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Fannie, Freddie Give Some Relief to Foreclosed Homeowners

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Fannie, Freddie Give Some Relief to Foreclosed Homeowners

Agencies Will Allow Homeowners in Foreclosure to Buy Back Properties at Market Value

Mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow homeowners who have been foreclosed upon to repurchase their homes at market value even if they owe more, reversing a policy that prohibited such transactions.

The change comes as Melvin Watt, the director of Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, has come under increasing pressure from some groups to use the companies to provide more relief to struggling homeowners.

“This is a targeted, but important policy change that should help reduce property vacancies and stabilize home values and neighborhoods,” said Mr. Watt, the chief of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Previously, someone who lost a home through foreclosure and wanted to buy it back from Fannie or Freddie needed to pay the full amount owed on the mortgage, even if the market value of the home was less. That was intended to take away the motivation for homeowners to intentionally default in order to get the balance of their mortgages reduced.

In effect, that meant Fannie and Freddie had two standards where they would be willing to sell properties they owned to a new buyer at market prices when they wouldn’t do so for the former homeowner.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be willing to sell a home to these borrowers on the same terms that you’re willing to sell it to someone else,” said Laurie Goodman, center director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

The old policy drew the ire of some politicians and nonprofit groups, which argued that it encouraged homes to stay vacant and hurt neighboring property values. In June, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley sued Fannie and Freddie, alleging that the policy violated a Massachusetts state law that allowed market-value sales to foreclosed-upon homeowners in some circumstances. That lawsuit was dismissed in October.

On Tuesday, Ms. Coakley said the change “is encouraging news for homeowners in Massachusetts and across the country” while adding that she hoped the regulator would move further to reduce mortgage debt for some homeowners.

Elyse Cherry, chief executive of Boston Community Capital, a nonprofit group that provides financing to foreclosed-upon homeowners to buy their homes back, called the new policy “an encouraging step in the right direction. It makes sense for homeowners and it makes sense for neighborhoods.”

However, the impact of the change could be limited. It will only apply to the 121,000 homes that Fannie and Freddie have already foreclosed on and own, a provision that’s intended to curtail any incentive for borrowers in good standing to default. That narrow scope is unlikely to quiet the drumbeat for the FHFA to make bigger changes intended to help a larger number of borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth.

Foreclosed-upon borrowers will also still need to find the cash or financing to buy the old home back at market value, a tall order for those with tarnished credit histories.

“This is a ‘feel-good’ type of policy. It’s directionally helpful to a small number of homeowners that ran into trouble, but at the end of the day, I don’t look to this to have a major policy impact,” said Clifford Rossi, a finance professor at the University of Maryland.

Since Mr. Watt took office in January, many politicians and nonprofit groups have asked that he allow Fannie and Freddie to reduce the principal of mortgages for borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth, a step that he has so far avoided taking.

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) criticized Mr. Watt for not allowing principal reduction. Mr. Watt at the hearing said that principal reduction was “the most difficult issue that I’ve faced as director.”

The new policy in effect reduces mortgage principal, albeit for a small number of foreclosed-upon borrowers. Some nonprofit groups said that Fannie and Freddie would be better served to reduce the borrower’s principal before a foreclosure.

“It would make more sense to do a mortgage modification with principal reduction earlier in the process and prevent foreclosure in the first place,” said Kevin Whelan, national campaign director for the Home Defenders League, a nonprofit that has advocated for widespread principal reduction.

A Fannie Mae spokesman declined to comment beyond Mr. Watt’s statement.

“Our ongoing practice has been to sell homes at current market price to minimize losses to Freddie Mac and maximize opportunities to stabilize home prices in communities while fostering homeownership opportunities,” said a Freddie Mac spokesman.

US to honor Barak with Dept. of Defense medal

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment
November 28, 2012 Wednesday 14 Kislev 5773 21:47 IST
Print Edition

The 70-year-old Barak, a leading strategist in confronting Iran over its nuclear program who has also served as prime minister and IDF chief of staff, has been a regular visitor to the Pentagon in recent years as tensions with Tehran simmer.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has known the Israeli leader since US President Bill Clinton‘s administration, when Panetta was chief of staff and when Barak served in roles including foreign minister. Barak and Panetta speak regularly, with three conversations alone during the crisis in Gaza this month.

“He’s been an important partner of the US for a long time,” one US defense official told Reuters, adding he will receive the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

Should Barak’s resignation prove permanent, his successor could come from the ranks of the Likud party of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been seen at odds with Washington over the best way to handle Iran.

Ex-Israeli general Moshe Ya’alon, who has talked tough on Iran but is more circumspect among Netanyahu’s advisors, is a possible candidate to succeed the more moderate Barak. He is the minister of strategic affairs and is a former chief of staff of the IDF.

There has been speculation that Barak might even be replaced by the current foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, the Likud’s more hawkish coalition partner.

“The fact is that none of us know,” said Anthony Cordesman, at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Pentagon announced that Panetta and Barak will address a news conference at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (1730 GMT).

President Obama calls Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian President Morsi

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

The White House Issued this statement:

Today, the President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Morsi about the rocket attacks being launched from Gaza into Israel, and the escalating violence in Gaza.

