Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nightowl Newswrap

Another ideologically-driven boondoggle fails to work: A $20 million prototype of the government's highly touted "virtual fence" on the Arizona-Mexico border is being scrapped because the system is failing to adequately alert Border Patrol agents to illegal crossings, officials said. The move comes just two months after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced his approval of the fence built by The Boeing Co. The fence consists of nine electronic surveillance towers along a 28-mile section of border southwest of Tucson. Boeing is to replace the so-called Project 28 prototype with a series of towers equipped with communications systems, new cameras and new radar capability, officials said. Small consolation for losing the forty billion dollar tanker deal, apparently.

Without being asked, the mortgage industry tries to reform itself, albeit slowly: Seven out of 10 troubled mortgage borrowers remain without a plan to work out their loans despite increased industry efforts to help them, according to a new report from a coalition of state attorneys general and banking regulators. The group collected data from 13 of the largest subprime lenders from October through January and found that the lenders are overwhelmed by their workloads and unable to keep pace with the number of borrowers who are falling behind on payments. BUT--the good news is: The findings were not all grim. The coalition reported that the number of late borrowers working with their lenders to prevent foreclosure has increased and that the measures taken by lenders to help them have become more aggressive. Instead of rescheduling missed payments, more lenders reduced the overall burden by modifying loan terms. They lowered interest rates or extended the term of the loan to cut payments. Less often, they forgave part of the principal. More help from the government? Don't count on it...

File this under "even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while" Ruth Marcus gets one right - I know, I know - I threw up a little just writing that...But I'll be damned if she didn't take John McSame to task for being an idiot about economics. Here is the money quote: Call it McCainsian Economics. Its seminal treatise: "The General Theory of Getting Elected."

Suck on this, Tom Friedman: A Brown University student was apprehended by Brown University police last night after allegedly throwing a green pie container filled with what appeared to be green whipped cream at a New York Times columnist who had been invited to speak to students about energy. Thomas Friedman ducked the pies, which were thrown by two people who rushed the stage just after he stepped to the microphone. He avoided the brunt of the contents, stepped off stage for a few minutes, and returned to deliver his speech.

Since you asked, yes we do care about South American energy policy: South America has enjoyed robust economic growth in recent years, in part driven by rising global prices for commodities such as oil. Yet energy shortfalls loom on the horizon, both in electricity generation and oil and gas production. Meanwhile, greater state intervention in the energy industry threatens oil and gas production levels in Bolivia and Venezuela, where decisions often stem from political rather than economic considerations. The region’s governments also show little interest in cooperating on energy policy. Though analysts point to some instances in which economic pragmatism trumps politics, South America appears largely resistant to integrating its energy markets. Experts say this lack of cooperation could hinder regional economic growth.

Did you know that the Usually Outraged Bill Donohue is about to be outraged again? Paul Verhoeven is making a movie that claims Mary, the mother of Jesus, was raped by a Roman soldier. There is no historical evidence for Jesus, let alone the nature of his conception, so this is pure fictional speculation, from a director known more for over-the-top, superficial flamboyance than historical accuracy — expect a crotch shot of Mary, and lots of silicon breasts in the shower scene. But of course Bill Donohue is outraged. "Here we go again with idle speculation grounded in absolutely nothing," Donohue told "He has no empirical evidence to support his claim, which is why they say 'may have.'" Thanks, PZ--we needed a shot of humor.

According to a new report by Credit Suisse, 12.7% of all homes are expected to be in foreclosure by 2012, with an additional 15% drop in home values over the next few years. Fueling this situation is a shortage of available credit for prospective buyers, along with shortsighted measures on the part of government aimed at protecting banks instead of homeowners. While a comprehensive nationwide program of loan modification, principal adjustment, and bankruptcy reform could help soften this crisis and begin stabilizing real estate values, so far the federal government has only shown interest in furthering the well-being of the lending institutions who precipitated the crisis in the first place. One wrongheaded measured aimed at protecting banks is the new lending requirement by Fannie Mae denying loans to anyone who has been through any foreclosure scenario for a minimum of three and a typical length of five years. These penalties will have the effect of pulling millions of available buyers from the market, further slowing it and driving down values, while punishing sellers who may have lost their dwellings for reasons that vary from a job loss to ARM resets that were unable to be refinanced as a result of local values having declined dramatically.

Time to start the deathwatch for Ira Katz at the VA Patty Murray has him in her sites, and deservedly so. He is the man in charge of mental health programs at the VA and the responsibility for hiding the data on suicides and suicide attempts by veterans ultimately rests with him. Murray, who sits on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, has had a meeting with VA Secretary James Peake and demanded Katz be fired. "I used to teach preschool, and when you bring up a 3-year-old and tell them they have to stop lying, they understand the consequences," Murray said. "The VA doesn't. They need to stop hiding the fact this war is costing us in so many ways." ***It is important for me to take a moment to stress that "the VA" Murray refers to are the political appointees. Not the career administrators, and certainly not the health care professionals who staff VA hospitals. Those folks are struggling mightily to provide services to Veterans in need, in the face of hiring and budget freezes that are occurring simultaneously with increased demand for services as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Signed, ;) --John McCain is shocked! Shocked I tell you! And appalled! (Don't forget appalled!) that the North Carolina GOP is running an attack ad against Barack Obama. He was so upset he fired off an email asking them to please, pretty please, stop running it? Yes, I'm sure he's just morti-fucking-fied by it all...[/eyerolling] Of course, the M$M, in the full bodice-ripping rapture of their mancrush, will portray him as the victim and help the McCain Campaign and the national party cast the North Carolina GOP as Snidely Whiplash in this little scene-chewing exercise.

It's the foreign policy, stupid Turns out they don't hate us for our freedom, after all. (I knew it!) They hate us for our meddling, jingoistic foreign policy. (Told ya so!)

[Hat tip to Windhorse for explaining the Mortgage stuff to us and emailing us the Credit Suisse item - we used it verbatim.]

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