Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pan Release Promo Video for New Album

Prepare to take flight.  The release of Pan's new full-length, These Are the Things I Love and I Want to Share Them With You is right around the corner.  In the meantime, Pan has offered us a further glimpse into the album experience with a brief promo video as well as the full track-list. Pan's These Are the Things I Love and I Want to Share Them With You will be released exclusively through Post-Echo on March 7.

1 Byoko

2 The Rhode Island Lucky Few

3 God
4 Joe Frazier

5 slow/steady

6 John from New York

7 The Things They Can't Take Away

8 Mom and me versus you and Dad

9 Rudy (Wurlitzer)

10 Helen and Francis

11 آپ کے جسم کو چھوڑ دیں

12 Arkansas

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Forces of a Street Release PRO ICARUS, music video for "The Architect"

Forces of a Street are both excited and pleased to announce that their new full-length album, Pro Icarus, is now available exclusively through Post-Echo. A ten-track, electro-rock opus of dizzying guitars and experimental beats and percussion, Pro Icarus is the long-gestating project of the five-piece indie rock band. Available to purchase in a variety of formats, as well as streaming in it's entirety for a limited time, Post-Echo hopes you find the Pro Icarus experience to be as thrilling as it is ultimately memorable.

And as an added bonus, Forces of a Street have released a music video for the album's new single "The Architect" - give it a look.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Will Mortgage Settlement Avoid Repeating Obama’s Foreclosure Failures?

by Paul Kiel, ProPublica

Answers to homeowners' questions about the Independent Foreclosure Review.The administration's website for the foreclosure prevention program. Provides an FAQ, homeowner examples, and other tools to see whether you might qualify for the program.A list of HUD-approved housing counseling agencies nationwide.Tips for homeowners from the Federal Trade Commission.These rules lay out how mortgage servicers are supposed to conduct the program.A finance and economics blog that provides news and metrics on the state of the housing market.

Yesterday, administration officials stood alongside state attorneys general to announce a $25 billion mortgage settlement. It was reminiscent of a big announcement by administration officials three Februarys ago involving an even bigger number: $50 billion. That money was supposed to go to the administration's signature mortgage modification program, which eventually became HAMP.

Three years later, HAMP (the Home Affordable Modification Program) is widely considered a failure. That failure provides key context to yesterday's announcement.

According to the state attorneys general and the administration, a major selling point of the new settlement is that it won't repeat HAMP's mistakes. This deal, they say, is different.

"If people are eligible for a loan modification, the banks won't screw up those decisions anymore," said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper made a rather pointed reference to HAMP: "I think strong, court-ordered enforcement with teeth distinguish this deal from those earlier efforts to help homeowners."

As we've reported extensively over the past several years, homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure by gaining a loan modification have often been frustrated by banks' errors and delays. In the worst cases, the banks' shoddy mortgage servicing has led to wrongful foreclosures. The errors have sometimes continued even after homeowners got an elusive modification.

When HAMP was launched, it came with the promise that mortgage servicers would have to abide by clear rules. The handbook laying out these rules now approaches 200 pages. But as we've detailed, enforcement of those rules has been lacking.

According to the state attorneys general, the settlement directly addresses that. The five big servicers — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC) —  that will sign on to the not-quite-finalized deal have agreed to follow a raft of new rules. Some of these rules, like how quickly a bank must respond to a homeowner's completed modification application, come straight from HAMP.

What's different this time, they say, is that there are clear consequences for rule-breaking. But plenty of questions remain, and only time will tell if the latest promises of mortgage-servicer accountability will be kept.

"The big picture is that these new rules are only good if servicers follow them," said Alys Cohen of the National Consumer Law Center. "Enforcement will really matter."

As critics like Firedoglake blogger David Dayen have pointed out, the new system relies to some extent on "self-assessments" by the banks to identify violations of the new rules. But Miller, the Iowa attorney general, notes that consumers will be able to complain to their state's attorney general, who will make sure their complaints are heard.

The settlement does create a "monitor" who will have the power to impose penalties. The administration says a bank could be fined up to $1 million per violation and up to $5 million for repeat violations. But the details released so far don't show how violations will be applied or counted. (If thousands of homeowners, for instance, have been wrongly denied modifications, will that be counted as one violation or thousands?)