The President reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians.  The President urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties.  The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate.  The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch in the coming days.  Earlier today, Vice President Biden received a briefing from Prime Minister Netanyahu on the events in Gaza.

The President also spoke with President Morsi given Egypt’s central role in preserving regional security.  In their conversation, President Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense.  The two leaders agreed on the importance of working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible and agreed to stay in close touch in the days ahead.

 

Sen. Levin: What I Know About Barack Obama and Israel

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Sen. Levin: What I Know About Barack Obama and Israel

Senator Carl Levin — October 31, 2012 – 7:51 am

 

 

Dear Friend,Senator Carl Levin

This is the first letter I’ve ever written in the hope that the “social media” winds take it not just to people I know, but also to people I’ve never met and to places I’ll never see

I do so because I’m deeply troubled by how the Jewish community is being flooded with inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory attacks on President Obama, claiming that he is not a strong supporter of Israel.

I do so because as a Jewish senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I feel a responsibility to share what I have personally seen and what I know about Barack Obama and Israel.

As I write this, U.S. and Israeli forces are engaged in a large joint military exercise. We hold these exercises regularly. But this is the largest joint exercise we have held with Israel, involving over 3,500 U.S. troops, about 1/3 of them deployed to Israel for 3 weeks.

This exercise comes at a critical moment for putting massive pressure on Iran to end any quest for a nuclear weapon.

The joint exercise will dramatize our joint military capability to defend against an Iranian missile attack. The exercise combines U.S. Patriot batteries and Aegis ship radar with Israel’s Arrow, Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defenses. These Israeli missile defenses received significant funding by the U.S. and have been strongly supported by President Obama.

As Iran decides whether to try to build a nuclear weapon, Iranian leaders will now have to factor in more than ever that they will not be able to deter a strike against a nuclear weapon facility by threatening to retaliate with their missiles. Iran’s leaders can’t do so because a retaliatory threat by them or by their allies Hezbollah or Hamas has been degraded by Israel’s and our combined missile defenses, as demonstrated by the current joint exercise.

I have seen up close how President Obama has acted in many other ways to strengthen Israel’s military capability.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s current Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, recently put it this way:

“I should tell you honestly that this Administration, under President Obama, is doing in regard to our security more than anything I can remember in the past.” (July 11, 2012)

Prime Minister Netanyahu himself told the AIPAC Conference in May of this year:

“Our security cooperation is unprecedented. And President Obama has backed his words with deeds.”

President Obama has also made clear that he will not permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon. For instance:

“It’s my firm belief that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to the United States.” (November 14, 2011)

“My policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.” (March 5, 2012)

Iran must know from the record of President Obama, including his use of force in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, that he doesn’t bluff or bluster.

He is a serious man.

He speaks carefully.

He doesn’t flip flop around.

He doesn’t throw words around carelessly.

Iran has seen him act—his warnings aren’t idle threats.

President Obama has succeeded in unifying the world against Iran with biting sanctions. Those sanctions have done major damage to Iran’s oil revenues (they are down by 60% over the last year) and to its currency (the value of which is down by 80% over the last year).

In part because of the respect in which he is held around the world, he has also succeeded in the challenging environment at the UN in preventing unfair damage to Israel at a number of crucial moments, including stopping a UN condemnation of Israel when it prevented a flotilla of ships from forcing itself through its blockade of Gaza.

President Reagan is rightly remembered as a strong friend of Israel, although he led the world’s condemnation of Israel at the UN when Israel knocked out Iraq’s threatening nuclear facility. I’m amazed how some in our community judge President Obama, who has prevented unfair condemnation of Israel at the UN, by a different standard.

I have seen President Obama act forcefully to protect Israeli citizens at Israel’s embassy in Cairo when a violent mob recently came within minutes of reaching and attacking them. Here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about President Obama’s actions:

“I requested President Obama’s assistance at a decisive—I would even say fateful—moment. He said he would do everything possible, and this is what he did. He activated all of United States’ means and influence—which are certainly considerable. I believe we owe him a special debt of gratitude.”

By any standard, fairly and consistently applied, President Obama has been a proven friend of Israel.

Support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has been bipartisan, and it is essential it remain so for our security and for Israel’s security. It is harmful to that relationship and to Israel for some in our community to attempt to drive a wedge between the Obama administration and Israel.

I won’t comment here on the many other reasons I support President Obama. My goal is to simply express my abhorrence at blatantly unfair, inaccurate and sometimes inflammatory claims that President Obama is not a strong supporter of the U.S.—Israel relationship, when that relationship is important to U.S. security and to the goal of Middle East peace.

I hope that this effort will succeed in utilizing the internet’s ability to have one’s thoughts shared broadly. If you believe they are worthy or interesting, please share them with your friends.

Thanks.

Senator Carl Levin

Carl Levin

 

Steve Sheffey’s Pro-Israel Political Update: Israel and Monday’s Foreign Policy Debate

October 21, 2012 Leave a comment
Israel and Monday’s Foreign Policy Debate

 

This newsletter is a bit longer than usual, but the topic is critically important. If you will be watching the upcoming Monday night foreign policy debate for clues about where President Obama and Mitt Romney stand on Israel, please take the time to read this newsletter, click the links that interest you, and share this newsletter with your friends. This newsletter is packed with great information.

