We shouldn’t have to sue to get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to follow their congressional mandate and put some of the billions they are generating into affordable housing for the millions of families who need it. But that’s what is has come to for housing advocates, who are frustrated that the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is still refusing to fund the National Housing Trust Fund.


Helping America’s renters

By David M. Abromowitz
JULY 29, 2013

We shouldn’t have to sue to get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to follow their congressional mandate and put some of the billions they are generating into affordable housing for the millions of families who need it. But that’s what is has come to for housing advocates, who are frustrated that the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is still refusing to fund the National Housing Trust Fund.

In 2008, before the housing market collapsed, a bipartisan promise was made to millions of working families, when President George W. Bush signed the National Housing Trust Fund into law. The fund, capitalized from the operating profits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, was to be a downpayment on affordable apartments, which are desperately needed by the millions of Americans who rent.

Yet when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac crashed along with house prices, and were put into conservatorship, the Federal Housing Finance Agency decided to delay funding the Housing Trust until the mortgage giants got back on their feet. For nearly five years, the promise Congress made to America’s renters has remained unfulfilled.

Today, however, Fannie and Freddie are in the black. They are sending Treasury a combined $66 billion for the past year, applied to deficit reduction, while they are generating record net income on a pace to top $50 billion for 2013 alone.

With this dramatic reversal of fortune, and Fannie and Freddie’s new books of business far stronger than before, housing advocates argue that the Federal Housing Finance Agency is now violating the law by failing to fund the Housing Trust. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a leading advocate for payment, in April gave FHFA’s director a detailed brief arguing this. When they got no response, the organization filed suit.

Members of the House Financial Services Committee recently asked FHFA acting director, Edward DeMarco, to reconsider his decision to suspend funding in light of Fannie and Freddie’s vastly improved financial condition. They are still waiting for his reply.

It is only fair that some of Fannie and Freddie’s income should finally make its way toward helping the families and communities hit hardest by the housing downturn. Low-income renters are struggling today largely because the complex Wall Street mortgage products devised for higher income homeowners pushed the economy into recession. Now, while homeowners are seeing their home values stabilize and even rise, renters have only seen their situation get worse in the last five years, particularly for those at the lower end of the income ladder.

Incomes for average working families have stalled out. Roughly half the nation’s renters now pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, and a quarter of renters pay more than 50 percent — both steep increases in the last decade.

This problem is projected to only get worse. Average rents will increase nationally by 4.6 percent in 2013, according to National Association of Realtors estimates, and continue to increase by at least 4 percent per year in 2014 and 2015.

The amount promised to the Housing Trust by law is small relative to the money that the companies are making — but it can make a huge difference for families who desperately seeking affordable housing. A well-capitalized Housing Trust will help stem this tide of rising rents by funding the production, preservation, rehabilitation and operation of affordable rental units. Not only will the most vulnerable Americans have more housing options, more rental units help push down rates for all renters.

President Barack Obama recently announced the nomination of Representative Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to replace the current FHFA acting director — who despite controlling entities that influence over 20 percent of the economy — was neither appointed by the president nor confirmed by Congress. While this change could eventually lead to funding the Trust Fund, the confirmation process remains uncertain, and action is long overdue.

A judgment call from five years ago, under vastly different circumstances, should no longer prevent help for our most vulnerable renters. It’s time to do what Congress intended — and fulfill the promise made to so many American families.

PHOTO (Top): A rental sign at an apartment building in Los Angeles, March 19, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouse 

PHOTO (Insert): Representative Mel Watt testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing to be the regulator of mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2013/07/28/helping-americas-renters/

 

Bradley Manning, the US Army private accused of leaking thousands of classified documents, has been found guilty of espionage but not guilty of aiding the enemy. Among the items sent to Wikileaks by Pte Manning was graphic footage of an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 that killed a dozen people in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, including a Reuters photographer.


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Bradley Manning, the US Army private accused of leaking thousands of classified documents, has been found guilty of espionage but not guilty of aiding the enemy.

Pte Manning, 25, has been found guilty of 20 charges in total.

He had acknowledged leaking the documents to anti-secrecy organisation Wikileaks but said he did so to spark a debate on US foreign policy.

The leak is considered the largest ever of secret US government files.

He faces a maximum sentence of more than 100 years. His sentencing hearing is set to begin on Wednesday.

In addition to multiple espionage counts, he was also found guilty of five theft charges, two computer fraud charges and multiple military infractions.

Among the items sent to Wikileaks by Pte Manning was graphic footage of an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 that killed a dozen people in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, including a Reuters photographer.

The documents also included 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and 250,000 secure state department cables between Washington and embassies around the world.

Being found guilty of aiding the enemy could have had serious implications for people leaking documents in the future, says the BBC’s North America editor, Mark Mardell.

Pte Manning, an intelligence analyst, was arrested in Iraq in May 2010. He spent weeks in a cell at Camp Arifjan, a US Army installation in Kuwait, before being transferred to the US.

During the court martial, prosecutors argued Pte Manning systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents in order to gain notoriety.

