Headlines: Obama Announces Foreclosure Plan; Israel Pledges to Maintain Gaza Blockade until Capture Soldier Released

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Announces Foreclosure Plan; Israel Pledges to Maintain Gaza Blockade until Capture Soldier Released

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Obama Announces $275 Foreclosure Plan

President Obama has unveiled a $275 billion program to address the national housing crisis. Speaking in Phoenix, Arizona, Obama said the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan could help as many as nine million homeowners avoid foreclosure and reduce mortgage payments.

President Obama: “This plan will not save every home. But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild. It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy. And by bringing down the foreclosure rate, it will help to shore up housing prices for everyone.”

$75 billion would be allotted to help up to four million struggling homeowners by creating incentives for lenders to renegotiate the terms of subprime loans. The plan also promises to help an additional five million households struggling to pay off their mortgages by lifting restrictions on refinancing and by pledging an additional $200 billion dollars for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Court Blocks Release of Uyghur Prisoners

A federal appeals court has blocked the release of seventeen Uyghur prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The group was previously ordered to be resettled with other Uyghur families in the United States. But a three-judge panel ruled District Judge Ricardo Urbina had erred in ordering their release into the US. The US government has admitted the men have been unlawfully detained but won’t send them back to China where they face persecution. Emi MacLean of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The new administration must act quickly to remedy the failings of the old. If President Obama is committed to closing Guantanamo, he must allow these stranded Uyghurs into the United States.”

Kyrgyz Parliament Votes to Close U.S. Air Base

In Kyrgyzstan, lawmakers have voted to close a key U.S. air base used for the occupation of Afghanistan. Earlier today, the Kyrgyz partliament voted 78 to one in favor of shuttering the Manas Air Base. The base is a transit point for fifteen thousand troops and 500 tons of cargo each month. But it’s become widely unpopular amidst opposition to U.S. foreign policy and controversy over US refusal to pay a higher fee. The US has also refused to revoke the immunity of a US soldier who fatally shot a Kyrgyz truck driver in late 2006. The move comes one day after President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Mckiernan, praised the decision.

General David Mckiernan: “I am very delighted with the President’s decision yesterday to send additional U.S. forces to reinforce our efforts in Afghanistan. I will use most of those forces in the southern part of Afghanistan, an area where we do not have sufficient security presence.”

Trial Delayed for Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist

In Iraq, the trial of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush has been delayed until next month. Muntadhar al-Zaidi will stand trial in March on charges of assaulting a foreign leader. He faces fifteen years in prison. Zaidi’s attorney and family have alleged abusive treatment since his imprisonment. On Wednesday, Zaidi was applauded as he entered the courtroom.

Rejecting Prisoner Exchange, Israel Conditions Gaza Blockade on Soldier’s Release

The Israeli government has formalized its stance to condition any easing of the blockade of the entire Gaza Strip on the release a single captured Israeli soldier. On Wednesday, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel would only consider lifting the humanitarian siege of Gaza if Hamas secures Corporal Gilad Shalit’s release.

Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit: “The security cabinet decided unanimously that Gilad Shalit will be the first demand of Israel before any arrangement with the Egyptian or with the Hamas. We would like to see Gilad back home. Three years have been past and we think that we cannot come to any arrangement with the Hamas or with the Egyptian without solving the problem of Gilad Shalit, we want him back home.”

Shalit was seized in June 2006 from an Israeli military post used to stage attacks on Gaza. Israel has previously negotiated several prisoner exchanges. Some ten thousand Palestinians are currently jailed in Israeli prisons. Hamas spokesperson Fazi Barhoum called the Israeli position a non-starter, and said Hamas remains open to a prisoner swap.

Fazi Barhoum: “We will not accept linking the file of Shalit with the file of the ceasefire. If the Zionist occupier wanted a ceasefire with a breaking of the siege, the opening of the crossings, and stopping of the aggression, then we are ready for that. If they wanted something other than that, then we are open to all possibilities. We don’t oppose releasing Gilad Shalit, but only with the necessity of the responsiveness of the Zionist occupation to comply with our conditions and demands to release our prisoners and the prisoners of the Palestinian people-in accordance with the list and the general theme that the Zionist occupier already knows.”

Jailed Egyptian Opposition Leader Freed After 3 Years

In Egypt, the leading opposition politician Ayman Nour has been freed after more than three years in jail. Nour was jailed shortly he challenged President Hosni Mubarak in nation elections. The release was unexpected as he still had nearly two years left in his sentence.

