Monday, January 19, 2009

Olbermann Bush guilty of torture

Special Comment by Keith Olbermann on why the Bush Administration must be prosecuted for torture

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Detroit auto show goes green


MSNBC.com

Race on for automakers to go electric
Mass-produced sedan around the corner, driven by battery technology
By Roland Jones
updated 9:48 a.m. CT, Thurs., Jan. 15, 2009
Just a few years ago, the world’s automakers took a scattershot approach to the growing need for alternative-fuel technologies, pursuing strategies for everything from hydrogen fuel cells to ethanol, biodiesel and natural gas.

Now a more well-defined strategy is taking shape. Almost every automaker at this year’s Detroit auto show — from General Motors and Ford to China-based BYD — unveiled plans to create a mass-produced electric car within two or three years. The race to go electric is truly on. The biggest question is, who will be first to the finish line?

“Electricity is the future,” said Aaron Bragman, an automotive industry analyst at consultancy IHS Global Insight. “Looking around the Detroit show, it certainly seems as though we’ve decided on a propulsion system for the future. Eventually, all roads will lead to that electric destination; it’s the most efficient propulsion system we have. It’s finally starting to catch up in terms of the technology, and over the next few years there will be a real proliferation of it.”

In truth, Tesla Motors already has won this race. The California-based start-up showed off its $109,000 all-electric two-seat Roadster sports car in Detroit, the only production vehicle on sale to the general public. Tesla also announced it has signed a deal to supply its lithium-ion batteries for an electric version of Daimler's two-seat Smart car.

But the real prize in the race to go electric will not be for a niche sports car or mini two-seater, said Bragman.

“When you create a passenger car that can carry four or five passengers and go 350 miles on a single charge that takes 15 minutes — that would be an impressive feat, and no one has done that yet,” he said.

Several major automakers at the Detroit show said they are hotly pursuing this goal, driven by the rapid development of smaller lithium-ion batteries.

GM said it plans to build a U.S. factory to assemble advanced lithium-ion batteries for its Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric sedan, which the automaker plans to bring to market by late 2010 for a price of $30,000 to $40,000.

Ford said it plans to sell an electric sedan in the United States by 2011, while Toyota showed a tiny electric commuter vehicle called the FT-EV that it plans to sell in Japan, Europe and the United States by 2012. China’s BYD, which doesn’t even sell cars yet in the United States, announced plans to sell plug-in vehicles by 2011. Nissan, which was not represented at the Detroit show, has said it will sell an electric car in the United States as early as 2010.

Tesla, which has encountered many well-publicized setbacks in building its Roadster, is also taking aim at the mainstream market. Chief Executive Elon Musk said the company hopes to unveil its five-seat “Model S” premium sedan next month. The car will list at $57,400, although the aim is to eventually reduce the cost to $30,000, executives said.

The “electrification” of vehicles has the potential to bear fruit for the struggling automotive industry, said Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache.

Lache expects to see “tremendous growth” in the electrification of cars over the next few years, rising to 20 percent of the U.S. market by 2012, he said at a conference held in conjunction with the Detroit show.

“It’s driven by policymakers’ concerns about foreign-oil dependence, and also by advances in the safety, performance and life expectancy of battery technology,” he said. “The new lithium-ion batteries can last for 19 years, and even at that point you have 80 percent of capacity left. This is not your cell-phone battery where you throw the cell phone away when you’re done. This is a big advancement.”

Electrification will change the industry's business model, said Lache. An electric car can get 5 miles per kilowatt hour, or 2 cents per mile, compared with 10 to 40 cents a mile for gas-powered cars, he said.

Companies like Palo Alto, Calif.-based Better Place are looking at take advantage of this price differential, Lache said. Companies like Better Place will seek to provide charged batteries to drivers and charge by the mile, he said.

That model could work well in countries like Israel and Denmark where gas prices are high governments are committed to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

“There is so much capital being deployed in this area now that I think it will come quickly and create jobs, and I think the incoming (Obama) administration will be looking at this too,” he said.

The question of which automaker will benefit most from electrification remains open. Toyota just unveiled its third generation Prius hybrid gas-electric car, so it has a "head-start when it comes to managing electrical systems," said Global Insight’s Bragman.