The defence characterised him as a naive and young soldier who had become disillusioned during his time in Iraq.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23506213

When middle-aged libido meets a whiff of power, chaos strikes our political process. Tina Brown on why Anthony Weiner and his ilk need to stop thinking with their genitals.


End the Damn Dickmanship! by Tina BrownJul 29, 2013 4:45 am EDT

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Mayorial candidate Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, campaigning on July 14 in New York City. (Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News via Getty)

Carlos Danger was one blockbuster sequel that hasn’t been welcomed (except by all of us in the news biz). “Maybe we should take another look at Christine Quinn” is the unilateral embarrassed mumble from New Yorkers I have talked to in the last three days. Not because anyone is especially blown away by the speaker of the City Council’s caustic mediocrity, but because at least we would be safe from her private parts flying around the Internet.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/29/tina-brown-end-the-damn-dickmanship.html

The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage. Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.


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Momentum Builds Against N.S.A. Surveillance By JONATHAN WEISMAN
Published: July 28, 2013
WASHINGTON — The movement to crack down on government surveillance started with an odd couple from Michigan, Representatives Justin Amash, a young libertarian Republican known even to his friends as “chief wing nut,” and John Conyers Jr., an elder of the liberal left in his 25th House term.

But what began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House.

The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage. Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.

Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, have begun work on legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance. Mr. Sensenbrenner said on Friday that he would have a bill ready when Congress returned from its August recess that would restrict phone surveillance to only those named as targets of a federal terrorism investigation, make significant changes to the secret court that oversees such programs and give businesses like Microsoft and Google permission to reveal their dealings before that court.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/us/politics/momentum-builds-against-nsa-surveillance.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130729&_r=0

Mark Ruffalo on the Gulf Gas-Well Blowout and Why We Need to Kick Fossil Fuels to the Curb


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A natural-gas well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, and 44 workers were evacuated. Mark Ruffalo, star of The Avengers, writes that enough is enough. It’s high time we kick gas to the curb.

The spinmeisters for the oil and gas industry sure earned their money this week. A natural-gas drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico has a catastrophic blowout, erupts into uncontrolled flames for days, and most of the media buys the industry’s line that we should simply be glad that this disaster wasn’t as serious as that other accident in the Gulf a couple of years ago. That would be the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill, which killed 11 workers and dumped millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf.

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An out-of-control natural-gas well fire burns following an explosion on July 24. The well, off the coast of Louisiana, ignited following a blowout and authorities said there was no sign of a slick on the surface of the water. (U.S. Coast Guard,via AP)
Seriously, is this the new bar the fossil-fuel industry has set for itself—not to surpass the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history?

The scary thing is that the Deepwater Horizon disaster probably will be surpassed, because coal, oil, and gas producers have no problem embracing risk. After all, they’re not the ones who stand to lose when things inevitably go south.

Here’s the real lesson we should take from what happened in the Gulf this week: As long as we continue to encourage a shortsighted pursuit of extreme dirty-fuel sources, we can expect a steady litany of disasters ranging from oil spills and gas leaks to runaway climate disruption. Even worse is what will keep happening outside the headlines, every day, as ordinary people suffer cancer, respiratory failure, birth defects, and other personal tragedies that are part of the price we pay for dirty energy.

After more than 100 years of fossil-energy gluttony, we find ourselves in an era where extreme drilling and mining practices have become the new norm for finding dirty fuels. The coal industry is blowing the tops off mountains in Appalachia. The oil industry is already drilling in deep waters like the Gulf, tearing up Canadian forests to extract tar-sands bitumen, and eager to exploit the Arctic seas. And, of course, the natural-gas industry has run amok with fracking wells that blight entire landscapes and communities, threaten irreplaceable drinking-water supplies, and pollute our atmosphere with methane that is 70 times more potent a climate disruptor than CO2.

It’s insane. What compounds the madness is that we know how to do better. We could, as a nation, go “all in” on clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Within decades, we could take ourselves off the dirty-fuel treadmill.

What stands in our way are politically entrenched special-interest groups that will spend whatever it takes to protect their status quo. In the long run, I know they will fail, but the damage they can do in the meantime by delaying the transition to sensible energy is beyond calculation.

Anatole France wrote that nature “makes no distinction between good and evil.” Perhaps not, but human beings do. There are real people behind the companies that are perpetrating the fracking, the drilling, and the mining, and they need to know that what they do is amoral. Climate disruption alone takes hundreds of thousands of lives every year—primarily among the planet’s poorest and most vulnerable populations—and those numbers will rise even faster than the average temperatures.

What’s more, any “all of the above” energy policy is an amoral energy policy because it makes no distinction between good and evil. The same is true of a “drill at home” energy policy. Petroleum doesn’t equal patriotism—the real way to put America first is to put bad energy last.

Enough is enough. We need to end taxpayer handouts to these amoral corporations and begin phasing out these dangerous methods of fossil-fuel extraction. It is time that we move beyond dirty fuels and hand our children a world that is fit to live and breathe in.

