avoiding the charges, offering a twisting set of responses that merely made matters worse. Finally, on Tuesday, Cain held a press conference to tackle the subject – but ended up satisfying no-one with his blank denials and memory loss.

Will the allegations against Cain come up tonight? In some ways Cain is on friendly territory, on stage with seven other Republican contenders. But it seems hard to imagine that the subject won’t be raised, especially as even Romney – who is neck and neck with Cain in the polls – has called the allegations “serious” and “disturbing”.

It may be that one of the lesser candidates – Michele Bachmann? Santorum? Jon Huntsman? – will seize the chance to raise the issue, if they can do so in way that doesn’t alienate the approximately 60% of Republicans who have told pollsters they don’t believe the allegations.

Santorum, a social conservative with subterranean poll ratings, has a particular incentive to throw bombs at Cain and maybe get some airtime from a national media that has long ago written him off.

There are three other themes to look for:

The inevitable Mitt Romney

Romney remains atop the polls – but many Republicans remain unconvinced that he should be their party’s standard bearer because of his dodgy past of repeatedly backflipping on his political positions.

But so far, Romney has seemed Teflon-coated: nothing sticks. And the attention on Herman Cain’s troubles has once again taken the heat off him. Will that change tonight? And will Rick Perry continue his assault on Romney, as he did in the last debate two weeks ago?

The economy, stupid

The debate is being held in Michigan, near to the jobs wasteland of Detroit and the struggling car industry, saved in part thanks to a bailout of GM. Most of the candidates are opposed to the bailouts – especially Romney – despite their apparent success. Can the candidates offer more than their nostrums of endless tax cuts, and Cain’s hugely regressive 9-9-9 plan?

Newtmentum!

With the stumbles of Herman Cain and the tailspin of Texas governor Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is next in line as the next “Not Romney” candidate for the more conservative Republicans. But apart from loving the sound of his own voice, Gingrich comes with more baggage than a left-luggage depot.

The debate itself starts at 8pm ET, and is being carried live on CNBC.

And of course you can leave your own witty remarks in the comments below. Obviously if any of them are funny then I will steal them.

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Israel to speed up settlement construction in Jerusalem, West Bank November 2, 2011


November 1, 2011

by legitgov

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Israel to speed up settlement construction in Jerusalem, West Bank –Official: Construction will take place in areas that are expected to be part of Israeli territory 01 Nov 2011 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called for speeding up the construction of 2,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The announcement from his office comes in retaliation for the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO’s vote, a day earlier, to accept a Palestinian bid for full membership. According to a senior Israeli official, the plan involves building 1,650 units in East Jerusalem and the rest in the West Bank settlements of Efrat and Maaleh Adumin.

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After serving her country, female veteran struggles to find a job November 1, 2011

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Kenya Smith only has good things to say about the U.S. Navy, where she served a total of 14 years before leaving in 2009.

It’s the only profession she’s ever known. “I love the Navy,” she said during a recent interview in suburban Maryland. “If you split me open, I’m blue and gold.”

Smith, a former lieutenant and medical service corps officer, first enlisted right after college but by the time she left had earned two master’s degrees, deployed to Iraq and racked up substantial experience in healthcare and administration — experience she thought would impress potential civilian employers.

“I ran projects. I was an HR manager. I was a logistics manager,” she said. But despite all that, Smith now is unemployed — two years after leaving the military. A single mother with two teenage children, she lost her home to foreclosure in September and is currently living in transitional housing.

“I’m a female homeless vet with children, and I mean that, that’s horrible, that’s the worst, I think. You go from being self-supportive, having a great income to now serving your country, fighting for your country, and then you get out, and now I’m homeless, all because I can’t find a job.”

Smith is not alone. In September, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 11.7%, higher than the national average of 9.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For female veterans in particular, the number is even worse — 14.7% last month.

It’s not entirely clear why the picture appears worse for female vets. Veterans advocates point to challenges like child care and dealing with a Veterans Affairs system — and a civilian world — still relatively unaccustomed to dealing with female combat veterans.

“A lot of people in this country don’t understand or appreciate that women are in combat, that women are even in the military in the scope that they are. So, 15% of returning veterans are women, they are on the frontlines, they are getting shot at, they are leading tough missions,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said. “And they, too, need the same training and skills that their male counterparts do.”

Skills like how to create a resume.

“I really didn’t know how to do a resume. I never had to do one. So, that was a challenge,” Smith said. “Also a challenge was taking all of my military experience and putting it in layman’s terms so a civilian employer could understand what I did.”

Smith has since worked with professional resume writers, attended job fairs and sent out her resume dozens of times. But she’s gotten few call backs and only two interviews. One of them was at Macy’s. She didn’t get that job and surmises it’s because she was overqualified — perhaps, but she needed a job.

“There were not a lot of jobs, and jobs I was applying for I was actually overqualified for, which led of course to depression and all things that come along with, you know, being unemployed. It was difficult because when you live in a town that is not necessarily a military town, people don’t honor the fact that, yes, you were fighting for your country, and now here you are trying to fight for a job and fight to hold onto your house and all of that. “

Smith said she left the Navy for health reasons, and while re-enlistment might be an option, she is not sure she would meet the enlistment requirements.