GM also has learned a lot about electric cars through its work on the EV1, the first production-quality battery electric vehicle produced in the United States. The project was cancelled in 2003.

“Any company can take the advantage,” Lache said.

“Electric cars will be the iPods of the future, and we are at the pre-deployment stage,” he said. “It’s not as if we’re at the point where we have an iPod and the iTunes service already established. This is a huge opportunity. Any automaker can take advantage of this big development.”

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Discussion of the new placement of bailout monies as ineffective and new bad mortgages being made due to a lack of federal employees

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Discussion of whether or not President Bush kept us safe from terrorist attacks before and after 9/11

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Discussion of various issue that indicate Mr. Obama intends to hit the ground running and keep many of his campaign promises early on.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Citi, Senators announce mortgage agreement

Dick Durbin discusses change in bankruptcy code and home foreclosure

Congress takes up foreclosure relief plans

MSN Tracking Image
  MSNBC.com

Congress takes up foreclosure relief plans
After a year of debate, effective government solutions remain elusive
By John W. Schoen
Senior producer
updated 10:40 a.m. CT, Wed., Jan. 14, 2009

With the battered housing industry at the heart of the economy’s slide, Congress and the Obama administration have identified foreclosure relief as a top priority. But the problem has been stubbornly resistant to quick fixes.

After a year of failed efforts, Congress and the new administration are considering more aggressive measures, including a possible change to bankruptcy law. Homeowner relief could come as part of a new economic stimulus plan, a revised financial system bailout program or as a standalone measure.

So far, progress remains painfully slow. More than 3 million homes have been lost to foreclosure since the housing bubble burst. Roughly one in 10 homeowners with mortgages are either in foreclosure or more than 30 days late in payments — the highest delinquency rate on record.

Without more aggressive measures, another 8 million to 10 million foreclosures are forecast over the next four years, according to Credit Suisse. That amounts to roughly one in six households with a mortgage.

“It is simply mind-boggling to me that (Congress and the White House) have moved so slowly to address this issue,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which has been lobbying for foreclosure relief.

Congress and the incoming administration are taking a multipronged approach to foreclosure relief.

"Accelerating foreclosures is obviously, in my view, the huge driving problem right now,” said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor appointed by Congress to chair a panel overseeing the financial bailout. "Until we think in a more comprehensive way, we can't create solutions that will really make a difference," she told Congress last month.

Many of solutions tried so far have been stymied by the legal morass created by the modern mortgage.


In past recessions, it was not uncommon for lenders to work out more affordable terms with borrowers who had fallen on hard times. Bankers often prefer to cut their losses by lowering monthly payments and stretching them out over a longer term rather than bearing the cost of foreclosure. But the complex system of financing the recent housing boom — which was based heavily on the pooling of mortgages that were then sold to thousands of investors — has hopelessly complicated a once fairly simple renegotiation between lender and homeowner.

Multiple classes of investors, each with different claims on the same mortgage, often have conflicting interests. Some will do better with a loan foreclosure while others would profit by keeping the loan performing. Some contracts setting up these pool pay loan “servicers” — the companies that manage mortgage payments to investors — more generous payments for loans in foreclosure and offer little financial incentive to undertake the more costly process of modifying terms.

“You have got to have the investor or their representatives come to the table motivated to do something,” said Taylor. “And that’s currently what we don’t have.”

To break the logjam, Congress is considering various proposals, including both "carrots" and "sticks."

One of the "carrots" is included in a proposed revision to the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

Now, as Congress prepares to authorize the second $350 billion in spending for the program, Democratic leaders are pressing for changes that would expand beyond the banking industry, which has been the primary beneficiary of the program. A House Committee heard testimony Tuesday on revisions that would commit between $40 billion and $100 billion of TARP funds to various foreclosure relief measures.

One proposal would expand an FDIC program aimed at standardizing the loan modification process and paying mortgage servicers a fee for every loan they modify. To cap monthly payments at no more than 31 percent of a borrower’s income, loan servicers could extend the loan to 40 years or defer some interest until the borrower sells or refinances their home. The measure would also provide mortgage servicers some protection against investor lawsuits claiming a loan modification lowered their returns.

