November 09, 2010

Not Gone for Good

Modern Times is not dead.

There have been enough comments to inspire me to pick this project back up some time soon. My apologies for the delays.

August 30, 2010

Was I really gone, or did the country just run out of news?

Alright, I've been gone for some time, so I'm going to try and put something of interest up.

Well, actually, despite being gone for awhile, not a whole lot really happened. In fact, so little happened, that the left and right leaning writers actually took the time to take substantive shots at one another, rather than the usual side-swipes and pot-shots.

Timothy Egan, who writes for the New York Times from the West Coast, wrote an article attacking the ignorant elements of the right, with particular focus on the lingering notion that Obama is in fact a Muslim.

A perturbed Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post), responded by criticizing the pretentious and arrogant left-wing intellectuals. The Wall Street Journal, in its as-always fairly clever "Best of the Web" followed up on this theme.

The whole debate is well-worth reading, but I'd recommend reading it in that order.

In other news, Glenn Beck held a rally at the MLK memorial in D.C. on the 47th anniversary of the historic "I Have a Dream Speech." The Reverend Al Sharpton held a smaller rally nearby. None of that is really all that interesting, but what is interesting is that Alveda King, MLK's neice, showed up to speak at the rally...and she wasn't speaking on Al Sharpton's side.

Also, for the first time ever, there are now three women on the Supreme Court, but will it affect anything?

Last, for now, according to the San Francisco Federal Reserve, immigrants actually increase the wealth of everyone and lead to real-income gains for all workers. The paper does not differentiate between illegel and legal immigrants (compare the legal Indian doctor, whose income raises the GDP per capita against the illegal Mexican migrant worker), so I'm sure there will be more follow-up on this in coming days.

August 19, 2010

And, Tentatively, We're Back

This post is for whoever commented that I was two days behind. (As a side note, I'm preparing for the upcoming semester, which starts Monday, so forgive me in advance if the post rate is slower for the next few days.)

Here's an interesting set of articles. Congress recently passed a $600 million Border Security upgrade. It's paid for by increasing the price of H-1B visas for skilled immigrants, which I previously argued was a poor decision. However, since that provision of the bill makes it a "revenue-raising bill" it Constitutionally needs to be passed first by the House. To amend this mistake, a mere 2 senators went to D.C. during the current recess and passed the bill "unanimously." What does $600 million get you for border enforcement? Apparently, not a whole lot. Since they're now using unarmed predator drones for surveilance on the border, maybe they should just arm them with net launchers.

The bill is a response to the recent angry flare of voters over illegal immigrants and also by the Arizona law allowing state police the power to dabble in immigration matters. Apparently, to fan the flames a little, a recent study by the Pew Foundation disclosed that illegal immigrants accounted for 1 in 12 births in 2008. I've always been fascinated by how studies of illegal immigrants are done. If it's so simple to find the illegal immigrants, why does Customs seem to have such a hard time with the task?

On a different topic, here's a somewhat interesting article on the high turnover rate of White House staffers. Yes, even during a recession.

Last, for the literary-inclined among us, here's an article from Foreign Policy on the importance of literature in statecraft.

August 13, 2010

Vacation

I'll be on vacation until Tuesday and then blogging will resume. Have a nice weekend.

August 12, 2010

GSEs, FHA, and the Justice Department

So, today there were three different New York Times Op-Eds on either the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or all three. The FHA is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The FHA secures mortgages made by banks and thereby reduces the risk for banks to lend. It formerly secured about 2% of all mortgages. Following the crisis, it now secures more than 30% of all mortgages and despite billing itself as entirely self-funded, it's losses may run as high as $100 billion because of the crisis. Fannie and Freddie are what are known as Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE), meaning that they are privately run but more or less government secured from loss due to risk. Simply by the description, does this sound like a disaster waiting to happen? Well, they did fine for many years in fact, but following the excessive risk taken by the financial industry prior to the crisis, and then happily secured by the GSEs, the government placed them back into conservatorship and the losses that taxpayers will subsidize will well exceed $150 billion. The first Op-Ed argues that we need to wind them down slowly, but for good.