In recent weeks, she has pursued a new tack: “I want to take the advice of one person, who said, ‘Apply up. Don’t apply for administrative assistant when you should really be applying for director or project manager or supervisor.’”

She remains hopeful. “My faith gets me through a lot. I truly believe that God doesn’t take anything away without bringing you something better. So, my faith keeps me going. And my children, they’re very positive and upbeat, but not only that, they’re very understanding. They know this is temporary. I know this is just temporary, I know something will turn around, soon. I know it will.”

But for sure, Smith is under pressure to find something soon. She and her kids must move out of their temporary housing in just two weeks, on November 11 — Veterans Day.

CNN’s Jonathan Helman contributed to this report.


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Refinancing plan for US mortgages October 25, 2011

The US housing market is at the heart of the US economy

The US housing market regulator has agreed to extend a refinancing scheme for borrowers whose loans are worth more than their homes.

The move by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) could help up to a million people who have met repayments but who are unable to renegotiate.

However, it is expected to help fewer than 10% of people in that position.

It is estimated there are 11 million “underwater borrowers” in the US who pay on time but are locked into loans.

The latest move to help boost the flagging US housing market is aimed at unable to change the terms of their loan because the value of the property it is secured on is smaller than the amount they owe or want to borrow.

Abandoned developments

The FHFA said it was scrapping a cap that excluded borrowers with mortgages worth more than 125% of their property’s value from the Home Affordable Refinance Program (Harp).

That program covers loans backed by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest sources of mortgage financing in the US.

The FHFA said it wanted to focus on people who took out loans between 2004 and 2008, with interest rates of 5%. Currently a typical 30-year loan, the most common in the US, is charged at 4%.

The housing market is seen as one of the central problems for the US economy and previous attempts to boost it have barely succeeded.

Large areas of the country have seen wide-scale repossessions, leading to abandoned housing developments.

The Obama administration hopes that lowering mortgage payments could release cash for other spending to support the economy, analysts say.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have had $141bn in taxpayer support since 2008, when the credit crisis left them in deep difficulties.

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Obama’s ‘We Can’t Wait’ jobs campaign aims to spur Congress into action October 24, 2011

Barack Obama is to announce over the coming weeks a series of measures that will bypass Congress in an effort to kickstart the economy, create new jobs and seize the political initiative.

Obama announced a new move to help the struggling housing market during a visit to Nevada, one of the worst-hit states in the country, with unemployment around 13%.

The White House communications director, Dan Pffeifer told reporters during a conference call that Obama’s three-day trip to the west – which will also take in California and Colorado – will highlight moves that the White House can take on its own, without Congress.

The new campaign, dubbed by the White House ‘We Can’t Wait’, is aimed at putting pressure on Congress, in particular congressional Republicans, to pass all or part of Obama’s $447bn bill aimed at creating new jobs.

Pffeifer said that while the White House can embark on various initiatives through executive orders, these are not a substitute for Congress passing the American Jobs Act.

Unemployment, which is stuck at 9%, is likely to be the pivotal issue in the 2012 White House campaign. Republicans are opposing Obama’s jobs legislation and are intent on blocking any increases in spending, citing the failure of the previous economic stimulus plan to make a signficant dent in the unemployment figures.

The housing initiative, aimed at helping people unable to refinance because their mortgages are worth less than their homes, is to be followed on Wednesday with an announcement by Obama in Colorado to help students repay loans.

Further initiatives are to be announced in the coming weeks.

Obama is trying to make the next election a choice between his jobs plan and Republican obstructionism. Republicans counter that job creation can best be left to the private sector, helped by low taxation and removal of federal regulations.

As well as highlighting his job proposals, Obama has a number of fundraising events lined up as he seeks to be the first candidate to have $1bn in election donations.

He is also to reach out to Latinos disgruntled over his failure to bring in promised immigration reforms. Nevada and Colorado are swing states and Latino voters, mainly Democratic supporters, could prove decisive.

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US politics live blog: Obama’s new housing plan, Republican presidential candidates in a tangle

3.08pm: Oh dear – it seems cruel cyber-squatters have been buying and abusing slight variations on the spelling of Michele Bachmann’s name.

Shame on the webmasters of bachman2012.com and michelebachman.com.

2.47pm: The latest staff reshuffle is taking place on the Rick Perry team, with some interesting news: Joe Allbaugh, George Bush’s campaign manager in 2000, is said to be joining the Perry campaign.

The Texas Tribune’s Paul Burka reports the news:

I have also learned from a source in the Perry camp that Joe Allbaugh, who ran Bush’s campaign in 2000, will join the campaign. Allbaugh had previously offered his services but – again, from sources close to the Perry campaign – he was turned down.