The TARP revision also could include changes to the Hope for Homeowners program, which provided $300 billion in guarantees to help lenders refinance troubled borrowers into FHA mortgages. Lenders balked because the program was too costly; changes in the law are expected to make the plan more attractive.

Congress also is considering various proposals as part of a planned $800 billion economic stimulus program, including tax cuts promoted by the home building industry for home buyers. That could include tax credits for all homebuyers, not just first-timers, of $7,500 or more. Mortgage interest would be deductible even for taxpayers who don't itemize; tax incentives may also be given to owners who rent out vacant properties.

The most controversial foreclosure relief proposal — and the biggest "stick" being considered — involves changing the bankruptcy law to allow courts to modify terms of first mortgages on primary residences. (Those are the only form of debt currently excluded from the bankruptcy process.)

First proposed over a year ago, the latest proposal would require borrowers to contact their mortgage lender 10 days before filing for bankruptcy to give the two sides time to work out a modification. If the lender doesn’t make an offer, a judge could then adjust the loan balance to fair market value, cut the interest rate and extend the loan as part of a court-ordered five-year payment plan. There’s no guarantee, however, that a foreclosure could be prevented if the mortgage balance greatly exceeds the homeowner's ability to pay it down.

This so-called "cram-down” provision is strenuously opposed by the lending industry, which argues that the new risk that a loan will later be modified by a judge will increase the cost of borrowing.  Some financial analysts caution the move could also make mortgages harder to finance.

“Investors outside the U.S. will now view the U.S. mortgage market as riskier and therefore they may be willing to commit less capital to it,” said Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with the Stanford Group.

But that view is disputed by some economists. Adam Levitin, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, say his research comparing mortgages on single-family homes, which are excluded from bankruptcy court revisions, and multifamily homes, which aren’t, showed the difference in interest costs amounted to a fraction of a percentage point.


“There was a statistically significant impact, but it was small,” he said. “I would expect to see that impact borne by the highest-risk borrowers, and that’s very good policy. It would inject a little prudence into the mortgage lending process.”

Though it was defeated twice in the last Congress, the measure got a major boost last week when Citigroup agreed to support the proposal, with some modifications. (One key change would restrict the provision to existing mortgages, preserving the bankruptcy exemption for new first mortgages.) The National Association of Home Builders, also a staunch opponent last year, has signaled it would consider supporting some form of the provision.

Congress also is looking at additional measures aimed at reducing mortgage rates to spur home buying, including providing an explicit government guarantee and raising limits on conforming loans issued by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. But those measures offer little relief to the roughly one in six homeowners whose home’s value has fallen below their mortgage balance.

Foreclosure outlook

New data on foreclosures

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Barrack Obama Recovery will start now

Barrack Obama Recovery will start now

Barrack Obama Recovery will start now

Barrack Obama Recovery will start now

Will the stimulus work

Will the stimulus work

Obama, on the record

Obama on his Stimulus Package

Obama Talks About His New Stimulus Package

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  MSNBC.com

Obama: Pass stimulus or recession lasts ‘years’
President-elect warns the downturn could become ‘dramatically worse’
BREAKING NEWS
msnbc.com news services
updated 10:41 a.m. CT, Thurs., Jan. 8, 2009

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama warned Thursday morning that the nation’s recession could “linger for years” unless Congress acts to pump unprecedented sums from Washington into the U.S. economy, adding that the current economic crisis is “unlike any we have seen in our lifetime.”

“I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible,” Obama said in a speech at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., outside Washington. It was his highest-profile case yet on an issue certain to define his early presidency.

“A bad situation could become dramatically worse,” he added, painting a dire picture — including double-digit unemployment and $1 trillion in lost economic activity — that recalled the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The current economic crisis is due to “an era of profound irresponsibility,” Obama said, adding that it is “time to set a new course for this economy, and that change must begin now.”

Obama also laid out goals of doubling the production of alternative energy over three years, updating most federal buildings to improve energy efficiency, making medical records electronic, expanding broadband networks and updating schools and universities.

It was the fourth day in a row that Obama has made a pitch for a huge infusion of taxpayer dollars to revive the sinking economy.