But, why are Fannie, Freddie, and the FHA still such hot topics? Well, despite passing the 2,000 page Dodd-Frank bill (which I noted yesterday is so worthless that Goldman Sachs already sidestepped the Volcker Rule) fails to address what to do with Fannie and Freddie. 2,000 pages and they're not dealt with because they're simply too complicated to be dealt with. But wait, it appears that one small clause does deal with the FHA, but only to exempt it from the requirement that it maintain 5% of the risk on it's securities, which would prevent banks from making lots of paper loans with no backing, as happened during the crisis. When the card house fell, there was nothing at the foundation to stop it. It's somewhat expected that Fannie and Freddie may get exempted as well. 10 more points to the increasingly worthless Financial Regulation Bill.

The third Op-Ed calls on the government to help modify loan packages so that peopel will more easily be able to afford them. Compare it to the previous two posts.


This next one made me absolutely furious and moved my faith-in-government meter down two notches. It's an Op-Ed from Kevin O'Brien in the local Plain Dealer on the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department meddling in election affairs. One of the examples he notes is in a place called Kingston, North Carolina. The make up of the town is 2/3 black. Of all registered voters, slightly more than 64% are black. The area is staunchly democratic. (You can read about all of this in the actual Justice Department Findings.) So the voters there want to switch to a non-partisan system of voting. No big deal, right? Wrong. The Justice Department says that just because blacks are 2/3 of the population and well over 3/5 of the registered voters, the fact that in the last four elections they constituted a minority or potentially very slim majority means that they are still, for all practical purposes, considered a minority. I'm literally paraphrasing the Justice Department findings. But wait, it gets better. Not only is the majority population there considered a minority for effective purposes because its voters are apparently too apathetic to vote, it violates the Civil Rights Act to move to a non-partisan system. Why paraphrase when you can actually quote: "Removing the partisan cue in municipal elections will, in all liklihood, eliminate the single factor that allows black candidates to be elected to office." There you have it, the Justice Department has declared, in one of the most offensive and patronizing things I've ever read, that without being able to associate with the Democratic Party, black candidates will not be able to get elected to office. I'm literally at a loss on this one. Comments?

Last, in other Ohio news, the 8 major regional newspapers collectively filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the details of the 400,000 currently retired public employees collecting public pensions, in order to check for abuse and excess. Public officials salaries are, after all, public information. Apparently when they retire, that changes. The 5 Pension funds in question refused. The state is currently considering raising taxes to, in part, help pay for pension fund shortfalls. At least, because of this, several legislators in the statehouse are working on resolving the problem. Until then, however, this essentially amounts to:

Government: "We're going to raise taxes to pay for our inability to regularly fund the pension fund, which may or may not also be somewhat the result of us offering public employees excessive benefits in the first place."

Fourth Estate: "We see. Well, can we check out the fund first, in order to, you know, make sure no one's cheating the system and robbing the taxpayer?"

Government: "No."


Does anyone seriously wonder, except for perhaps the Professional Left, why no one trusts the government anymore?

First, the Comic Relief

Just so the blog's not all gloom and doom, today we'll start off with Gail Collins for our regular comic relief.

Second, because Chicago politics are so corrupt it's laughable, the jury is back on former governor Rod Blagojevich. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous conclusion of 22 of 24 counts, despite the FBI surveilance tapes of Blago talking about selling that senate seat.

August 11, 2010

Education

There seems to be a lot of rumbling in the tubes lately about education. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the Congress recently passed a $26 Billion bill to aid the states in paying for Medicare and Teacher salaries.

Needless to say, the Right and the Libertarians were not happy in the slightest. The Wall Street Journal railed against the "Stimulus Pushers."

Cato, in an article worth reading to look at the graphs, calls it the Bailout that Just Won't Die, and criticizes the fact that, since 1970, the amount of money spent on education has more than doubled with 0 increase in test scores. Additionally, the hiring by schools blows the increases in enrollment out of the water. They, elsewhere, criticize teachers as a "Super Special Interest."

Other rumblings include the New York Times noting that New York City graduation rates, while increasing, aren't having that much of an effect on college graduation rates and an incredible number of NYC students must take remedial college courses, meaning, of couse, that High School standards are simply being watered down to increase the numbers.

Also, Ezra Klein responds to a finding that students are studying less today than in the past by essentially using the finding as evidence for the claim that privilege and position are really what matter when it comes to kids getting diplomas, not hard work. I, on behalf of everyone paying their own way through college, would like to kindly disagree and extend the finger to Mr. Klein. But no hard feelings, I'll still keep linking to your articles.

Just to prove it, here's a Klein graph on the effects of the recession by education.

And, Senator Ted Stevens is in fact dead. The internet salutes him.