 

With the election only three weeks away, the Romney campaign has violated a key tenet of pro-Israel advocacy: Support for Israel is and must remain bipartisan. His arguments against President Obama are based on distortions and outright lies.

 

Romney’s claim that President Obama went on an “apology tour” is false.

 

Romney’s claim that President Obama “threw Israel under the bus” reveals an astonishing ignorance of President Obama’s record on Israel.

 

Far from resisting or opposing sanctions, President Obama has imposed the toughest sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and has rallied an unprecedented international coalition against Iran.

 

President Obama never spoke of the need to create “daylight” between the US and Israel. In fact, Israeli leaders confirm that under President Obama, the degree of military and intelligence cooperation between the US and its “closest ally in the region” (in President Obama’s words) is unprecedented.

 

Romney’s politicizing of the Libya tragedy is collapsing on itself; yesterday the LA Times reported that there is no evidence of Al Qaeda participation and theWashington Post reported that CIA documents support Susan Rice’s initial account of the attack. Romney’s attacks are also hypocritical, especially given Romney’s own statements in defense of the Bush administration after 9/11.

 

You can read the details, plus more (including a summary of the President’s record and information about a Romney campaign group that includes critics of Israel and opponents of Iran sanctions) below.

 

Friends,

 

The final debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney will be Monday, October 22. The topic is foreign policy. I might live-tweet the debate if I get ten or more new followers between now and then, so follow me @stevesheffey if you don’t already.

 

There was only one foreign policy question asked during Tuesday’s debate. Romney took advantage of the opportunity not only to get his facts wrong on Libya, but to restate his favorite catch-phrases about the President’s foreign policy. Let’s get a few things straight:

 

Using Israel as a political football is unacceptable. Dan Gelbar summed it up perfectly:

 

No less an authority than Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak called President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security “all-encompassing and unprecedented.” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon pronounced, “we have no better friend than President Obama.”

 

How do you reconcile these unequivocal statements of support by those most knowledgeable about Israel’s security with the television commercials Floridians are hearing this campaign season? How does Mitt Romney claim Obama has “put Israel under the bus” while former Israeli Mossad Director Efraim Halevy says Obama has shown “leadership of historic dimension?” How does the Republican Party run commercials suggesting Obama is a danger to Israel, when Israeli President Shimon Peres calls him “a great friend of Israel?”

 

In a word: Politics.

With the election just weeks away and Romney hoping to reverse his fortunes, the Republicans have begun a totally fabricated drumbeat that Obama is bad for Israel. It is an argument based in part on distortion, in part on the fact that the Internet has no truth key, and in part on fear – and yes, prejudice.

 

But these political attacks are false in every way.

 

Read all of Gelbar’s article here.  If you still have even the slightest concerns, read this excellent article by Professor Steven Spiegel that appeared in the Times of Israel on October 19. It’s a must-read.

 

Ofer Bavley, the director general of the JUF Israel Office, writes that

 

Our alliance is based on shared values: democracy, individual freedoms, respect for human rights and the rule of law. This bond is neither a Republican nor a Democrat invention. It connects our two countries in a network of common interests that transcend party politics. Both parties have placed Israel at the top of their agenda whenever they were in power, at the White House or in Congress.

 

Ofer concludes that

 

By using Israel as a wedge issue in U.S. elections, Israel loses its bipartisan place and becomes “another election topic.” By debating Israel, it ceases being a bipartisan point of consensus, it becomes a tool in a battle for votes and in the long run, as part of a political debate, Israel might lose some of the support it now enjoys with both parties. The danger is that Israel might become closely associated with one party or the other. Never mind a presidential term of four years, we can’t even afford to be in the political wilderness for one session of congress.

 

Bipartisan support for ever-strengthening American-Israeli relations is also cardinal if we wish to strengthen deterrence against our common enemies. They need to understand that no President and no party are “anti-Israel,” that all parties and all candidates stand strongly on the side of Israeli-U.S. relations as a matter of national interest.

 

No matter who Americans vote for in the coming elections, Israelis know that the U.S. and Israel will stand firmly together. Let us hope that support for Israel is kept in everyone’s heart-and out of the political debate.

 

President Obama never went on an apology tour. Politifact awarded Romney a “Pants on Fire” rating for his absurd claim that President Obama went on an apology tour. Here is what Politifact concluded:

 

Once again, Romney has accused Obama of beginning his presidency “with an apology tour.”

Our reviews of Obama’s 2009 foreign travels and speeches showed no such thing. While he criticized past U.S. actions, such as torture practices at Guantanamo, he did not offer one apology.

It’s ridiculous to call Obama’s foreign visits and remarks “an apology tour.” We rate this statement Pants on Fire!

 

The Washington Post awarded Romney four Pinocchios (the maximum) for the same claim.

 

Romney and Ryan’s claim that President Obama resisted the sanctions imposed by Congress is wrong.  Politifact rated the claim “mostly false” instead of “false” because, in its words, Ryan employed a “sliver of truth in service of a misleading impression.” Here is the reality:

 

Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan think-tank,  told PolitiFact earlier this year that[Obama’s pushback against Congress was] not evidence the Obama administration had a weak stance on Iran, it’s just that Obama resisted letting Congress dictate the terms.

