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Wonkbook: Foreclosures stopped; Geithner pressures China; Fed may target; Goolsbee on growth


Across the country, we're watching shoddy work on behalf of the banks and mortgage companies do what the government simply couldn't, or wouldn't: Stop the foreclosure crisis in its tracks. The only question is, to what end?

You could see this playing out a number of ways. One is that it gives distressed homeowners breathing room, and more leverage in court to negotiate with their banks. Another is that it collapses the housing market, as no one knows quite what to expect, and no one is quite sure how much inventory is left to trickle out once these lawsuits settle. And then there are the families that are fighting for a reprieve when they'd be better off letting the house go and moving to a community with more jobs. Or maybe people find a way around the problem. Not to sound like a fortune cookie here, but the only certainty is more uncertainty.

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Judges across the country are ruling foreclosures illegal because of faulty paperwork, report Brady Dennis and Ariana Eunjung Cha: "If millions of foreclosures past and present were invalidated because of the way the hurried securitization process muddied the chain of ownership, banks could face lawsuits from homeowners and from investors who bought stakes in the mortgage securities - an expensive and potentially crippling proposition. For the fragile housing market, already clogged with foreclosure cases, it could mean gridlock and confusion for years. And there is concern in Washington that if the real estate market and financial institutions suffer harm, it could force the government to step in again."

Tim Geithner urged the IMF to push China on its currency, reports Howard Schneider: "In seeking to muster a broader coalition, Geithner issued an ultimatum to the International Monetary Fund: take a more aggressive stand on China's currency or potentially lose U.S. backing for a series of efforts pending at the agency. The IMF is debating changes in how it is governed to give greater influence to developing nations in Asia and elsewhere, but Geithner said these steps should be tied to these countries, in particular China, allowing their currencies to more closely adhere to free-market levels."

China will soon lead the world in patent filings, reports David Barboza:

Only nine percent of American companies report any product innovation between 2006 and 2008, says a new National Science Foundation study:

The Fed may target an interest rate rather than buy a set amount of bonds, reports Neil Irwin: "Instead of just announcing that it will create, say, $500 billion out of thin air and buy bonds with the money, the Fed could instead announce it will target a certain interest rate and then buy Treasury bonds so that rates in the marketplace reach that level. For example, the Fed could announce that it aims for three-year Treasury debt that now carries an interest rate of 0.56 percent to instead be 0.25 percent. It would then buy Treasury notes in whatever amounts were needed to get rates to the target level. That would help the economy by lowering rates for a broad range of borrowers, including Americans looking to take out a mortgage and companies looking to use debt to finance expansion."

Monetary policy would be a lot likelier to work if combined with fiscal policy, writes Paul Krugman:

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Austan Goolsbee says we'll need to grow, not tax or cut, our way to fiscal sustainability: "What little countries did to deal with their imbalances are frequently not available for giant economies like the U.S. or Japan. More intense research shows that the primary way countries get out of fiscal holes is by increasing their growth rate. To posit that you have to either substantially cut spending or raise taxes belies the fact that what really matters is debt-to-GDP. In the U.S., we’ve often reduced that ratio without running surpluses by getting the growth rate up."

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Loch rock interlude: Belle & Sebastian play "Piazza, New York Catcher" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Still to come: US companies are buying back stock rather than creating jobs; the oil spill panel is blasting the Obama administration's response to the catastrophe; deportations are reaching record highs; and the most laser-filled wedding video you've ever seen.


US companies are using their record levels of cash to buy stock, not create jobs, reports Jia Lynn Yang: "So far this year, firms have announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more than five times as much compared with this time last year, according to Birinyi Associates, a stock market research firm. But the rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce economic growth. Some companies are buying back shares partly because they don't want to invest in developing new products or services while consumer demand remains weak, analysts said."

North Carolina, Texas, and Connecticut have issued moratoria on foreclosures:

Long-term unemployment affects even skilled workers, writes Andy Kroll: "According to federal data, however, the hardest hit when it comes to long-term unemployment are older workers -- middle aged and beyond, folks like Rick Rembold who can see retirement on the horizon but planned on another decade or more of work. Given the increasing claims of age discrimination in this recession, older Americans suffering longer bouts of joblessness may not in itself be so surprising. That education seemingly works against anyone in this older cohort is. Nearly half of the long-term unemployed who are 45 or older have 'some college,' a bachelor's degree, or more. By contrast, those with no education at all make up just 15% of this older category."

Cities' fiscal straits are only growing more dire:

The Fed is running out of options, writes Joseph Stiglitz: "Potentially significant costs offset these small benefits. The Fed has bought more than $1 trillion of mortgages, the value of which will fall when the economy recovers - which is precisely why no one in the private sector wants to buy them. The government may pretend that it has not experienced a capital loss, because, unlike banks, it is not required to use mark-to-market accounting. But no one should be fooled, even if the Fed holds the bonds to maturity. The attempt to ensure that the losses are not recognized might tempt the Fed to rely excessively on untested, uncertain, and costly monetary-policy tools - like paying high interest rates on reserves to induce banks not to lend."