I have written on several occasions that there is something wrong inside the Perry campaign. The campaign has been terribly run to this point. I can’t imagine that Allbaugh would come on board if he were not going to be in charge, which means that David Carney may be taking a back seat. It’s about time (from the viewpoint of Perry supporters). The Perry inner circle just doesn’t have enough talent or experience to run a national campaign.

This comes on top of news that Perry has hired three staff members from the successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign of Rick Scott in Florida. On that, Burka says: “It is my understanding that Anita Perry was the driving force who insisted upon a reorganization.”

2.23pm: The article we’ve all been waiting for: “Herman Cain’s Top 7 Policy Reversals

2.12pm: The most hilarious part of the Bachmann campaign destruction was that Bachmann herself had no idea her New Hampshire campaign team had quit at the end of last week:

That is a shocking story to me,” Bachmann reportedly told Radio Iowa during a call-in. “I don’t know where that came from. We have called staff in New Hampshire to find out where that came from and the staff have said that isn’t true, so I don’t know if this is just a bad story that’s being fed by a different candidate or campaign. I have no idea where this came from, but we’ve made calls and it’s certainly not true.

But it was true.



Michele Bachmann: dead meat. Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP

2.06pm: The implosion of Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign is a delicious slice of fun for a Monday, thanks to the statement issued by the “Team NH” band of former Bachmann staff in New Hampshire, who resigned en masse over the weekend.

According to the statement – which you can read in pdf format here – during Bachmann’s most recent visit to the state, “several incidents happened that concerned some members of Team-NH. Those incidents will remain private, but they were serious enough for some members to depart the campaign.”

Until these incidents become “unprivate” sometime soon, there appears to have been in-fighting between Bachmann’s national campaign staff and those on the ground in the Granite State:

The manner in which some in the national team conducted themselves towards Team-NH was rude, unprofessional, dishonest and at times cruel. But more concerning was how abrasive, discourteous and dismissive some within the national team were towards many New Hampshire citizens. These are our neighbors and our friends, and some within the national team treated them more as a nuisance than as potential supporters.

Not that Michele Bachmann was ever in with a chance in New Hampshire anyway. Will she stay in the Republican race beyond 4 January 2012? Unlikely.

1.51pm: Earlier today the president of the New York Federal Reserve, William Dudley, gave an unusually excellent speech about the woes of the US economy – and correctly points the finger at the state of the housing market as being a cause and not a symptom of eceonomic malaise:

Problems in the housing market are a serious impediment to a stronger economic recovery. Residential construction – which typically boosts economic activity during a recovery – is at a standstill. Moreover, many homeowners are now consuming less because the decline in house prices reduced their wealth and they are concerned that the decline in home values and wealth may not be over.

Mortgage rates are at record lows and house prices no longer appear overvalued on affordability measures. But obstacles to refinancing and access to credit for home purchases are limiting the support provided by low rates to house prices and consumption. Meanwhile, the large supply of foreclosed homes for sale—and the prospect that unemployment and negative equity will continue to feed the foreclosure pipeline– continues to put downward pressure on home values. The risk of further house price declines in turn discourages would-be buyers from entering the market.

Continued house price declines could lead to even more defaults, foreclosures and distress sales, undermining wealth, confidence and spending. Breaking this vicious cycle is one of the most pressing issues facing policymakers.



A foreclosure auction in Pasadena, California. Photograph: Reed Saxon/AP

So here’s the bad news: Moody’s expects that home foreclosures will hit a record 1.5m in 2012 – that’s an almost unbelievable 30% of all existing homes sales. What will that do to Florida and Nevada?

In his speech today, Dudley says fixing the housing market is “particularly important”:

This calls for a comprehensive approach to housing policy, starting with an urgent effort to remove the obstacles that make it difficult for all borrowers to refinance at today’s low mortgage rates but extending beyond this to tackle other problems weighing on housing.

Taken together, such efforts could help shift people’s expectations about future house prices. If prospective homeowners no longer fear that prices could decline further, they will be more willing to enter the market to take advantage of reduced prices and low financing costs, and existing homeowners will feel more confident about spending. A vicious cycle could be replaced by a virtuous circle, in which stabilization in house prices supports spending, growth and jobs.

1.32pm: Other than the birther-lite remarks by Perry referenced below, the interview in Parade has some other cute stuff that suggests the entire interview wasn’t exactly Meet The Press:

You were once a Democrat, correct?
Right. I never met a Republican until I was 25.

Have you ever voted for a Democratic candidate for president?
Yes, ma’am. In 1976, I voted for Jimmy Carter, because I was in the air force, and I came from an agricultural family. A peanut farmer from Georgia had to be better than anyone else on the Democrats’ side. He was the last Democrat I voted for for president—in fact the only Democratic -president I ever voted for. Holy mackerel, what a mistake.

In 1988, you supported Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Why?
In that group, he was by far the most conservative Democrat. But between Ronald Reagan and seeing what the Democrat Party was becoming, I came to the conclusion in 1989 that I needed to become a Republican.

Have you seen the film An Inconvenient Truth?
No, ma’am.