“Flexibility is the watchword,” he said. “It’s really hard to argue that this administration hasn’t brought strong pressure to bear on Iran.”…

 

James Jeffrey, a deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration and ambassador to Iraq and Turkey under Obama, said this kind of back-and-forth between Congress and the executive branch happens all the time. Congress wants to exert unilateral pressure, and the executive needs room for diplomacy with its allies.

You could just as easily characterize what Ryan calls watering down as the Obama team “strengthening the ability to enforce” sanctions against Iran, he said.

In fact, the United States and European Union, among others, are now putting so much economic pressure on the country that “many judge that Iran might soon decide it needs a nuclear compromise to produce an easing of sanctions,” according to the Congressional Research Service’s September report.

 

In other words, it was never about President Obama’s commitment to Iran
sanctions. As Ron Kampeas wrote, it was about the executive prerogative, stupid.

 

President Obama never spoke of the need to create daylight between the US and Israel. You can search all you want, but you’ll never find President Obama saying that. What you will find are people who claim they heard from anonymous sources that the President said that in a closed-door meeting with American Jewish leaders. But read this from Nancy Ratzan, the immediate past-president of the National Council of Jewish Women, who was there:

 

For many elections we have seen various attempts to peel off the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote. The recently released video “Perilous Times” is perhaps the most insidious and misleading effort to date to use propaganda to divide the Jewish community. The video is designed to make Jewish voters feel insecure about President Obama’s commitment to Israel by distorting and misappropriating the truth about the president’s and, indeed, America’s, unwavering alliance with Israel.

 

Early in the video the narrator alleges that when President Obama met in a private meeting with Jewish leaders in June of 2009, there was “stunned silence” as the president spoke about his administration’s vision regarding the Middle East.

 

I was one of the Jewish leaders in that meeting. I remember precisely what happened; it was not as represented in this video.

 

The truth is that President Obama spent an hour with 16 Jewish leaders from a wide spectrum of the American Jewish community. We dialogued with the president about ensuring the security of Israel, plans for advancing peace in the Middle East and strategies for ending Iran’s growing nuclear capacity.

 

The president was clear, unequivocal and passionate. The president articulated that he and his administration are resolutely committed to the security and safety of Israel, to the survival of Israel as the Jewish homeland, and to the pursuit of sustainable peace in the Middle East, a peace that secures Israel.

 

I, along with many other Jewish leaders, left that meeting confident about President Obama’s commitment to Israel and promising vision for moving towards peace in the region. I left a proud American and a secure Jew.

 

President Obama has called Israel America’s “closest ally in the region.” It’s amazing that this was even questioned in the first place.  Click herefor just a few examples.

 

Romney’s politicizing of the Libya attacks are factually wrong and hypocritical. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that “the assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi last month appears to have been an opportunistic attack rather than a long-planned operation, and intelligence agencies have found no evidence that it was ordered by Al Qaeda.”

 

Also yesterday, the Washington Post reported that CIA documents supported Susan Rice’s description of the Benghazi attacks.

 

In other words, Romney’s opportunistic attempts to exploit the tragedy for political gain were, surprise, surprise, not based on facts. As John Marshall concludes after reviewing the facts, “only in the final weeks of a presidential campaign, with one candidate desperate for an America under siege Carteresque tableau to play against, would this ever remotely have been treated like a scandal or cover up. A bunch of reporters basically got played and punk’d.” Read Marshall’s article here.

 

Romney’s attacks are also hypocritical. There were 12 embassy attacks during the Bush administration, but Romney never said a word. One of the worst attacks on Americans on foreign soil, the Beirut bombing, occurred on Reagan’s watch.

 

And in 2004,”Romney was asked to address the 9/11 Commission’s finding of serious intelligence failures on the part of the US government in the run-up to the attacks. He responded that it is easy, but ultimately not particularly helpful, to blame different parts of the government for the attack.” Read the details here.

 

It’s ironic, if not hypocritical, that many of the Republicans now complaining the loudest voted to cut funds for diplomatic security.

 

Another tangible sign of the unprecedented level of military and intelligence cooperation between the US and Israel: This week, Israeli and US military forces will participate in the largest ever joint missile defense exercise of its kind.

 

Another example of the double-standard applied to President Obama.I’ve written previously about the double-standard some of our Republican friends apply to President Obama when it comes to Israel.  And as Meir Shalev wrote, if President Obama treated Israel the way Reagan did, Obama would be impeached.

 

Now we’ve found out that the Romney campaign’s recently-formed “Arab-Americans for Romney” committee includes several staunch critics of Israel and opponents of Iran sanctions:

 

“The fact that the Romney folks have an anti-Israel activist like George Salem and a guy like Grover Norquist, who has been widely criticized, including by Republican members of congress, for long standing ties to terrorists and supporters of terrorists groups, affiliated with their campaign is pretty troubling,” said one official with a Jewish organization. “If this were the Obama campaign, you can only imagine the howls of outrage that we would be hearing from Conservatives – and rightly so.”

 

Read the article here.

