Michael Wolff, Topic-Killer

A mostly political weblog.
April 22 2009 7:14 PM

Michael Wolff, Topic-Killer

Stop Him Before He Kills Again: Michael Wolff, as a friend of mine once argued, is a Topic-Killer. He has a talent for figuring out what everyone would want to talk about, and then he writes a quick, mediocre piece on the subject that doesn't do it justice or that takes an extreme position for effect--but that says just enough to kill off the interest of other, better journalists in tackling the issue . ... The social problem we now face is that Wolff has started a web site, which he has to promote--meaning he now kills a promising topic every day. Today, it's Drudge . ... [ You just killed the topic of Michael Wolff's topic-killing--ed. I have that power? No. I can't even stop myself from re-doing the same item over and over] ...   2:55 A.M.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

He and a group of company lawyers tussled with the company's regulator in early March as the firm prepared to file its quarterly disclosure. The group insisted that Freddie Mac disclose the $30 billion cost to the company of carrying out the Obama administration's housing recovery plan, but the regulator urged the company not to do so.

Freddie Mac employees argued they had a legal obligation to disclose the information and would have to get the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees such disclosures, to sign off if they didn't. The regulator backed down.

Alert reader J. says, "[A]n odd story, isn't it?  The regulator says don't disclose the cost of this government program?  Why would he say that?" ... There's an obvious overarching reason--it would be embarrassing to the Obama administration. But why? Isn't the administration usually boasting about how much it's spending for struggling homeowners? ...

Update: Politico 's Josh Gerstein offers some informed speculation :

In the end, FHFA [the regulator] reportedly retreated and Freddie formally disclosed that the Obama anti-foreclosure plan could force the firm, which is in a federal government conservatorship, to take a pre-tax charge of $30 billion.

While the Obama administration might not want to have the pricetag for its foreclosure efforts look too big, the reason regulators may have pressured Fannie to understate the cost of the program is pretty simple: both Obama and Geithner said publicly that it wouldn't have a material financial impact on Fannie or Freddie.

Why would Obama and Geithner make such an estimate? Because they were publicly buying into the Juiceboxy free-lunchish, counterintuitive** notion that if only lenders were made to offer more lenient terms to homebuyers, the lenders would make more money!  (Obama:  "While Fannie and Freddie would receive less money in payments, this would be balanced out by a reduction in defaults and foreclosures.") Looks like those numbers don't add up--though you can expect the free-lunch argument to crop up again in the current effort to get credit card companies to offer less harsh terms (i.e., as if that will let banks pay off their bailout loans quicker ). ...

P.S.:   Gerstein does raise the issue of why the "FHFA would feel obligated to carry water for the Obama administration," given that FHFA Director James Lockhart was originally a Bush appointee. ... 

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**--The intuitive notion would be that if there's one thing rapacious lenders know how to do, it's make money. If setting more relaxed terms would maximize their profits, they'd do it. ...   4:34 P.M.

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Guess this feud is over: Nancy Pelosi speaks out in defense of Jane Harman !

"I have great confidence in Jane Harman," Pelosi said. "She's a patriotic American. She would never do anything to hurt her country."

Thanks, Nancy ... for, you know, emphasizing the whole unpatriotic, betray-your country issue. ... P.S.:  I used to work for Harman and like her. Maybe I'm biased. But I don't completely understand what all the fuss is about. So someone convinces her that this prosecution is unfair and she says she'll probably lobby against it. And then this person puts in a good word for her with Pelosi about committee assignments. If this person is also (unbeknownst to Harman) a spy what does that change? Is that different than if they were an ambassador, or foreign leader, or foreign pundit, or New Republic editor? Or president of a respected non-profit? Seems like everyday politics. No secrets were leaked to anyone, as far as I know. Whether it's corrupt or not depends on whether Harman genuinely thought the prosecution was unfair, which in turn depends at least in part on whether it really was unfair, no? But maybe I'm missing something. ... 4:33 P.M.

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