HAMP came with no penalties for participating mortgage servicers that broke the rules. It was only in the past several months that the Treasury Department decided to address servicer noncompliance — by temporarily withholding the program's subsidy payments. (As for the millions of dollars in incentives that Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the other servicers were paid over the previous years, they get to keep that.)

The settlement is not only supposed to have more sticks than HAMP, it's also a chance for the administration to breathe life back into the old program. Treasury recently made major revisions to HAMP to allow more homeowners to qualify for modifications.

"The extension and expansion of HAMP are designed to be complementary to the settlement," said Treasury spokeswoman Andrea Risotto.

For instance, the program was set to end at the end of 2012 but now will accept new homeowners until the end of 2013. (The banks will operate under the umbrella of the settlement through 2014 or so.) In addition, Treasury has broadened some of the criteria to make it easier to qualify.

Some of the millions of homeowners who were rejected might be eligible for a second shot. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners were originally granted "trial modifications" through the program in 2009 and early 2010, only to be denied permanent modifications many months (and sometimes more than a year) later. Most of those homeowners started those trials by just giving their income information over the phone. They'll be eligible to reapply, according to the proposed rules.

One of the recent changes to HAMP could reduce the cost of the settlement for banks — and leave taxpayers footing a chunk of the bill.

As part of yesterday's deal, the five banks agreed to reduce billions in mortgage debt for homeowners in danger of foreclosure. Most of those principal reductions — about 85 percent according to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan — will likely be for loans that the banks hold on their own books.

HAMP also has long offered investors incentives to encourage principal reductions. For loans owned by banks, the money goes right to them. In January, Treasury tripled those incentives. In cases in which a loan qualifies for HAMP, the government will now pay investors, often the banks themselves, up to roughly two-thirds the cost of a principal reduction.

The banks have agreed to perform at least $10 billion worth of principal reductions as part of the settlement. Because it's unclear how many of the principal reduction modifications will be done through HAMP, it's impossible to say how much of that will be covered by the government subsidies.

So far, about 40,000 HAMP modifications have been done through HAMP's principal reduction program at a median reduction of $67,196, meaning that roughly $2.7 billion in principal has been reduced. If the banks find HAMP more attractive because of the increased incentives, that amount might increase sharply, and HAMP could experience something of a renaissance.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Millions Won't Get Help From Big Mortgage Settlement

by Cora Currier ProPublica

Answers to homeowners' questions about the Independent Foreclosure Review.The administration's website for the foreclosure prevention program. Provides an FAQ, homeowner examples, and other tools to see whether you might qualify for the program.A list of HUD-approved housing counseling agencies nationwide.Tips for homeowners from the Federal Trade Commission.These rules lay out how mortgage servicers are supposed to conduct the program.A finance and economics blog that provides news and metrics on the state of the housing market.

The Obama administration is billing today's $25 billion agreement between most states and five banks that engaged in flawed or deceptive practices as a big win for struggling homeowners.

Most of the money in the settlement isn't a penalty, or a fine levied on the banks. Instead, the biggest slice of the settlement will be money banks put toward principal reduction -- reducing the amount owed by struggling or underwater borrowers. (Banks will also put smaller amounts toward refinancing and other ways of helping people get back in control of spiraling debt.)

Getting a break on their mortgages could help the millions of homeowners who owe more on their home than it is worth. But many of them won't qualify -- thanks to government-owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The two mortgage companies, who were bailed out by the government in 2008, were described by former Obama economic advisor Jared Bernstein as "the boulder" in the way of principal reduction. Their federal regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, is tasked with maximizing profits from the companies -- and thus minimizing taxpayer losses. The head of the agency, Edward DeMarco, argues that allowing principal reductions would result in a big loss for Fannie and Freddie and ultimately taxpayers.

The two companies aren't directly part of the settlement. They don't service mortgages, or deal directly with borrowers. But Fannie and Freddie do guarantee or own roughly half of the mortgages in the U.S. They also hold more than 3 million of the nation's nearly 11 million underwater mortgages. Since Fannie and Freddie are backing the loans -- and are the ones who will take a loss if the mortgage isn't paid back in full -- they often have a veto on whether homeowners get a break.

Even if Bank of America, for example, services your mortgage, you would not be eligible for principal reduction if Freddie or Fannie back it.