Have you read the book?
No. I generally don’t watch or read a lot of fiction.

1.07pm: Herman Cain’s rise in the polls has seen him raking in the dollars from Republicans:

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign has been raising more the $1m a week since Oct 1, campaign spokesman JD Gordon told NBC News.

That means his total fundraising this month has already eclipsed the $2.8m Cain raised in the third quarter.

12.45pm: Guess who has raised the most money from the health insurance industry so far in this election cycle? Why, Mitt Romney with $43,750 versus Barack Obama’s $42,675, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

12.23pm: More details on the new mortgage refinancing initiative announced by the White House today, via the Associated Press:

The changes to the so-called Harp program will be implemented by the independent Federal Housing Finance Agency. At its core, the initiative will relax eligibility standards, allowing those who are 25 percent of more underwater on their mortgages to take advantage of loans with lower interest rates.

The administration is also extending the program through the end of 2013. The program was originally slated to end in June 2012.

The federal refinancing program only covers mortgages created before June 2009 and owned or backed by government-controlled mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Borrowers also must be current on their payments.

When the program began in 2009, administration officials hoped at least 4 million Americans would take advantage. But as of August, about 894,000 homeowners had refinanced their mortgages through the program.

The unanswered key question is: how many mortgage-holders will benefit? The White House said it had no estimates for how many homeowners would now be eligible or how many might take up the offer. Without knowing that, it’s hard to pronounce either way on the usefulness of the new plan.

12.03pm: Of the Republican presidential trio, Herman Cain makes his now-traditional flip flop to try to avoid offending part of the GOP base – this time on gay marriage.

New York magazine finds Cain appearing to contradict himself only a week apart. A week ago, it seems, Cain said he didn’t support a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage. But the week before, he appeared to be saying one is needed.

When they say Herman Cain is a “non-traditional candidate,” they are right but for the wrong reasons.

Think Progress goes even further back to find Cain doing a flip-flop-flip on same-sex marriage:

Cain in 2004: “The courts have failed the American people. Congress needs to enact a constitutional amendment to protect the sacred institution of marriage.”

Cain on October 16, 2011: “I wouldn’t seek a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but I am pro-traditional marriage.”

Cain on October 22, 2011: “I think marriage should be protected at the federal level also. I used to believe that it could be just handled by the states but there’s a movement going on to basically take the teeth out of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and that could cause an unraveling, so we do need some protection at the federal level because of that and so yes I would support legislation that would say that it’s between a man and a woman.”

To be fair to Cain: his latest comments – the 22 October remark – doesn’t actually require a constitutional amendment. In fact he does say “I would support legislation”, which could be read as the Defence of Marriage Act or similar, rather than a full-blown constitutional amendment. But still.

11.48am: Mitt Romney has his own problems. After going at Rick Perry hammer and tongs over Texas providing cheaper tuition fees for the children of undocumented immigrants, it turns out that Romney’s own Albatross – his statewide Massachusetts healthcare scheme – also provides one of the “magnets” that Romney has been complaining about:

Uninsured, poor immigrants can walk into a health clinic or hospital in the state and get publicly subsidized care at virtually no cost to them, regardless of their immigration status.

The program, widely supported in Massachusetts, drew little attention when Romney signed the trailblazing healthcare law. But now it could prove problematic for the Republican presidential hopeful, who has been attacking Texas Gov. Rick Perry for supporting educational aid for children of undocumented immigrants in Texas.



Rick Perry: ‘I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night’

11.38am: Meanwhile, Rick Perry appears to be underwater thanks to some silly remarks he made to Parade magazine (a Sunday newspaper freebie) about Obama’s birth certificate. Here’s the transcript:

Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
I have no reason to think otherwise.

That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he ” –
Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.

But you’ve seen his.
I don’t know. Have I?

You don’t believe what’s been released?
I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

And?
That came up.

And he said?
He doesn’t think it’s real.

And you said?
I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the President of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.

Oh dear. As a general rule of thumb, if you have to cite Donald Trump as an authority on anything it’s a warning sign you are in trouble.

11.16am: Earlier this morning the administration held a conference call to discuss some attempts to unfreeze the housing market, especially those “underwater” through having the value of their outstanding mortgages worth more than the market value of their homes.

The White House says it wants to ease the complex rules of the Home Affordable Refinance Programme (Harp), which allows mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be refinanced at lower rates.

To date Harp has been something of a failure: instead of refinancing millions of mortgages it has only managed 860,000 by the middle of this year. By lowering the barriers to participation, the administration hopes that many more home-woners will be able to take part.

Good morning. As the ruins of the US housing market continues to throw a dark shadow across the rest of the US economy, the White House has a new plan to help struggling mortgage-holders … and the Republican presidential campaigns continue to revolve around gay marriage, immigration and the veracity of President Obama’s birth certificate.

To start the week, a small but significant proposal to help home owners refinance their mortgages has been announced by the administration – and is quickly criticised for being too modest in its attempt to grapple with the overhang that blights so many states.