 

If this is “throwing Israel under the bus,” then we need a lot more buses like this:  President Obama has called for the removal of Syrian President Assad, ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin-Laden, done more than any other president to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program, restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration, secretly sold Israel the bunker-busting bombs it requested but did not receive during the Bush administration, increased security assistance to Israel to record levels, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, took US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against a one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution, opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

 

Want videos?  Please click here for a collection of key videos setting the record straight on President Obama’s support for Israel.

 

Want more facts? The Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs is the most-respected bipartisan pro-Israel PAC in the Chicago area, and is one of the best sources of good information in the country. Read its fact sheet here.

Want to get in the mood for Monday night’s foreign policy debate? Click here for Mitt Romney’s easy five-step approach to foreign policy.

Just for fun…your reward for getting through another newsletter.  Learn the facts about the newest dread disease, Romnesia. The video starts out good and it keeps getting better–the punchline is perfect. Click here.

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The Compelling Case For Re-Electing President Obama

October 15, 2012 Leave a comment
Compelling Case For Obama

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-sheffey

By Steve Sheffey

 

Israel should not be an issue in this election–President Obama and Romney both support Israel.  All administrations have ups and downs, but there have been fewer downs in this administration than in previous administrations, and many unprecedented successes.

 

Paul Ryan was wrong about President Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and he was wrong about Iran sanctions.

 

President Obama is the clear choice on the economic and social issues that most of us care about. As the St. Louis Post Dispatch observed in its must-read endorsement of President Obama, “If more Americans were paying attention, this election would not be close. Barack Obama would win going away, at least 53 to 47, perhaps even 99 to 1.”

 

Friends,

 

The Romney campaign is based on, as Joe Biden delicately put it, “malarkey.” Paul Ryan said at the debate that President Obama was in New York the same day as Prime Minister Netanyahu but went on a TV show instead of meeting him. The truth, according to Politfact, is that “the two leaders were not there on the same day: Obama was there Monday and Tuesday, and Netanyahu was there later in the week, on Thursday and Friday.” Ryan out and out lied. That’s the only way Romney-Ryan can win this election. Ryan also misrepresented President Obama’s position on Iran sanctions; more on that below. And by the way–Joe Biden was right to laugh, because the Romney-Ryan tax plan is an insulting joke on the American people.

 

For most of us, Israel is our threshold test. We won’t even consider voting for someone unless we are confident that he or she supports Israel. The good news is that both President Obama and Governor Romney support Israel. The bad news is that the Republican path to victory depends on denying that basic fact. So the first part of  today’s newsletter sets the record straight on Israel.

 

The Facts on Israel

 

The rest of this section is from my October 11, 2012 Times of Israel article, “Playing Politics With Israel.” I urge you to read it on-line because the links are there and because, well, it looks better on-line. Please click here.

 

Israel should not be an issue in the November election.  No one argues that President Obama’s record on Israel is perfect. But our legitimate concerns about Israel are being manipulated for partisan gain by those who attack Obama for policies that are no different from previous administrations.

 

The United States has never officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That’s why the US embassy is not in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 requires that the US embassy be moved to Jerusalem unless the President signs a waiver every six months preventing the move. Bill Clinton signed the waiver every six months. George W. Bush signed the waiver every six months. Barack Obama signed the waiver every six months. And unless the parties to the conflict reach an agreement on Jerusalem, the next president will continue to sign the waiver every six months. We’ve seen videos of State Department officials refusing to say that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But we’ve never seen videos of State Department officials from prior administrations saying that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. It’s been this way for over 60 years, and it will continue this way no matter who wins in November.

 

The United States has always objected to settlements. Settlements are not the root cause of the conflict. There were no settlements when the Arabs attacked Israel in 1948, nor were there any settlements prior to the Six Day War. The root cause of the conflict is Arab refusal to accept and recognize the permanent reality of a Jewish state of Israel. But every American administration since the Six Day War has opposed settlements because the more settlements there are, the more difficult it becomes to draw reasonable borders for a Palestinian state. The Bush administration publicly objected to construction even in Jerusalem, and George W. Bush publicly expressed frustration with Israel’s Prime Minister. The Bush roadmap for peace explicitly forbids “natural growth” of settlements. It’s not a new issue.

 

Even President Obama’s statement that “we believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states” was simply a restatement of George W. Bush’s declaration that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians “will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.”

 

The policies of this administration toward Israel that some question are continuations of American policy that will persist no matter who is president. But this is what sets the Obama administration apart from previous administrations: President Obama has called for the removal of Syrian President Assad, ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin-Laden, done more than any other president to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program, restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration, secretly sold Israel the bunker-busting bombs it requested but did not receive during the Bush administration, increased security assistance to Israel to record levels, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, took US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against a one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution, opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

 

Contrary to Paul Ryan’s claim during the vice-presidential debate, President Obama did not oppose Iran sanctions-the issue was executive prerogative, and the provisions President Obama requested actually gave the President more flexibility to impose tougher sanctions.

 

Yet we’ve all seen the videos–some of which feature attractive young people who claim to have voted for Obama in 2008 and are now shocked, SHOCKED that his election did not usher in an era of world peace and universal love and that the US and Israel disagree on certain issues.