Principal reduction is being pushed heavily by the Obama administration as a way to lower the rate of foreclosures. The administration recently tried to encourage Fannie and Freddie by offering to triple incentives for principal reduction. So far, the companies and their federal overseer, DeMarco, have declined to do so. An FHFA spokesperson said that the agency is "not a party to the agreement. We await a copy of the agreement to determine its implications."

Lowering the amount of money owed on a loan would result in at least short-term losses for Fannie and Freddie, as well as to any other investors in mortgages that are reduced. But many economists and analysts argue that Fannie and Freddie would ultimately benefit since such moves could help restore the health of the housing market as a whole.

The reluctance by Fannie, Freddie and others to take on principal reduction is partly why the administration's mortgage modification programs have been so ineffective.

The settlement does have potential benefits for future borrowers, including new protections and disclosures to prevent what Attorney General Eric Holder called "abusive practices" by the mortgage industry.

A small portion of the overall settlement -- about $5 billion -- will amount to penalties for past abuses by the banks. Some of it will go to state governments that were afflicted by banks' shoddy practices, and some of it will go directly to about 750,000 homeowners who were foreclosed upon. If you lost your home, you could get up to $2,000.

With Spotlight on Super PAC Dollars, Nonprofits Escape Scrutiny

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The website for the American Bridge 21st Century Foundation is simply a satire ad against leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney."][/caption]

by Kim Barker, Al Shaw and Ariel Wittenberg ProPublica

When super PACs announced their 2011 fundraising numbers earlier this week, it provided an early glimpse into how the new way of financing political campaigns may work in the upcoming election.

The filings showed that super PACs are indeed fundraising juggernauts, pulling in more than $98 million, with an average donation of $47,718. But so far, their sources of funding are largely transparent, not clouded in the kind of secrecy that some campaign-finance watchers had feared, and not relying that much on connected nonprofits that don't disclose donors.

Instead, it was separate announcements this week from a cluster of politically active social welfare groups, known as 501(c)4s for their IRS tax code, that hinted at how secret money could factor into the upcoming election -- and in a more direct fashion than initially forecast after the Supreme Court opened the door to super PACs two years ago.

On Tuesday, Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit arm of the GOP super PAC American Crossroads, announced it raised $32.6 million last year, far outstripping the super PAC itself, which raised $18.4 million.  Priorities USA and American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, the nonprofit arms of the two largest Democrat super PACs, announced they raised $5.1 million. The super PACs, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century, raised $8.1 million.

Unlike super PACs, which are required to identify their donors, social-welfare nonprofits such as Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA -- also referred to as "dark money" groups -- don't have to disclose contributions to the FEC, although they are supposed to report spending on political ads within a day or two. The nonprofits have to disclose their annual revenue and expenses to the IRS, but often delay such filings. A few have not yet filed their taxes for 2010.

Campaign finance watchdogs had worried that 501(c)4s, or "c4s" as insiders call them, would filter money from unidentified donors through super PACs, but, if the recent filings are any guide, they may spend funds directly. This means c4s could have a more muscular, proactive role than previously anticipated.

"Certainly the Crossroads announcement of their fundraising totals suggest the c4s will be big players, and could be even bigger players than the super PACs themselves," said Paul Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center.

Though social-welfare nonprofits have been around for years, they emerged as bigger players in the 2010 midterm elections.

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC in January 2010 led to the creation of super PACS, the turbo-charged political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors, including corporations, unions and nonprofits, as long as they don't coordinate with a candidate when they spend that money.

The ruling also jump-started a new crop of nonprofits. Fifty-nine social-welfare groups reported spending more than $78.6 million on political ads during the 2010 election cycle, according to numbers provided to ProPublica by the Center for Responsive Politics. That money was spent mainly by Republican-leaning groups, including more than $26 million spent by the GOP-leaning American Action Network and more than $17 million by Crossroads GPS. For a time, those groups shared the same offices. It's unknown where any of their money came from.

After the 2010 election, Democrats started forming their own super PACs and connected social-welfare nonprofits, such as Priorities USA Action, the super PAC, and Priorities USA, the nonprofit. Both were formed by former aides to President Barack Obama, although he and other Democrats have expressed ambivalence and even anger over the role of anonymous money in politics.

Super PAC filings released Tuesday showed  few donations from social-welfare nonprofits, or from shell companies with mystery owners.