Meanwhile, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are all finding themselves in water of various temperatures over real or imagined sins resulting from past policies or statements.

The good news, for what it’s worth, is that the presidential primary calendar is all but finally fixed, after Nevada backed down in the face of threats and arm-twisting by New Hampshire. Nevada has decided to move its caucus date back to 4 February, leaving the way free for New Hampshire to choose a primary day in mid-January and maintain its unadulterated status as “the first in nation” (other than Iowa).

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Foreign home-buyers sought by US October 22, 2011

Most foreign homebuyers choose Florida and California for their purchases

Two US senators have proposed a plan to offer visas for foreigners buying homes worth $500,000 (£314,000) or more.

Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mike Lee, sponsoring a bill, say it is a move to increase housing demand.

The proposal is similar to an existing Green Card program for foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in an American business that creates at least 10 jobs.

The US Chamber of Commerce has announced its support for the new legislation proposal.

“Our housing market will never begin a true recovery as long as our housing stock so greatly exceeds demand. This is not a cure-all, but it could be part of the solution,” said Mr Schumer, a Democrat from New York.

Mr Lee, a Republican from Utah, described the bill as a “free market method for increasing demand for housing”.

Residential restrictions

Sales of previously owned homes in the United States dropped to 3% in September following a jump in August, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The same group said residential sales to foreigners and recent immigrants totalled $82bn between April 2010 and March 2011, up from $66bn.

Some 31% of all international housing buyers choose Florida.

The proposal would provide a three-year residential visa for foreign owners.

Prospective buyers would need to spend at least $250,000 on one property that would serve as their primary residence, and could make up the $500,000 requirement with additional rental properties.

To qualify for the visa, however, the purchases must be in cash, and the owners would have to reside at the primary residences for 180 days out of the year.

They would also have to apply for a separate work visa in order to be employed in the US, and would not be eligible for government aid programs.

“The bill does not limit people from being productive,” Mr Schumer said. “It simply prevents them from coming here and taking jobs that otherwise would go to Americans.”

The idea has also been supported by billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

“If you wanted to change your immigration policy so that you let 500,000 families in but they have to have a significant net worth and everything, you’d solve things very quickly,” Mr Buffett told PBS’s Charlie Rose in August.

Mr Schumer said he was working to get the backing of the Obama administration on Thursday.

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The GOP debate: economists’ verdict | The panel October 12, 2011

Dean Baker: ‘The “regulation impedes job growth” story has no evidence’


Suppose the Republican presidential candidates blamed an invasion by space aliens for the failure of the economy to generate jobs. Would the media dutifully repeat it without comment? Given the media’s response to Republican complaints about regulation preventing job growth, we should assume that they would view the space alien invasion explanation as perfectly reasonable.

If the story that regulation was impeding job growth were true, then there should be evidence to support it. For example, we should see firms increasing average hours as a way to avoid hiring workers. We don’t: average weekly hours are still below their pre-recession level. We should be seeing firms hiring temps as a way to avoid hiring more permanent workers. We don’t see this either. Temp employment is still down by almost 20% from its pre-recession level.

We should also see some differences in hiring patterns across industry: industries in which jobs tend to be longer-lasting should be doing less hiring than industries in which the length of employment tends to be very short. We don’t see this either. Job growth has been relatively good in sectors like engineering and law offices; it has been comparatively weak in sectors like retail and restaurants, which tend to have high turnover.

We might also expect that businesses would blame regulation for limited growth when they are asked. They don’t. The National Federation of Independent Businesses’ survey of its members show little change in the percent of businesses that list regulation as a major obstacle from the Bush or Reagan years.

In short, the “regulation is impeding job growth” story has no evidence to support it. This story is a pure invention of the right wing. Presidential candidates who repeat it should be ridiculed by the media – just as if they were talking about space aliens.

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC

Josh Barro: ‘Our best hope is that Romney has a secret plan’


Tuesday’s GOP debate was a parade of one-trick ponies. Herman Cain took every question as an opportunity to pitch his “9-9-9″ tax plan (pdf) as a jobs engine. Rick Perry kept coming back to increasing oil and gas exploration – hey, it’s worked for Texas. Rick Santorum hopes to revive the Rust Belt’s struggling manufacturing base – with targeted tax breaks, of course.

Cain even attacked Mitt Romney for not being a one-trick pony. Cain complained that Romney’s economic plan, at 59 points and 160 pages, is too long and complicated. Romney – who turned in by far the strongest performance of the night – handled that objection ably, noting that big problems often require complex solutions. Romney then called out the one-trick ponies, saying that while tax policy (Cain) and energy policy (Perry) are important, they’re only some of the many things we must fix to keep the economy moving again.

Unfortunately, while Romney’s plan has an admirable quantity of detail, it does not contain all the right details. Many of the ideas in Romney’s plan, from tax reform to free trade to revamping job training, are good. But they would also have been good ideas in 2007. What Romney’s plan lacks are ideas that relate to the housing bubble and the prolonged economic crisis that it sparked. Amazingly, none of Romney’s 59 economic proposals addresses housing policy or monetary policy.