You can help by signing this Sierra Club petition to move Beyond Natural Gas here.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/29/mark-ruffalo-on-the-gulf-gas-well-blowout-and-why-we-need-to-kick-big-oil-to-the-curb.html

Derek Black, the Reluctant Racist, and His Exit From White Nationalism


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His father founded the white-supremacy forum Stormfront. His mother was once married to David Duke. Derek Black was born to lead the white-power movement—until he defected.

Derek Black’s head isn’t shaved. He’s doesn’t have swastika tattoo. He’s never been arrested for a violent crime. Yet this 24-year-old from West Palm Beach, Florida, was once the future of white hate.

Derek Black is the son of American white nationalist, former KKK Grand Wizard and founder of “Stormfront” Don Black. (Andrew Hetherington/Redux)
Black was born into the white-power aristocracy and spent his life building a reputation as a rising star in the white-nationalist scene. His father founded Stormfront.org, the Internet’s oldest and largest white-supremacy forum, and his mother was once married to former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Black used his prominent standing within the hate movement to amass a following of his own.

At age 12, Black was featured in the HBO documentary Hate.com for creating a kid’s guide to white pride on his father’s website. While still in his teens, Black hosted a Stormfront radio program, lectured at white-pride conferences, and dabbled in local politics, running for a seat on the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee on a platform of banning immigration for non-Europeans. He won a primary election but was later disqualified for not signing a party loyalty oath forbidding activities—such as white nationalism—that would make Republicans look bad. At 21, he hosted a local AM radio show that paradoxically catered to a predominantly Haitian audience, featuring guests like Gordon Baum, head of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens, and Jared Taylor, editor of the “race realist” magazine American Renaissance.

But last week, Black threw it all away. In a letter to the movement’s biggest enemy, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a Montgomery, Alabama–based anti-racism group, he shocked his former allies by detailing his disillusionment with white supremacy. He wanted out.

“I’m baffled. I’m disappointed in many ways,” said Derek’s father, Don Black. Almost immediately after reading Derek’s letter to the SPLC, the elder Black wrote on his Stormfront blog that he no longer wanted to speak to his son. He told The Daily Beast that he changed his mind a few days later. “I regret that I’ve lost a comrade in arms … It’s gut-wrenching for me because Derek and I have traveled around the country since he was 9 years old. But he’s still my son and I love him. In some ways I’m actually relieved that he’s taken himself out of the war zone, so to speak.”

How, then, did Derek Black go from being one of the most prominent young figures in white nationalism to rejecting everything he once believed in?

Read the rest of this articlehttp://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/29/derek-black-the-reluctant-racist-and-his-exit-from-white-nationalism.html

Cumulus planning to drop Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity…oh my!


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In a major shakeup for the radio industry, Cumulus Media, the second-biggest broadcaster in the country, is planning to drop both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity from its stations at the end of the year, an industry source told POLITICO on Sunday.

Cumulus has decided that it will not renew its contracts with either host, the source said, a move that would remove the two most highly rated conservative talk personalities from more than 40 Cumulus channels in major markets.

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(PHOTOS: Cartoons of Rush Limbaugh)

The decision comes after negotiations between Cumulus and Premiere Networks, the division of Clear Channel that distributes Limbaugh and Hannity’s shows, broke down due to disagreements over the cost of the distribution rights, the source said. Cumulus is known to drive a hard bargain on costs, and Clear Channel is known to seek top dollar for big names.

As industry insiders caution, Cumulus and Clear Channel have come to the brink before during contract negotiations only to resume talks. But the source told POLITICO that Clear Channel was unlikely to reduce the cost for distribution rights to a level that would satisfy Cumulus.

(Flashback: Limbaugh calls Georgetown student ‘slut’ and ‘prostitute’)

Cumulus declined to comment for this story: “Cumulus is not in a position to comment about negotiations with talent under contract, no matter what the rumor of the day might be,” a spokesperson told POLITICO.

But in recent weeks, Cumulus has been quietly reaching out to radio talent agents and political insiders about new local and regional station hosts to fill some of the airtime that will be left vacant by Limbaugh and Hannity, industry sources said. Cumulus is also expected to move some of its existing talent — which includes Mike Huckabee, Mark Levin, and Michael Savage — into one of the slots.

Premiere, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday night, is expected to carry Limbaugh and Hannity on stations in many of the markets where they are currently signed with Cumulus, should the negotiations not go through. A spokesperson for Limbaugh was not immediately available for comment; Hannity did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(WATCH: Rush Limbaugh tells caller not to watch Fox News)

Back in May, a source close to Limbaugh told POLITICO that the host was considering ending his affiliation agreement with Cumulus because CEO Lew Dickey was blaming the company’s advertising losses on Limbaugh’s controversial remarks about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student. On an earnings call two days later, Dickey reported a $2.4 million first-quarter decline in revenue related to talk programming, which he attributed, indirectly, to Limbaugh’s remarks about Fluke.

Dickey is expected to hold another earnings call this week, though it is unclear if he will address the contract negotiations.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2013/07/cumulus-planning-to-drop-rush-limbaugh-sean-hannity-169371.html?hp=f2