His events have increasingly taken on the trappings and air of the presidency, with the speech — coming a full 12 days before he takes over at the White House — a particularly showy move. Presidents-elect typically stick to naming administration appointments and otherwise staying in the background during the transition period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, but Obama has clearly made the calculation that a nation anxious about its economic outlook and eager to bid farewell to the current president, George W. Bush, needs to hear from him differently and more frequently.

Indeed, the economic news is grim.

Consumers and companies are folding under the negative forces of a collapsed housing market, a global credit crunch and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. The recession, which started in December 2007, already is the longest in a quarter-century.

Major U.S. retailers reporter December sales that were so dismal, even Wal-Mart fell short of already low expectations.

New claims for unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week, but the number of people continuing to seek aid rose sharply. The Labor Department says initial applications for unemployment insurance dropped by 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 467,000 for the week ending Jan. 3. Wall Street economists expected initial claims to increase to 540,000. The figure partly reflects seasonal volatility that occurs around the New Year’s holiday.

Still, the number of people continuing to claim jobless benefits jumped unexpectedly by 101,000 to 4.61 million. That was above analysts’ expectations of 4.5 million and the highest level since November 1982.

'More families will lose their savings'
For all of 2008, employers probably slashed payrolls by at least 2.4 million. That's based on economists' forecasts for a net loss of 500,000 additional jobs in December, as well as the job losses previously reported. Some, however, think the number of jobs cut last month will be higher, around 600,000 or 700,000. The Labor Department will release that report Friday.

"For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs," Obama said. "More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse."

A day after the release of a stunning new estimate — that the federal budget deficit will reach an unprecedented $1.2 trillion this year, nearly three times last year's record — Obama acknowledged the new stimulus spending will "certainly add to the budget deficit." He also acknowledged some sympathy with those who "might be skeptical of this plan" because so much federal money has already been spent or committed in an attempt — largely unsuccessful so far — to get credit, the lifeblood of the American economy, flowing freely once again.

Such statements are coded to appeal to budget hawks in both parties, whom Obama wants to win over so that approval of a package draws wide, bipartisan support in the Democratic-led Congress.

To answer their concerns, he promised to allow funding only for what works. He also pledged a new level of transparency about where the money is going. A day earlier, he promised to tackle the out-of-control fiscal problem posed by Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs and named a special watchdog to clamp down on all federal programs.

Obama made broader arguments, too, saying that the private sector, typically the answer, cannot do what is needed now.

Still-evolving package
"At this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe," he said.

Obama's transition team and Democratic congressional leaders are working daily to hammer out the still-evolving package, expected to total nearly $800 billion. The initial hope had been to have a new stimulus package approved by Congress in time for Obama to sign it upon taking office on Jan. 20. That timeline has slipped considerably, into at least mid-February if not later.

The package is expected to include tax cuts for businesses and middle-class workers, money to help cash-starved states with Medicaid programs and other operating costs, and a huge share for infrastructure building, investments in energy efficiency and a rebuilding of the information technology system for health care. Much of the latter portions of the plan are aimed at what Obama likes to talk about as the need for "reinvestment" and not just "recovery."

"It is not just another public works program," he said in the speech. "It's a plan that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment, the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there is so much work to be done."

He also promised action to address the economy's ills beyond the package, such as tackling the massive wave of home foreclosures many experts expect, preventing the failure of financial institutions, rewriting financial regulations and keeping accountable the "Wall Street wrongdoers" who engage in risky investing.

More on Obama | stimulus

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28555437/


© 2009 MSNBC.com

Obama Talks About His Stimulus Package

MSN Tracking Image
  MSNBC.com

Obama: Pass stimulus or recession lasts ‘years’
President-elect warns the downturn could become ‘dramatically worse’
BREAKING NEWS
msnbc.com news services
updated 10:41 a.m. CT, Thurs., Jan. 8, 2009

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama warned Thursday morning that the nation’s recession could “linger for years” unless Congress acts to pump unprecedented sums from Washington into the U.S. economy, adding that the current economic crisis is “unlike any we have seen in our lifetime.”

“I don’t believe it’s too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible,” Obama said in a speech at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., outside Washington. It was his highest-profile case yet on an issue certain to define his early presidency.