Wells Fargo will spend $772 million modifying mortgages:

Trade presents a dilemma for liberals, writes Matt Miller: "Venting against foreigners when times are hard is only natural, especially when China is in fact guilty as charged. But the question that liberals sidestep for now is what their posture will be toward China and India when times are again good -- and when these nations' economic "crimes" aren't bad behavior but merely a desire to get richer. The mother of all inconvenient truths is this: Global capitalism's ability to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China, India and other developing countries comes partly at the expense of tens of millions of workers in wealthy nations. This awful, inexorable fact will soon pose an enormous moral and intellectual challenge for the American left."

Republicans promise higher unemployment, worse deficits, and greater inequality, writes Nick Kristof:

Currency warfare isn't a zero-sum game, writes Barry Eichengreen: "It is a misunderstanding to believe that the policies pursued by the BOJ, the Fed, and the Bank of England come at one another's expense. What we are seeing, in all three cases, is not exchange rate manipulation but quantitative easing, actual or incipient...The Bank of England has made no bones about its continued commitment to quantitative easing. The Fed is moving slowly, slowly in the same direction. This, of course, is precisely what is needed in a world where deflation has again become a problem and fiscal policy, for better or worse, is off the table."

Wedding video interlude: Weddings are always better when the bride can shoot laser beams.


The White House withheld dour BP oil spill estimates from the public, report Steven Mufson and David Fahrenthold: "The commission staff's preliminary papers also said that Obama's Office of Management and Budget later delayed a report by government scientists that would have included a 'worst-case' estimate of the rate of the spill, weeks before the government revised its own official estimates upward. The reports delivered a harsh assessment of the administration's later contention that most of the spill was 'gone.' They point to comments by Carol M. Browner, Obama's climate and energy czar, who in a television interview mischaracterized a report as saying that three-quarters of the spill had disappeared."

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson is striking an anti-lobbyist posture:

West Virginia is suing the federal government over mountaintop removal mining restrictions, reports Erik Eckholm: "Mountaintop removal, in which hundreds of feet of earth and stone are blasted off the tops of hills to gain access to the coal seams beneath, has become a major mining method in West Virginia, Kentucky and nearby states...Federal permits for such mining operations could be obtained relatively easily in the past, but in 2009, the agency, citing evidence of ecological harm as well as a growing public outcry, started requiring more stringent environmental reviews of new mining proposals, and started taking stronger action to protect mountain streams under the Clean Water Act."

The FTC is tightening rules for labeling products "green":

Obama's environmental agenda won't work, write Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus: "In truth, the president’s strategy was flawed from the start. Cap-and-trade would not have birthed a domestic clean-energy economy--indeed, it wasn’t designed to. Meanwhile, the administration’s green stimulus spending was split between short-term, if worthy, investments in green technology, to which far too little money was allocated, and overhyped public-works projects that would never have delivered the new industrial economy Obama promised as a candidate."

There is no moderate right on global warming, writes Bill McKibben:

The BP spill is compounding damage done by Katrina in Alabama, writes Adren Wilson: "According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 3,177 housing units in Mobile County sustained major or severe damage from Hurricane Katrina. According to available data sets, 1,179 individuals in Mobile County applied for disaster recovery Community Disaster Block Grants (CDBG) rebuilding assistance. Of those, only 301 homeowners have been or will be served. At least 359 homeowners qualified for funding, but won't receive it because they missed an application window that was open for a short period of time by design. Due to depleted federal funding, at least 346 qualified, eligible homeowners will not receive assistance."

Hobbyist interlude: A homemade spacecraft makes it to the upper stratosphere.

Domestic Policy

Deportations of illegal immigrants are at a new high, reports Shankar Vedantam: "The Obama administration announced Wednesday that in the past year it has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants - more than 392,000, about half of whom were convicted criminals...Officials said that they had also stepped up audits of employers suspected of using unauthorized immigrants as workers, part of a strategy to undercut the jobs magnet that draws many migrants. Officials said that 180 owners, employers or managers had been criminally charged and $50 million had been levied in fines."

Al Franken wants an FCC investigation into foreign spending the midterm elections:

Sen. Ted Kaufman warns of a coming retirement spree in the federal government, in an interview with Ed O'Keefe: "Q: Is the government equipped to fill 40,000 jobs in six months? A: No, no! And not the 40,000 jobs we're going to lose. This is my favorite subject, STEM: Science, technology, engineering and math. Think of the number of engineers and scientists that are getting ready to retire from the federal government with nobody to one to take their place in the private sector or the public sector. And this is going to be a gravy train, because there are so many scientists and engineers out of work who with some retraining can come back and do it. But when we use up those folks, where are we going to find the people to do it?"

