Foreclosures and short sales are pulling prices down at markets throughout the country. That hurts both sellers and homeowners seeking to refinance. That's because a homeowner needs to get his or her property appraised in order to refinance, and lenders won't allow refinancing if the appraisal doesn't support it. That screws buyers who bought their properties during the housing mania. Since they can't refinance, they may just walk away from their houses. More foreclosures. More price declines. That's where the small-homeowner bailout comes in, putting an end to this vicious circle.

Will Obama do it? Or will he or Geithner find an excuse not to engage in this sensible action? I'm not holding my breath. I think that they're reasonably happy that the market seems to be holding up for the time being, and that we're all numb to the bad news from the housing market. Obama is not going to jeopardize his Wall Street contributions by taking such a dramatic action. He'll recognize, like the smart Chicago pol that he is, that people dissatisfied with his policies haven't much choice next year. So the Great Housing Depression of 2008-20?? will continue -- unless Obama thinks that feeling of overwhelming numbness might derail his chances for reelection. Not likely, but we have a right to hope.

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Gary Weiss has covered Wall Street wrongdoing for almost a quarter century. His coverage of stock fraud at BusinessWeek won many awards, and included a cover story, �The Mob on Wall Street,� which exposed mob infiltration of brokerages. He uncovered the Salomon Brothers bond-trading scandal, and wrote extensively on the dangers posed by hedge funds, Internet fraud and out-of-control leverage. He was a contributing editor at Conde Nast Porfolio, writing about the people most intimately involved in the financial crisis, from Timothy Geithner to Bernard Madoff. His book "Born to Steal" (Warner Books: 2003), described the Mafia's takeover of brokerage houses in the 1990s. "Wall Street Versus America" (Portfolio: 2006) was an account of investor rip-offs. He blogs at garyweiss.blogspot.com.

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