 

The reality is that US policy toward Israel has remained remarkably consistent over the past 60 years. There have been ups and downs throughout the history of US-Israel relations, but there have been many fewer downs during this administration than in previous administrations. We don’t know what Romney will do if elected. While there are legitimate questions about his foreign policy expertise, chances are that a Romney administration would resemble a Bush administration on Israel, for better or for worse.

 

Israel is an election issue because Republicans need it to be an election issue: It’s their only hope for winning Jewish votes. The problem for Republicans is that while they are generally supportive of Israel, the Democrats are too. There are real differences between the parties and the candidates, but Israel is not one of them. Where the parties do differ, the Democratic party is much better on the social and economic issues that most Jews care about.

 

The Republicans have a choice: Admit that both parties support Israel and concede the Jewish vote on social and economic issues, or use Israel as a partisan wedge issue by denying the Democratic party’s strong record of support for Israel (you can read my reaction to the Democrats who booed Jerusalem here). Unfortunately for America and Israel, the Republicans have chosen to ignore Michael Oren’s warningabout turning Israel into a partisan issue.  Fortunately for America and Israel, the vast majority of Jews are smart enough to see through these divisive Republican tactics and will vote to re-elect President Obama.

 

The Facts on Social and Economic Issues

 

On October 7, the St. Louis Post Dispatch endorsed President Obama. If you click on only one link in today’s newsletter, click on this one.  You should really read all of it, but at least read this:

 

Mr. Obama sees an America where the common good is as important as the individual good. That is the vision on which the nation was founded. It is the vision that has seen America through its darkest days and illuminated its best days. It is the vision that underlies the president’s greatest achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Twenty years from now, it will be hard to find anyone who remembers being opposed to Obamacare.

 

He continues to steer the nation through the most perilous economic challenges since the Great Depression. Those who complain that unemployment remains high, or that economic growth is too slow, either do not understand the scope of the catastrophe imposed upon the nation by Wall Street and its enablers, or they are lying about it.

 

To expect Barack Obama to have repaired, in four years, what took 30 years to undermine, is simply absurd. He might have gotten further had he not been saddled with an opposition party, funded by plutocrats, that sneers at the word compromise. But even if Mr. Obama had had Franklin Roosevelt’s majorities, the economy would still be in peril.

 

Extraordinary, perhaps existential, economic challenges lie just beyond Election Day. The nation’s $16 trillion debt must be addressed, but in ways that do not endanger the sick and elderly, or further erode the middle class or drive the poor deeper into penury.

 

The social Darwinist solutions put forward by Republican Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, are not worthy of this nation’s history, except that part of it known as the Gilded Age.

 

The Dispatch says this about Mitt Romney:

 

Mr. Romney apparently will say anything that will help him win an election. As a president, he might well govern as a pragmatic chief executive, or he might sell himself to the plutocrats and the crazies who have taken over his party. He is asking Americans to take a lot on faith – there’s nothing to see in his tax returns; he can cut taxes and whack away debt while trimming deductions he will not specify.

 

Mr. Romney’s business career is the only way to judge his foundational beliefs: He did not run a company that built things and created jobs and strong communities. He became fabulously wealthy by loading up companies with tax-deductible debt, taking millions out up front along with big management fees. Some companies were saved. Others went bankrupt. Mr. Romney’s firm always got out before the bills came due, either in lost jobs, bankruptcies or both.

 

If the nation’s most pressing issue is debt, why elect a president whose entire business career was based on loading up companies with debt?

In picking Mr. Ryan as his running mate, Mr. Romney signaled that he’s ready to perpetuate that model in public office. The middle class hasn’t had a raise in 20 years. Income inequality has reached record heights. Mr. Romney is the very embodiment of what’s gone wrong with the economy: Too many people at the top create vast wealth that they do not share, either by creating jobs or by paying fair tax rates.

 

If more Americans were paying attention, this election would not be close. Barack Obama would win going away, at least 53 to 47, perhaps even 99 to 1.

 

But the atmosphere has been polluted by lies, distortion, voter suppression and spending by desperate plutocrats who see the nation’s changing demographicsand fear that their time is almost up. They’ve had the help of a partisan Supreme Court.

 

The question for voters is actually very simple. The nation has wrestled with it since its founding: Will this be government for the many or the few?

 

Choose the many. Choose Barack Obama.

 

Read the entire editorial here.

 

Just for fun…your reward for getting through another newsletter. Bill Clinton’s take on the first Obama-Romney debate. Click here.

If you like what you’ve read and you’re not a subscriber, click on the Join Our Mailing List button below to join this list. Please consider forwarding this email to a few friends and sharing it on Facebook and Twitter by using the colorful symbols at the top of this email.

 

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Unless explicitly stated otherwise, the views I express in my emails do not necessarily reflect the views of any candidates or organizations that I support or am associated with.

Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues

October 11, 2012 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) — A look at where Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney stand on a selection of issues, in brief:

ABORTION and BIRTH CONTROL:

Obama: Supports access to abortion. Health care law requires contraceptives to be available for free for women enrolled in workplace health plans.

Romney: Opposes access to abortion. Previously supported that. Says state law should guide abortion rights, and Roe v. Wade should be reversed by a future Supreme Court ruling. Said he would end federal aid to Planned Parenthood.