Labor relations in hospitals are worsening, reports Lena Sun: "The country's more than 3 million nurses already make up the largest segment of the health-care work force. Millions more will be needed to take care of the 32 million additional people who are estimated to get health insurance coverage in 2014. The quality of care nurses provide will also be crucial as hospitals will increasingly be paid for how well they take care of patients rather than how many procedures and tests they perform. Better nurse staffing and work environments are linked to fewer hospital readmissions, hospital-acquired infections and bedsores, experts say."

Tom Daschle warns the health care law is still vulnerable:

A county with privatized fire fighting shows the need for universal health care, writes Jonathan Cohn: "To me this is a classic case for requiring payment up front--that is, an individual mandate. People shouldn't have the option to decline fire protection if protection is available. If they refuse to pay the fees, assuming they are reasonable relative to their means, they should be subject to financial penalties. The same goes for health insurance. Don't let people go without basic coverage, but make them pay for it, to whatever extent their income allows. Does that make me a little paternalistic? You bet. And I'm ok with that."

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Eric Gay-AP

By Ezra Klein  | October 7, 2010; 6:40 AM ET
Categories:  Wonkbook  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Unreconciled
Next: No way to run a government


Foreclosures stopped? Really? or just until Obama signs this: A bill that homeowners advocates warn will make it more difficult to challenge improper foreclosure attempts by big mortgage processors is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature after it quietly zoomed through the Senate last week.

The bill, passed without public debate in a way that even surprised its main sponsor, Republican Representative Robert Aderholt, requires courts to accept as valid document notarizations made out of state, making it harder to challenge the authenticity of foreclosure and other legal documents.
You wonder why the dems are doomed.

The timing raised eyebrows, coming during a rising furor over improper affidavits and other filings in foreclosure actions by large mortgage processors such as GMAC, JPMorgan and Bank of America.

Posted by: obrier2 | October 7, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Once again Ezra kindly scratches the back of Alan Goolsbee. Yesterday, Ezra posted a nice, long-winded interview with Goolsbee about how smart Obama and the Democrats are in dealing with the economy.

Of course, what Ezra fails to mention is that his progressive-brother Goolsbee is going to be investigated for illegally accessing confidential tax records of political opponents of the White House, and using that information in promoting Obama's policies.

You can always count on progressives in the media like Ezra to protect their own....

Posted by: dbw1 | October 7, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

"US companies are using their record levels of cash to buy stock, not create jobs."

I don't know why progressives can't get this simple point through their thick skulls: Businesses do not exist to create jobs. Businesses exist to MAKE MONEY. Creating jobs is a welcome by-product, but not the purpose, of successful businesses.

With the stock prices of many companies depressed, they simply see more opportunity to make money by buying their own bargain-priced stock, as opposed to investing in an uncertain economic environment (taxes going up next year? How much?).

Businesses will be glad to get back to growing their business and creating jobs when the government gets out of the way of meddling with trying to tell them what products to make (overpriced car cell batteries, anyone?), and where to invest their money.

Posted by: dbw1 | October 7, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

--*Does that make me a little paternalistic?*--

I would be paternalistic if he were talking about his own children, but in talking about imposing his inclinations upon the general populace, it's more generally known as despotism.

And what? Klein doesn't mention the health care waiver the gov just gave to 29 favored firms? What are all the smaller, lesser politically connected businesses supposed to do? Will Klein bob his head for them????

Posted by: msoja | October 7, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

"A county with privatized fire fighting shows the need for universal health care, writes Jonathan Cohn:"

I was about to go off on a rant against Cohn for using the word privatized, but I checked the link and realized the privatized label was applied here.

How many times do you need to be told Ezra? It was a *public* fire department *prohibited by law* from putting the fire out.

Privatized? You've got to be kidding me. Do you think Medicare has been privatized too because most enrollees pay premiums?

"To me this is a classic case for requiring payment up front--that is, an individual mandate. People shouldn't have the option to decline fire protection if protection is available. If they refuse to pay the fees, assuming they are reasonable relative to their means, they should be subject to financial penalties. The same goes for health insurance. Don't let people go without basic coverage, but make them pay for it, to whatever extent their income allows. Does that make me a little paternalistic? You bet. And I'm ok with that."

Gee wonder what happens if someone refuses to pay the financial penalties too. Off to the slammer then? What if he resists arrest? Are you okay with killing him too, Cohn?

What if the fees are unreasonable? Oh that's no problem, just load up the gun and demand more cash from those awful rich people.

This is a classic case *against* government involvement - liberals on this blog have already said if someone is uninsured and their state voted down the mandate, that they should be *prohibited* from using an emergency room! The exact same type of prohibition which prevented the firefighters from helping! Of course if such a prohibition on ER usage were to go in effect, we'd be reading about the horrors of free market healthcare here on wonkbonk.


Posted by: justin84 | October 7, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Breaking news Ezra! Bill flys thru senate to portect foreclosures:

like obrier2 says above

Posted by: rjewett | October 7, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Re the foreclosure mess....I would highly recommend that anybody who owns a fixed income mutual fund take the time to check their fund's recent quarterly reports to be sure that it's not been stuffed to the gills with mortgage backed securities!

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 7, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

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