French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said today she was not “in the mind or the mood for war”, describing it as “totally inadequate, inappropriate and unnecessary.” Phew.Global finance chiefs met over breakfast in Washington, just as the September employment report showed the U.S. economy was still shedding jobs and sent the dollar tumbling to a 15-year low against the yen. How about that to focus the mind.
The question is whether they can come up with some form of words at the IMF meetings over the weekend to calm the markets, to show that they are determined to address the imbalances that underlie the tensions over currencies.
Last night Reuters correspondent Scot Paltrow revealed that a bill had sailed through the Senate last week — without public debate — which would have made it significantly harder for homeowners to challenge improper attempts to foreclose on their houses. The legislation, which was sitting on President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature, would have forced courts to recognize out-of-state notarizations, including those stamped en masse by computers in other states, a practice critics say has been used improperly to push through foreclosure orders. Computer notarizations, now valid in around a dozen states, would effectively have become legal nationally, and challenges to improper notarizations made in other states would have become harder and costlier.
Today, after the story became public, the White House announced that Obama was sending the legislation back to the House of Representatives for further discussion – a so-called “pocket veto.” Given the rising chorus of lawmakers calling for all foreclosures to be suspended, the legislation now looks dead.
The Justice Department has stepped into the fray today over reports that the country’s largest mortgage lenders may have evicted tens of thousands of borrowers from their homes with little or no scrutiny of their documents. The lenders are accused of using “robo-signers” to approve foreclosures en masse, like GMAC official Jeffrey Stephan, who has testified to signing some 10,000 documents a month.
The number of foreclosures has slowed significantly since state officials began investigations into the practice in recent weeks, but this may be of scant comfort to the housing market as long as the uncertainty lingers, with a possible backlog of pending foreclosures hanging over the market.
The “enthusiasm gap” was always the Democrats’ biggest problem heading into the November midterm elections, and conversely also their biggest hope. Democrats have told poll after poll they were less likely to vote than their Republican counterparts. If only Democrats could enthuse their supporters, strategists have been hoping, then maybe the party could still trump the Republicans in some tight races.
So the Democrats will be pleased today with the results of our latest Reuters/Ipsos poll from California, which not only shows their candidates leading in the race for the Senate and the governor’s office, but also shows that enthusiasm gap narrowing slightly. Some 75 percent of Democrats now say they are certain to vote, up from 60 percent in June. Comparative numbers for Republicans are 83 percent now, up from 73 percent in June.
President Barack Obama had some soothing words for business leaders at the White House today, telling them that, despite some impressions to the contrary, he was really on their side after all. Financial regulatory reform was necessary, but “it is important now that there is a period of healing and consolidation and implementation that is less disruptive.”
Presumably the head of American Express was not invited to the meeting, on the day that the Justice Department decided to sue the company, saying its rules preventing merchants from encouraging consumers to use cheaper, rival cards violate antitrust law. It is the latest salvo in the administration’s battle with credit card companies, who it accuses of scalping consumers. Amex typically charges higher fees to merchants than rival cards, with the justification that its clients are richer and spend more.
Returning home from a fascinating week in Haiti today, and meetings with the prime minister, UN mission chief, aid workers, business leaders and middle class and poor Haitians.
In a sense, Haiti is another test case for the international aid and development effort. A disaster on the scale of the January earthquake — striking a poor country with a weak government and private sector — has highlighted all the well-known pros and cons of the international aid effort, which now seems to run much of the country and economy.
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti needs “more, better, different” assistance from the world, including significant private investment, if it is to have any hope of developing beyond the humanitarian crisis caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake, the country’s prime minister said on Thursday.
Jean-Max Bellerive told Reuters that aid pledged so far by foreign governments and institutions would not be enough to meet the enormous challenges facing the crippled Caribbean state after the catastrophic natural disaster that killed up to 300,000 people and made some 1.3 million more homeless.
There was a tremendous outpouring of goodwill and money for Haiti after the quake, which prevented a further humanitarian catastrophe. But so far, nine months after the capital was devastated, progress in “building back better” seems painfully slow. Rubble still chokes the narrow streets of Port-au-Prince, and 1.3 million people occupy every available scrap of land in tents awaiting resettlement, or even just a government plan on what to do with them.
Given the mind-boggling scale of the disaster, the weakness of the government and economy even before the earthquake, the lack of land as well as clearly defined land ownership records, it is unfair to expect too much.
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haitians should seize U.N.-backed elections in November as an opportunity to build a better nation from the ruins of this year’s earthquake by taking charge of future development and shedding years of aid dependency, the top U.N. official in Haiti said.
Edmond Mulet said the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative polls to be held 10 months after the massive Jan. 12 earthquake would be a chance for Haiti to shake off its identity as a weak, unstable, poverty-ridden “Republic of NGOs” dominated by foreign aid organizations.
I was considering writing earnestly about Congressional efforts to pressure China over the yuan but, in the end, I had to face facts. Love him or loathe him, Stephen Colbert’s appearance on Capitol Hill this morning quite simply stole the show. The Comedy Central star somehow managed to testify about the heated issue of illegal immigrants in satirical character, as an over-the-top conservative commentator.
Colbert, of course, does not mind provoking extreme reactions from his audience or offending a few people in the name of satire – remember his controversial attack on President George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2006 (and look it up on YouTube if you don’t).