Republicans, engaged in a bitter primary, raised more than 74 percent of the super PAC money that could be attributed to partisan groups, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. (Our "PAC Track" application keeps track of spending and donations to prominent super PACs, and has different numbers.) Of those groups, Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, raised more than $30 million. American Crossroads, the super PAC led by former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove and other top Republicans, including former party chairman Ed Gillespie and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, raised $18.4 million.

Fourteen conservative super PACs, nine of which supported specific Republican presidential candidates, got the bulk of their more than $67 million in donations from publicity-shy conservative billionaires and companies. Almost 26 percent of donations to Republican super PACs came directly from companies, but two super PACS—the one backing Newt Gingrich, and one backing former candidate Jon Huntsman—only collected money from individuals. (About 70 percent of the donations to the Huntsman super PAC came from Huntsman's father. The major backer of the Gingrich super PAC is Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who gave $10 million in January. That money has not yet been reported to the FEC.)

A 15th conservative super PAC, Revolution PAC, which backs Ron Paul, missed the FEC filing deadline, but so far has spent almost $126,000 on ads and has given another $10,000 to another pro-Paul super PAC.

The four best-known Democratic super PACs didn't raise nearly as much—perhaps because President Barack Obama is relying on more traditional sources of funding, or because Democrats don't have to worry about a primary. They raised more than $13.7 million, getting the bulk of their donations from unions, liberal PACs and Hollywood types. Almost 36 percent of the donations to the liberal super PACs were from unions and union PACs.

Tuesday's filings included only a handful of donations that raised questions about transparency.

A social-welfare group called the League of American Voters, Inc. gave $25,000 to American Crossroads on Dec. 12. The league, formed in the summer of 2010, is likely related to a better known Republican-leaning nonprofit, Americans for Tax Reform, run by strategist Grover Norquist; it rents office space from the group, and gets calls through its phone line.

But it's not clear what the League of American Voters actually does. An intern who answered the phone said she was told the man who ran the group, Bob Adams, a longtime GOP activist, rarely came to the office. Adams did not respond to an email from a ProPublica reporter.

A Democrat-leaning super PAC, Citizens for Strength and Security, reported that almost all of its $72,000 came from a social-welfare nonprofit, also called Citizens for Strength and Security. Both are run out of post-office boxes at a UPS store on M Street in Washington.

The New York Times also reported on Thursday that $500,000 of the donations to Restore Our Future came from two companies with questionable backgrounds: Paumanok Partners LLC and Glenbrook LLC.

Some campaign-finance watchdogs had a problem with super PACs that reported receiving large payments from affiliated nonprofits for overhead and administrative expenses. A conservative super PAC, Freedomworks for America,  reported getting almost half its total contributions--$1.34 million—as "in kind" payments from a linked social-welfare nonprofit, Freedomworks.  The two leading Democrat super PACs, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century, reported that they received a total of $438,000 from their affiliated nonprofits, for rent and other expenses.

Other Republican super PACs reported getting much less money from their affiliated nonprofits for operating expenses. Two Republican super PACs, Club for Growth Action and the Congressional Leadership Fund, reported getting less than $30,000 from their affiliated nonprofits for shared expenses. American Crossroads reported getting nothing from Crossroads GPS.

"Bottom line, you still have a problem that secret money is being channeled into the super PAC to help it function without the name of the donors ever being known ," said Fred Wertheimer, who runs Democracy 21, which advocates campaign-finance reform. "In essence you are hiding the donors."

The most prominent c4s seem to be saving their money for the general election. Crossroads GPS has spent less than $61,000 on political ads in the last year, paying for one anti-Obama ad in December and another released Wednesday. Other conservative social-welfare nonprofits, such as American Action Network and the National Organization for Marriage, have reported spending nearly $300,000 on ads for this election cycle. It's not clear how much either group raised in 2011, as that amount of money does not have to be made public.

Liberal social-welfare nonprofits also appear to be waiting to spend their money. Priorities USA has not reported spending anything; American Bridge 21st Century Foundation has spent only $5,089 on an ad opposing Mitt Romney on Jan. 20.

UC Irvine professor Rick Hasen, an election-law expert who runs a popular blog, said early reports indicated that people and groups that didn't mind being publicly identified gave to super PACs, while those preferring anonymity gave to c4 groups. But it was too early to say what might happen in the coming months, he added.

"Whatever conclusions people are tempted to make right now, you have to be tentative, it's a moving object," Hasen said. "Campaign finance is changing so quickly, it's difficult in the midst of the election to get a handle on what's going on."