We’ve been in a three-year rut of high unemployment, low demand and unmanageable mortgage debt, and these candidates are arguing about tax cuts. This entire field has lost the plot.

Unfortunately for America, the Obama administration has lost the plot, too. President Obama has only one idea for job creation: fiscal stimulus. But when stimulus turned out to be dubious policy and disastrous politics, he was left with nothing else to propose.

While Republicans push in the wrong direction on monetary policy (tha is, for tightening), Obama has failed to talk about monetary policy at all, or to advocate for his nominees to the Federal Reserve. He also failed to push for truly bold housing reforms – such as mortgage modifications along the lines of Eric Posner’s and Luigi Zingales’ proposal – that would help Americans climb out from under mortgage overhangs and start consuming again.

With an incumbent administration out of ideas, now more than ever we need bold Republican ideas about getting the economy moving again. Our best hope – and not an entirely implausible one – is that presumptive-nominee Romney has a secret plan for the economy. If he doesn’t, we may be in for years’ more stagnation.

Josh Barro is the Walter B Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute

David Blanchflower: ‘Sadly, none of them had a credible jobs plan’


Unemployment is currently 9.1%, of whom 45% have been unemployed for six months, the highest proportion ever. There are 16.5% who are involuntarily part-time or marginally attached to the workforce, and the average American is struggling to pay their bills. I was hoping to hear from the presidential candidates that they had a clue what to do to get unemployment down and improve matters, but I am afraid I heard nothing – zippo – on that score. Sadly, none of them had a credible jobs plan – on the same day that the Senate voted down Obama’s jobs bill.

None of the candidates appears to have learnt from the UK example that cutting government spending in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-year financial crisis will lower growth, not raise it. Cutting federal spending, as most proposed, would inevitably lower growth not raise it, at a time when the economy is slowing, consumer spending is falling and firms aren’t investing. There really is no such thing as an expansionary fiscal contraction, especially when the economy is being hit by severe headwinds – not least the spreading sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone.

Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 proposal, which received a lot of attention, includes a 9% national sales tax – that was rather unlikely to have much support in New Hampshire, which is the only state in the union that has no broad based taxes (neither income tax nor sales tax). Cain’s proposal is highly regressive and would widen inequality at a time when poverty is growing rapidly and the rich getting richer. It would raise the price of basic goods like food and children’s clothing – and that means the poor getting poorer.

I was not impressed.

David Blanchflower is the Bruce V Rauner professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

Diana Furchtgott-Roth: ‘Pull back on regulations that strangle entrepreneurship’


Let’s hear it for Governor Rick Perry. With jobs the greatest area of concern to Americans, Governor Rick Perry clearly articulated the barriers to hiring, ranging from Obamacare to energy regulation. He made a compelling case, based on his Texas record.

Most new jobs are created by young companies, and, as Perry pointed out, the healthcare penalty is one of the biggest obstacles facing employment growth. Under the new healthcare law, employers with more than 49 people who do not offer a generous health insurance policy will owe the government $2,000 per worker per year. Since the first 30 workers are exempt from the penalty, beginning in 2014, hiring 50 workers rather than 49 will cost a company $40,000 per year.

Plus, the cost of Medicaid, the health program for the poor, is booming, and states should have the flexibility to adjust their own programs without begging the federal government for waivers.

Further, as Perry said, opening up areas of domestic energy is key to job growth. Not only does energy provide jobs in energy industries, but lower-cost energy from our domestic resources of natural gas, oil and coal will allow further development of manufacturing.

America needs to pull back on regulations that strangle entrepreneurship.
 
Other candidates also offered serious reforms to America’s current economic situation. Congress should repeal the cumbersome Dodd-Frank financial apparatus. And the tax system needs reform, by lowering rates and getting rid of deductions for businesses and individuals. The Fed should concentrate on keeping the money stable. But Perry seemed to have the best overall perspective.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a contributing editor to RealClearMarkets.com

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4 Ways to Trim Your Housing Costs Now September 27, 2011

When prospects for rising household incomes are dim, as they are today, it’s time to redouble your efforts to cut expenses wherever possible. That’s especially true of housing, which remains the biggest expense for many retirees. Weak housing values and economic uncertainties have put a big damper on housing activity. But with interest rates at record lows, it may make sense to seek a lower-cost housing solution.

[See America's Least Expensive Housing Markets.]

Refinance your existing mortgage. Mortgage rates were already near record lows when the Federal Reserve Board acted last week to further reduce long-term interest rates in general, and included a targeted effort to push down mortgage rates even more. Many Americans are unable to refinance their homes regardless of how attractive interest rates may be. They either owe more on their homes than they’re currently worth, don’t have enough income to qualify for refinancing, or both. But if you can qualify for a lower mortgage rate, consider refinancing.

Sell your home and rent instead. While home prices are still in the dumps in many U.S. markets, low interest rates help buyers qualify for larger mortgages. Revisit the economics of selling your home and renting a new home instead of buying another one.