Ayman Nour: “I say now that I’ve been released without any agreement, without any bargaining, without any deal. This was not offered and if it had been we wouldn’t have accepted. I’m out [of prison] to practice my rights as an Egyptian citizen.”

Greenspan Backs Nationalization of Struggling Banks

Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan has endorsed the nationalization of struggling U.S. banks. In an interview with the Financial Times, Greenspan said: “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring. I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do.” Greenspan’s embrace of neo-liberal policies during his Fed tenure has been criticized for helping to cause today’s financial crisis.

Holder: U.S. a “Nation of Cowards” on Discussing Race

Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for a national dialogue on race. In a speech marking Black History Month, Holder called the U.S. “nation of cowards” for not discussing the history of U.S. racism more openly. Holder is the nation’s first African-American attorney general.

Philip Morris Ordered to Pay $8M to Florida Widow

In Florida, the tobacco giant Philip Morris has been ordered to pay eight million dollars in damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer. Elaine Hess’s husband, Stuart Hess, died in 1997 at the age of 55. Phillip Morris faces some 8,000 similar lawsuits in Florida alone. The company says it plans to appeal.

3rd Trial Begins for Miami Terror Suspects

In Miami, federal prosecutors have launched their third attempt to convict six men accused of plotting to destroy FBI buildings and Chicago’s Sears Tower. The two previous trials ended in a deadlocked jury.

U.S. to Deport 30,000 Haitians

In other news from Miami, activists have called a protest for Saturday over U.S. government plans to deport some 30,000 Haitians. Earlier this year the Bush administration rejected a Haitian request to delay the deportations until Haiti recovers from a string of deadly summer storms.

N.Y.U. Students Occupy School Cafeteria

Here in New York, several dozen student activists have barricaded themselves inside a cafeteria at New York University. The group Take Back N.Y.U. has submitted several demands, including the establishment of socially-responsible committee, a full disclosure of the school’s annual budget and support for Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip.

Student: “The first two orders of the socially responsible finance committee will be: An in-depth investigation of all investments in war and genocide profiteers, as well as companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine.”

Family Sues Yale, Student Group Over Geronimo Remains

The family of 19th century Apache Indian warrior Geronimo has filed a lawsuit seeking to recover his remains. The suit names the U.S. government, Yale University and the Yale student society the Skull and Bones. According to legend, Skull and Bones members–including former President Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush –dug up Geronimo’s remains from his burial plot in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

UBS to Disclose Americans Holding Offshore Accounts

The Swiss banking giant UBS has agreed to release the names of wealthy American account holders believed to be using offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes. The agreement came as part of a $780 million dollar fraud settlement with the IRS. Prosecutors say UBS helped wealthy American clients hide at least one point five billion dollars in taxes from 2002 to 2007.

Sudanese Novelist Al-Tayeb Saleh Dies at 80

And the Sudanese novelist Al-Tayeb Saleh has died at the age of 80. He was considered one of the Arab world’s top novelists, with books including the 1966 classic “The Season of Migration to the North.”

Subprime Crisis causing Historic Wealth Loss for People of Color

The subprime lending crisis has a frequently ignored element of racism according to a study by United for a Fair Economy. The organization asserts that the crisis has resulted in an estimated loss of $164-$213 billion in wealth by people of color.

A recent report by United for a Fair Economy has found that the subprime lending crisis has cost the greatest wealth loss to people of color in modern United States history. The loss–documented in a report titled “Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008“–is estimated to be between $164 and $213 billion. The report argues that this is the consequence of housing discrimination against people of color.

The report explains how the subprime crisis became a racial issue:

“At the beginning of the twenty-first century, millions of people at the lower end of the economic spectrum face a new obstacle, one that has spread its tentacles across the country and across the globe. a financial product intended for limited use by a limited number of people has been parlayed into another ill-fated bubble by some mortgage lenders lacking in integrity, foresight, and any vestige of civic concern. The crisis has ruined many economic lives and many communities. It has cost the financial institutions that underwrote massive numbers of shaky subprime loans hundreds of billions of dollars. of a government bail-out. These losses triggered an economic crisis, the end of which we have not yet seen. And the next chapter in the subprime crisis could well be a deep US economic recession.