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DEBT:

Obama: Promises to cut projected deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years, a goal that will require Congress to raise the capital gains tax, boost taxes on households earning over $250,000 a year, impose a minimum 30 percent tax on incomes above $1 million, and more. First-term pledge to cut deficit he inherited by half will fall well-short.

Romney: Promises to cut $500 billion per year from the federal budget by 2016 to bring spending below 20 percent of the U.S. economy and to balance it by 2020, but vital specifics are lacking. At same time would increase military spending, reverse $716 billion in Medicare cuts and cut taxes. Favors constitutional balanced budget amendment.

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ECONOMY:

Obama: Term marked by high unemployment, a deep recession that began in previous administration and officially ended within six months and gradual recovery with persistently high jobless rates of over 8 percent, until the rate dropped to 7.8 in September, the same as it was in February 2009, Obama’s first full month in office. Businesses have added jobs for more than two years straight while public sector jobs have lagged. Responded to recession with a roughly $800 billion stimulus plan, expanded auto industry bailout begun under George W. Bush, inherited and carried forward Wall Street bailout.

Romney: Lower taxes, less regulation, balanced budget, more trade deals to spur growth. Replace jobless benefits with unemployment savings accounts. Proposes replacing certain provisions of the law toughening financial-industry regulations after the meltdown in that sector. Proposes changing the law tightening accounting corporate regulations to ease requirements for mid-sized companies.

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EDUCATION:

Obama: Has approved waivers freeing states from the most onerous requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. “Race to the Top” competition has rewarded winning states with billions of dollars for pursuing education policies Obama supports. Won approval from Congress for a $10,000 college tax credit over four years and increases in Pell grants and other financial aid.

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Romney: Supported the federal accountability standards of No Child Left Behind law. Has said the student testing, charter-school incentives and teacher evaluation standards of Obama’s “Race to the Top” competition “make sense” although the federal government should have less control of education. Says increases in federal student aid encourage tuition to go up, too. Wants to see private lenders return to the federal student loan program.

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ENERGY and ENVIRONMENT:

Obama: Ordered temporary moratorium on deep-water drilling after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but U.S. produced more oil in 2010 than it has since 2003 and all forms of energy production have increased under Obama. Achieved historic increases in fuel economy standards that will save money at the pump while raising the cost of new vehicles. Achieved first-ever regulations on heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming and on toxic mercury pollution from power plants. Spent heavily on green energy and has embraced nuclear power as a clean source. Failed to persuade a Democratic Congress to pass limits he promised on carbon emissions. Set goal of cutting oil imports by half by 2020.

Romney: Pledges U.S. will become independent of energy sources outside of North America by 2020, through more aggressive exploitation of domestic oil, gas, coal and other resources and quick approval of Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. Supports opening Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves to drilling, as well as Western lands, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Alaska. Says green power has yet to become viable and causes of climate change are unproved.

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FOREIGN POLICY:

Obama: Opposes near-term military strike on Iran but holds that option open if it proves the only way to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Declined to repeat the Libya air power commitment for Syrian opposition, instead seeks international pressure against Syrian government. Chastised Israel for continuing to build housing settlements in disputed areas and pressed both sides to begin a new round of peace talks based on land borders established after 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. Signed law to expand military and civilian cooperation with Israel. Sought penalties against China for unfair trade but opposes branding China a currency manipulator.

Romney: Appears to present a clearer U.S. military threat to Iran and has spoken in more permissive terms about Israel’s right to act against Iran’s nuclear facilities, without explicitly approving of such a step. Would identify those in Syrian opposition who share U.S. values, then work with U.S. allies to “ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat” Syrian government. But has not proposed direct U.S. arms supplies to rebels. Associates himself more closely with hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pledges more military assistance to Israel. Branded Russia the “No. 1 geopolitical foe” of the U.S. and threatened to label China a currency manipulator in a move that could lead to broad trade sanctions.

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GAY RIGHTS:

Obama: Supports legal recognition of same-sex marriage, a matter decided by states. Opposed that recognition in 2008 presidential campaign and in 2004 Senate campaign, while supporting the extension of legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples in civil unions. Achieved repeal of the military ban on openly gay members. Has not achieved repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and affirms the right of states to refuse to recognize such marriages. Administration has ceased defending the law in court but it remains on the books.

Romney: Opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage and says it should be banned with a constitutional amendment, not left to states. “Marriage is not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state.” Also opposes civil unions “if they are identical to marriage other than by name,” but says states should be left to decide what rights and benefits should be allowed under those unions. Says certain domestic partnership benefits — largely unspecified — as well as hospital visitation rights are appropriate but “others are not.” Says he would not seek to restore the ban on openly gay military members.

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GUNS:

Obama: Has not pushed for stricter gun laws as president. Signed laws letting people carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked bags on Amtrak trains. Favors “robust steps, within existing law” to address gun issues, White House says. Voices support for renewed ban on assault-type weapons but has not tried to get that done. Previously backed stronger gun controls.

Romney: Opposes stricter gun control laws. Suggested after the Colorado theater shooting that he favors tougher enforcement of existing gun laws. As Massachusetts governor, vowed in 2002 to protect the state’s “tough gun laws,” and in 2004 signed a Massachusetts ban on assault weapons.

