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The Speech

Tuesday, February 24, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Nicely delivered, and it remains inspiring to see an African-American conduct the rituals of the presidency. The First Lady was also full of obvious cheer, and her embrace of the young girl from South Carolina after the president referenced her touching letter was the best moment of the night.

I liked the pledge to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, the pay of all military and benefits for veterans, and hope that isn’t accomplished by taking a 280 ship Navy to 250, etc.

The trouble with the speech, of course, is that what the president promises to do simply cannot be done, because the costs are so staggeringly high that the economy cannot bear all or even most of them absent the sort of renewed economic growth that soaring tax rates will snuff out.

The problem with President Obama’s agenda is that it is built on serial fantasies, fantasies which ignore the real benefits of things such as nuclear power and oil exploration. The president’s talk was well phrased and beautifully delivered, and deeply disconnected from the realities of economic growth.

Congressional Democrats have the numbers to push through many of the things the president wants, but each concrete proposal will travel the same course as the porkulus traveled –from high flown rhetoric to disappointing legislative language to off-putting low and deceptive politics. The president’s negative ratings soared in one month, and that’s a trend that will continue because the American people continue to view government with suspicion and to resent the vast waste of tax dollars they have already seen on a scale never before witnessed in D.C.

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Thomas Ricks’ “The Gamble” and Bill Lobdell’s “Losing My Religion”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Today’s broadcast leads off with Thomas P.M. Barnett in another of our series of conversations about his new book Great Powers. The transcript will be posted here later and the podcast here.

I’ll also be joined by Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus to engage in some speculation about the president’s address, and by Chuck Colson for another in my series of conversations about evangelicals in the Obama era. So a full show. Tomorrow, of course, we’ll pick over the president’s speech withMark Steyn, Lileks and others.

But don’t miss Thursday’s when Thomas Ricks and Bill Lobdell will both be in studio, back to back.

Ricks’ The Gamble is a fascinating, detailed examination of how the U.S. snatched victory from chaos in Iraq, and it is really an extraordinary bit of reporting.

Lobdell’s Losing My Religion is a memoir of his life and faith journey over the past two decades. Full disclosure: Bill’s my closest friend, and I play a walk-on role in the memoir, but don’t believe me that the book is an important read, check out the Christian Science Monitor’s review.

The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace

The Latest From “Banker Guy”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Today’s mssive from a bank CEO who prefers to remains behind the veil:

So much to discuss, it is hard to know where to begin. There are not enough hours in the day to keep up with all the items coming out of Washington.

Last week the Obama Administration announced its plan to reduce foreclosures called the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, now called Hope for Homeowners Plan. There are two parts to the plan-a refinance plan and a lower payment plan. [# More #]

The refinance plan applies only to those whose loan is owned or securitized by Fannie or Freddie. This part actually will work. What this part really does is reduce underwriting criteria at Fannie and Freddie. It enables homeowners whose loan-to-value ratio would be over 80% to qualify to refinance. Refinancing to lower your interest rate is good; lowering credit criteria to do it is not good. But then Fan and Fred already have exposure to the collateral (the house), so getting a more affordable payment makes sense. Fannie and Freddie hold or guarantee about 40% of all mortgages outstanding. This plan seems fair since it applies to homeowners who would qualify for refinancing except for the value being down which was not their fault.

The lower payment plan is more controversial and probably not workable. Treasury will partner with lenders to reduce monthly payments. If lenders reduce interest (or principal) so a borrower would have a mortgage payment-to-income ratio of 38%, then Treasury will match the lender to reduce the ratio further to 31%. Treasury will also “reward” borrowers a $1,000 for every year they make these new lower payments. This is what got Rick Santelli of CNBC riled up. His point is well taken. This part of the plan helps someone who took out a high interest rate loan-most likely a subprime loan. Those borrowers who acted responsibly will get no help and will pay taxes to help those who were not as sensible. It is unclear how many homeowners the lower payment plan will actually help. It is limited to home owners with a conventional mortgage (generally less than $417,000). It is a voluntary program-lenders do not have to participate. It will be very complicated to address by mortgage servicers since nearly 70% of all home mortgages are held in pools and sold as securities or collateralized loan obligations.

One winner in all this will be non-profit counseling agencies, such as ACORN, who will be provided funding by Housing and Urban Development to assist homeowners through the new government created maze!

One of the more damaging aspects of this plan is judicial modifications or “mortgage cram-downs.” This will have to passed by Congress but the House version has unlimited judicial discretion where bankruptcy judges can change the provisions of mortgages and develop “affordable” plans-100 year mortgages could be an outcome. There are over 400 bankruptcy judges and the potential for 400 different guidelines for modifications. Not only would it be an administrative nightmare but will significantly discourage any lender from making new loans or, at least, charge a significantly higher rate.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have affected mortgage rates for years. This is why banks and thrifts hold only about a quarter of all mortgages. Fannie and Freddie have had access to lower cost funds because of implied or actual Treasury guaranties. They have been much more leveraged, which means less capital required. They obviously have mispriced credit and (I won’t go into the details now) have mispriced the ability to refinance. So mortgages are not profitable assets for banks to own. This plan will further this rate difference and shift more of the market to the government and away from banks.

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