Moody’s Analytics issues “buy-to-rent” ratios each quarter on homes in more than 50 major U.S. urban areas. It compares the median price of a single-family home with the annual rental cost of a typical apartment. The higher the ratio, the more it makes sense to consider renting as an option to homeownership. A ratio of 15 is a rough “balancing” point where the affordability of home ownership and renting are similar.

[See When Downsizing, Renting Often Beats Buying.]

Here are buy-to-rent ratios as of the second quarter of the year:

Lower:

Cleveland, Ohio, 10.79; Pittsburgh, 11.22; Phoenix, 11.45; Detroit, 11.6; Atlanta, 11.79; Minneapolis, 11.8; Orlando, 12.33; Tampa, 12.61; St. Louis, 12.88; Las Vegas, 12.98; Miami, 13.04; Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 13.34; Cincinnati, 13.35; Kansas City, Kan., 13.72, and Chicago, 13.95.

Middle:

Jacksonville, Fla., 14.46; Indianapolis, 14.54; Sacramento, 14.58; New York, 14.69; Philadelphia, 14.81; Columbus, Ohio, 14.92; Palm Beach County, Fla., 15.11; New Orleans, 15.46; Houston, 15.65; Baltimore, 15.7; Dallas-Fort Worth, 15.88; Salt Lake City, 16.16; Oklahoma City, 16.38; Los Angeles, 16.39; Boston, 16.57; Memphis, 16.97; San Antonio, 16.97; Norfolk, Va., 17.5; Bridgeport, Conn., 17.62; Washington D.C.-Northern Virginia-Maryland, 17.89, and Hartford, Conn., 18.08.

Higher:

Long Island, N.Y., 19.85; Austin, Texas, 19.89; Milwaukee, 20.18; Denver, 20.84; San Diego, 21.08; Richmond, Va., 21.38; North-Central New Jersey, 21.76; Portland, Ore., 22.99; Nashville, 23.31; Seattle, 24.05; Raleigh, 24.27; Manhattan, N.Y., 27.72; Charlotte, N.C., 27.99; Orange County, Calif., 28.28; San Jose, Calif., 28.68; San Francisco, 29.92; Honolulu, 31.79, and, East Bay, Calif., 34.33.

Relocate to a cheaper housing market. The recession and housing bust have curtailed Americans’ fondness for relocating to pursue new career and retirement opportunities. According to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, migration rates have fallen to their lowest levels in more than 60 years. The biggest impact has been on the young, who have not been finding attractive job options in other markets, and also may not be able to afford to live on their own. Still, for retirees, now may be a great time to seek greener and cheaper pastures. AARP recently published an exhaustive 2011 update of its State Housing Profiles, including detailed reports on housing conditions and affordability in each state.

[See 5 Factors to Consider Before Relocating for a Job.]

Consider a reverse mortgage. Seniors facing growing problems paying for their homes are not likely to get relief anytime soon. If you own your home, have no mortgage or, at most, a small one, and are at least 62 years old, you should study the feasibility of a government-insured reverse mortgage. Called a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), these loans allow eligible seniors to access the equity in their homes and continue living in them as long as they wish without needing to make future mortgage payments. They do need to pay home insurance, property taxes, and maintenance expenses.

HECM loan charges will mount and do need to be repaid if the occupants or their heirs decide they wish to retain the home. But because HECMs are “non-recourse” loans, owners can surrender their homes and walk away without repaying accumulated loan charges. The percentage of home equity that an owner can access through a HECM depends on their age, whether they have an existing mortgage that must be repaid, and the type of HECM loan they choose. HECMs are complicated and the government requires consumer counseling for applicants.

Twitter: @PhilMoeller

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Three Years Later, GOP Keeps Fighting Financial Reform September 17, 2011

Pat Garofalo is economic policy editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The financial crisis that nearly torpedoed the global economy began in earnest three years ago this week with the September 15 bankruptcy of the investment house Lehman Brothers. One day later, mega-insurer American International Group Inc. was bailed out by the U.S. government to the tune of $85 billion.

Lehman’s bankruptcy was the largest in American history, and the credit panic that followed it set the stage for the reviled (but vital) programs that became symbols of the nation’s financial meltdown: the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program and the myriad lending programs put in place by the Federal Reserve to save the biggest financial institutions on Wall Street (and beyond) from the consequences of their own bad behavior.

[Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the economy.}

Bailing out Wall Street back then was a necessary evil, as AIG's bailout revealed in dramatic fashion. It gave the public its first look at companies that had become "too big to fail," financial institutions that were too entangled with each other to be allowed to collapse lest they drag the rest of the global financial system and global economy down with them.

In the Great Recession that followed, 14 million people lost their jobs, and $20 trillion in wealth was destroyed. Today, one in three homeowners find themselves underwater due to the bursting of the housing bubble, owing more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

So Main Street is still hurting. But the Wall Street banks that created the U.S. housing bubble to supercharge their profits are largely healed, making record profits and handing out escalating bonuses. And the fixes to safeguard our financial system following the September 2008 crash are not yet in place.