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HEALTH CARE:

Obama: Achieved landmark overhaul putting U.S. on path to universal coverage now that Supreme Court has upheld the law’s mandate for almost everyone to obtain insurance. Under the law, insurers will be banned from denying coverage to people with pre-existing illness, tax credits will subsidize premiums, people without work-based insurance will have access to new markets, small business gets help for offering insurance and Medicaid will expand.

Romney: Promises to work for repeal of the law modeled largely after his universal health care achievement in Massachusetts because he says states, not Washington, should drive policy on the uninsured. Says he would protect people with pre-existing conditions, though his plan only does so for those who maintain continuous coverage, not a major change from federal protections in effect before Obama’s health care overhaul. Would expand individual tax-advantaged medical savings accounts and let savings be used for insurance premiums as well as personal medical costs.

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IMMIGRATION:

Obama: Issued directive in June that immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children be exempted from deportation and granted work permits if they apply. Took the temporary step after failing to deliver on promised immigration overhaul, with the defeat of legislation that would have created a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants enrolled in college or enlisted in the armed forces. Says he is still committed to it. Government has deported a record number of illegal immigrants under Obama.

Romney: Favors U.S.-Mexico border fence, opposes education benefits to illegal immigrants. Opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college, but would do so for those who serve in the armed forces. Would establish a national immigration-status verification system for employers and punish them if they hire noncitizens who do not prove their authorized status. Would end visa caps for spouses and minor children of legal immigrants. Would honor work permits for immigrants who benefit from Obama’s new policy and promises to put a comprehensive immigration plan into place before those permits expire.

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MEDICARE:

Obama: His health care law improves coverage for beneficiaries with high prescription costs and removes co-pays for a set of preventive benefits. It also cuts Medicare spending for hospitals and other providers by more than $700 billion over a decade. Those cuts are being used to provide health insurance to more working-age Americans, and the government also counts them as extending the life of the program’s giant trust fund. But he hasn’t ruled out increasing costs for middle-class and upper-income Medicare recipients or raising the eligibility age to 67 from 65.

Romney: Introduce “generous” but undetermined subsidies to help future retirees buy private insurance or join a government plan modeled on traditional Medicare. Gradually increase eligibility age to 67. Repealing Obama’s health care law would roll back improved benefits for seniors unless Congress acts to protect them. It also would reverse Obama’s Medicare cuts to hospitals and other providers, which could hasten insolvency of Medicare’s trust fund.

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SOCIAL SECURITY:

Obama: Has not proposed a comprehensive plan to address Social Security’s long-term financial problems. In 2011, proposed a new measure of inflation that would reduce annual increases in Social Security benefits. The proposal would reduce the long-term financing shortfall by about 25 percent, according to the Social Security actuaries.

Romney: Protect the status quo for people 55 and over but, for the next generation of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients.

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TAXES:

Obama: Wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and ensure they pay 30 percent of their income at minimum. Supports extending Bush-era tax cuts for everyone making under $200,000, or $250,000 for couples. But in 2010, agreed to a two-year extension of the lower rates for all. Wants to let the top two tax rates go back up 3 to 4 percentage points to 39.6 percent and 36 percent, and raise rates on capital gains and dividends for the wealthy. Health care law provides for tax on highest-value health insurance plans. Together with Congress, built a first-term record of significant tax cuts, some temporary.

Romney: Keep Bush-era tax cuts for all incomes and drop all tax rates further, by 20 percent, bringing the top rate, for example, down to 28 percent from 35 percent and the lowest rate to 8 percent instead of 10 percent. Curtail deductions, credits and exemptions for the wealthiest. End Alternative Minimum Tax for individuals, eliminate capital gains tax for families making below $200,000 and cut corporate tax to 25 percent from 35 percent. Does not specify which tax breaks or programs he would curtail to help cover costs.

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TERRORISM:

Obama: Approved the raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden, set policy that U.S. would no longer use harsh interrogation techniques, a practice that had essentially ended late in George W. Bush’s presidency. Largely carried forward Bush’s key anti-terrorism policies, including detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay despite promise to close the prison. Expanded use of unmanned drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan and Yemen.

Romney: No constitutional rights for foreign terrorism suspects. In 2007, refused to rule out use of waterboarding to interrogate terrorist suspects. In 2011, his campaign said he does not consider waterboarding to be torture.

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WAR:

Obama: Ended the Iraq war, increased U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan then began drawing down the force with a plan to have all out by the end of 2014. Approved U.S. air power in NATO-led campaign that helped Libyan opposition topple government. Major cuts coming in the size of the Army and Marine Corps as part of agreement with congressional Republicans to cut military spending over a decade.

Romney: Proposes increase in military spending. Endorses 2014 end to U.S. combat in Afghanistan, subject to conditions at the time. Would increase strength of armed forces, including number of troops and warships, adding almost $100 billion to the Pentagon budget in 2016. In addition, criticized congressional Republicans for negotiating a deficit-cutting deal with the White House that will mean automatic and massive cuts in Pentagon spending next year if federal budget deal is not reached in time.

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Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Matt Apuzzo, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Stephen Ohlemacher, Alan Fram, Dina Cappiello, Ken Thomas, Jim Kuhnhenn and Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.