“A bad situation could become dramatically worse,” he added, painting a dire picture — including double-digit unemployment and $1 trillion in lost economic activity — that recalled the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The current economic crisis is due to “an era of profound irresponsibility,” Obama said, adding that it is “time to set a new course for this economy, and that change must begin now.”

Obama also laid out goals of doubling the production of alternative energy over three years, updating most federal buildings to improve energy efficiency, making medical records electronic, expanding broadband networks and updating schools and universities.

It was the fourth day in a row that Obama has made a pitch for a huge infusion of taxpayer dollars to revive the sinking economy.

His events have increasingly taken on the trappings and air of the presidency, with the speech — coming a full 12 days before he takes over at the White House — a particularly showy move. Presidents-elect typically stick to naming administration appointments and otherwise staying in the background during the transition period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, but Obama has clearly made the calculation that a nation anxious about its economic outlook and eager to bid farewell to the current president, George W. Bush, needs to hear from him differently and more frequently.

Indeed, the economic news is grim.

Consumers and companies are folding under the negative forces of a collapsed housing market, a global credit crunch and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. The recession, which started in December 2007, already is the longest in a quarter-century.

Major U.S. retailers reporter December sales that were so dismal, even Wal-Mart fell short of already low expectations.

New claims for unemployment benefits dropped unexpectedly last week, but the number of people continuing to seek aid rose sharply. The Labor Department says initial applications for unemployment insurance dropped by 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 467,000 for the week ending Jan. 3. Wall Street economists expected initial claims to increase to 540,000. The figure partly reflects seasonal volatility that occurs around the New Year’s holiday.

Still, the number of people continuing to claim jobless benefits jumped unexpectedly by 101,000 to 4.61 million. That was above analysts’ expectations of 4.5 million and the highest level since November 1982.

'More families will lose their savings'
For all of 2008, employers probably slashed payrolls by at least 2.4 million. That's based on economists' forecasts for a net loss of 500,000 additional jobs in December, as well as the job losses previously reported. Some, however, think the number of jobs cut last month will be higher, around 600,000 or 700,000. The Labor Department will release that report Friday.

"For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs," Obama said. "More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse."

A day after the release of a stunning new estimate — that the federal budget deficit will reach an unprecedented $1.2 trillion this year, nearly three times last year's record — Obama acknowledged the new stimulus spending will "certainly add to the budget deficit." He also acknowledged some sympathy with those who "might be skeptical of this plan" because so much federal money has already been spent or committed in an attempt — largely unsuccessful so far — to get credit, the lifeblood of the American economy, flowing freely once again.

Such statements are coded to appeal to budget hawks in both parties, whom Obama wants to win over so that approval of a package draws wide, bipartisan support in the Democratic-led Congress.

To answer their concerns, he promised to allow funding only for what works. He also pledged a new level of transparency about where the money is going. A day earlier, he promised to tackle the out-of-control fiscal problem posed by Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs and named a special watchdog to clamp down on all federal programs.

Obama made broader arguments, too, saying that the private sector, typically the answer, cannot do what is needed now.

Still-evolving package
"At this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe," he said.

Obama's transition team and Democratic congressional leaders are working daily to hammer out the still-evolving package, expected to total nearly $800 billion. The initial hope had been to have a new stimulus package approved by Congress in time for Obama to sign it upon taking office on Jan. 20. That timeline has slipped considerably, into at least mid-February if not later.

The package is expected to include tax cuts for businesses and middle-class workers, money to help cash-starved states with Medicaid programs and other operating costs, and a huge share for infrastructure building, investments in energy efficiency and a rebuilding of the information technology system for health care. Much of the latter portions of the plan are aimed at what Obama likes to talk about as the need for "reinvestment" and not just "recovery."

"It is not just another public works program," he said in the speech. "It's a plan that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment, the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there is so much work to be done."

He also promised action to address the economy's ills beyond the package, such as tackling the massive wave of home foreclosures many experts expect, preventing the failure of financial institutions, rewriting financial regulations and keeping accountable the "Wall Street wrongdoers" who engage in risky investing.

More on Obama | stimulus

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28555437/


© 2009 MSNBC.com