[See a slide show of 6 ways to fix the housing market.]

In fact, many are being actively blocked by congressional Republicans who seem more interested in doing the bidding of Wall Street’s behemoths than in protecting the financial system from experiencing another meltdown.

Last July, President Obama signed into law the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the most thorough rewriting of our nation’s financial regulations since the New Deal. While not going so far as to break up the biggest banks or force them to wall off their risky trading desks, the law still goes a long way toward building a more secure financial system that works for consumers, not just for the top executives at the biggest banks and their shareholders.

Problem is, House Republicans are blocking the funding necessary to implement the new law. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, for instance, faces the gargantuan task of overseeing the market for derivatives—the credit instruments that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission said were “at the heart” of the 2008 crisis—but Republicans are trying to cut its budget. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky even argues that “the less we fund those agencies, the better America will be.”

[Read Rick Newman: How to Escape the Middle-Class Squeeze]

Senate Republicans also refuse to confirm any director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created by the new Wall Street reform law, until changes are made to the agency’s structure that would render it a second-class regulator, subservient to the federal bank regulators that refused to rein in Wall Street excess before the 2008 crisis. Not to be outdone, several of the GOP’s presidential candidates, including former Govs. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman (the supposed moderates in the field) are calling for the wholesale repeal of the new law.

[Check out political cartoons about the GOP field.]

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Little ‘viva’ in Las Vegas real estate

Las Vegas (CNN) — In the brutal heat, Mike Forizs ventures out of his North Las Vegas home to take out the trash.

“If I go over and look at the house on the corner, there are broken windows,” he says. It appears to be a party hangout, with empty booze and soda bottles that can be seen through a broken pane.

“People don’t care when they’re getting ready to leave.”

Welcome to one of the top foreclosure areas in the nation, the sunny Las Vegas area.

There are plenty of “For Sale” signs, up and down the street. Front doors are littered with tacked-on notices: “You are in danger of losing your home. Your home loan is being foreclosed.

“This property has been determined to be vacant and abandoned.”

Some houses get stripped of whatever valuables are inside, from pipes to door hardware. It’s impossible to know if the occupants took things with them, or if the empty houses fell to vandals.

The neighborhood of single homes and garages was built in the early 2000s when Las Vegas was the fastest-growing metro area in the nation. Nevada was the fastest-growing state from 2000 to 2010.

The area still looks new. There are no cracks in the streets, sidewalks or driveways, and the slow-growing desert landscape doesn’t hurt the curb appeal.

Post-boom, Vegas tries to kick its water habit

But the recession hit Vegas hard. Nevada’s foreclosure rate has led the nation for more than four-and-a-half years; about 1-in-4 homes in the Vegas area is in some foreclosure process.

Prices have dipped by 40% or more. It means turnover and uncertainty for residents such as Forizs.

“A couple of the neighbors have already moved out because of foreclosure. There’s like three or four (other houses) just on this little block that are empty already. And there’s a couple neighbors” trying to refinance, Forizs says.

It does mean an upside for buyers, of course, including Forizs, who moved here a few months ago. His split-level home originally sold in the mid-$300,000s. Forizs bought it for $95,000.

“Guy let it go,” he says of the last owner. “The banks weren’t working with him.”

Las Vegas’ foreclosure rate — one of every 118 housing units received a foreclosure filing August — is a symptom of all the excesses of the American housing boom, but with shows, gambling and bright lights in easy reach.

Foreclosures rise in August

The downside of that tourism-driven economy: Vacationers and convention-goers spend less or don’t come at all. Residents who relied on tips to make the house payments found themselves unable to keep up. Unemployment is stuck in double digits.

Of all the homes sold, about a quarter are short sales. The borrower owes more on the mortgage than the house is worth.

George McCabe, a public relations executive who works with the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, shakes his head. A lifelong resident, McCabe is contemplating his own neighborhood.

“I bought a home in 2003, in Summerlin, for $300,000,” McCabe starts, speaking of a “master-planned,” high-dollar suburban community.

“I lived in it through the boom, when my neighbors would gather around the mailbox and say, ‘We all paid about three (hundred thousand dollars) and we can sell for 550 (thousand dollars). Isn’t that amazing? Wow! We’re all sitting on a gold mine.’”

To boot, many of those neighbors, like many around the country, borrowed heavily on their equity.

“Now,” McCabe says, “they stand around the mailbox talking about who may or may not be in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure or who’s talking about walking away from their loan.”

Juggling the stats is Paul Bell, president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors.

“Some areas have declined as much as 75%” in home value, he says.

Now, a new trend emerges: More than half the homes sold here are cash transactions. That’s a sign that speculators and investors are waiting for the next boom. In the meantime, they turn the houses into rentals.

The association lost more than 6,000 members since the start of the recession in 2007.

But Bell likes to point to a recent slow rise in home sales and prices.

He said he’s hoping that the worst in foreclosures is over.


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