More important than all of these consequences is the targeting of people of color and poor people as the best candidates to sign up for one of these loans. In the hands of the mortgage lending industry, subprime loans became predatory loans–a faulty product that was ruthlessly hawked even though financial institutions were aware of its defects. Even a surface check of the demographics shows that, in city after city, a solid majority of subprime loan recipients were people of color.”

The key findings of the report:

* We estimate the total loss of wealth for people of color to be between $164 billion and $213 billion for subprime loans taken during the past eight years. We believe this represents the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern US history.

* From subprime loans, Black/African American borrowers will lose between $71 billion and $92 billion, while Latino borrowers will lose between $75 billion and $98 billion for the same period.

* According to federal data, people of color are more than three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55% of loans to Blacks, but only 17% of loans to Whites.

* If subprime loans had been distributed equitably, losses for white people would be 44.5% higher and losses for people of color would be about 24% lower.

* Based on improvements in Median Household Net Worth before the current crisis (from 1982 to 2004), it would take 594 more years for Blacks/African- Americans to achieve parity with Whites. The current crisis is likely to make it take much longer.

* Homeownership rates for Blacks/African-Americans compared to Whites are already starting to take back recent gains. At the current rate of improvement (from 1970 to 2006), parity will not be achieved for another 5,423 years.

* The spillover effect of the subprime crisis affects whole communities negatively, in terms of abandoned houses, increased crime, devaluation of neighboring houses, and erosion of the tax base, causing revenue shortfalls that mandate service cuts. The crisis is having a negative impact on poroperty owners, as well as neighborhoods, and local and state governments.

* Rules made the crisis worse, and rule change can make it better via better policies. Just as many policies in the past and today have supported asset development for the wealthy, so can new policies support asset development for those injured by the subprime crisis.

* Broad racial and economic inequalities need to be addressed for the success of any policy solutions to the subprime crisis.

Moreover, the racism around foreclosures and sub-prime loans must be put into the context of significant inequalities between whites and African-Americans. Some statistics included in the report:

* Forty-six percent of people of color own homes compared to 76% of their White counterparts

* A quarter of the Black population lives in poverty compared to 8% of Whites

* People of color are three times as likely as their White counterparts to live in poverty

* White median family income is more than twice Black median family income

* For every dollar of White wealth, people of color have 15 cents

In Grand Rapids, foreclosures could have a similar economic impact. A study released last fall by the neighborhood group ACORN documented the potential costs of the current rate of foreclosures. The study estimated that 521 of the high-cost loans made to in 2006 are likely to go into foreclosure, meaning a conservative loss of some $45 million for Grand Rapids area economy. Unfortunately, ACORN’s numbers for Grand Rapids do not mention race.

ACORN continues to organize on the issue and recently held a protest at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) office. ACORN offices across the country held protests due to the VA’s work with a company called Ocwen that has been unwilling to work with borrowers facing foreclosure. The local ACORN office can be reached by phone at 616-233-7518.

Additionally, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox’s office is hosting a series of “Avoid Foreclosure” events. A February 14 event is planned in Grand Rapids and will take place from 12:00pm – 7:00pm at the DeltaPlex.

Study: Statewide Bias against Gays and Lesbians in Housing

A study by the Fair Housing Centers of Michigan has found widespread bias against the LGBT community in housing. The study, conducted by Fair Housing Centers in the Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids area between May and August 2006, used actors to pose as gay and mixed gender pairs who then inquired about rental housing and homes for sale, as well as financing options at apartment complexes, real estate firms, and mortgage lenders. Of the 120 tests conducted in 39 cities and suburban areas, there was discrimination based on sexual orientation in 27% of the cases.

In Michigan, it is not illegal to refuse to sell or rent a home or apartment to gays and lesbians. Michigan’s anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, bars bias based on religion, race, and national origin, but does not include protections for the LGBT community. Around the state, municipalities have passed human rights ordinances to protect the LGBT community, but when it comes to housing discrimination, the ordinances have not made a significant impact according to the study. The study found that even in communities with human rights ordinances, discrimination still occurs 22% of the time. This is perhaps due to the fact that of the fourteen ordinances passed in the state, only Ann Arbor and Saginaw allow individuals to take legal actions against those discriminating against them. The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) used the release of the report to call on lawmakers to add sexual orientation to the categories protected by the state’s civil rights act. Seventeen states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.