Friday, September 30, 2016

Beltway Balderdash

from the Baltimore Sun
Federal officials view Americans as largely uninformed on key public policy issues, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University.

A survey of 850 federal bureaucrats conducted by Hopkins finds that most non-elected officials think Americans know "very little" about key issues. Researchers found 73 percent of government officials think the public knows little or nothing about programs aimed at helping the poor, for instance.

The yearlong study was conducted by political scientists Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg. It will appear in a book -- "What Washington Gets Wrong: The Unelected Officials Who Actually Run the Government and Their Misconceptions about the American People" -- to be published next week.

"This disdain for the public results from the wide gulf between the life experiences of ordinary Americans and the denizens of official Washington," the authors write.

"Official Washington is wealthier, whiter and better educated than ordinary citizens. It lives in its own inside-the-Beltway bubble, where Washingtonians converse with one another and rarely interact on an intellectual plane with Americans at large."

The results and the book come during a presidential election that has amplified a sense among many voters that Washington is out of touch with the citizens they serve. Republican nominee Donald Trump has largely built a campaign around that theme.

The findings are based on a study of officials working at federal agencies, on Capitol Hill and in other Washington policy jobs.

Researchers found that 71 percent of federal officials think the public knows little or nothing about science and technology policy. Just over six in 10 think the public knows almost nothing about childcare.

Earlier findings from the study released in 2014 indicated that the federal workforce is whiter, richer, more educated and more liberal than the rest of the country.

At the time, a spokeswoman with the American Federation of Government Employees, said the study had "horrendously misrepresented the federal workplace."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Re-Inflating the Bubble

from American Thinker
On the debate stage Monday night, Hillary Clinton smugly repeated the big lie that Democrats have been telling with something close to impunity since 2008.

“We had the worst financial crisis, the Great Recession, the worst since the 1930s,” said Hillary. “That was in large part because of tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street, and created a perfect storm.”

In fact, tax policies had almost nothing to do with the recession of 2008. What caused the market crash was the collapse of the subprime market. If that collapse had an architect-in-chief, his name was Bill Clinton. This is not a speculation. It is an easily documented fact.

When Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, the homeownership rate was lower than it had been when Richard Nixon was inaugurated in 1969. Despite increasing prosperity, despite the growth in the condominium market, the numbers were declining.

The Clintons wanted to push those numbers up. If they had been inclined to look, the explanation for the decline was simple enough: the collapse of the two-parent family. From 1970 to 2000, single-parent households, disproportionately black, increased 60 percent. In that same period, married couples with their own children fell from 40 percent of all households to just 24 percent.

The Clintons and their media allies refused to acknowledge family breakdown as a problem -- remember “Murphy Brown” -- let alone as an explanation for the disparity in home-ownership rates. Their preferred explanation for just about everything unpleasant, then as now, was the inevitable racism. This they could and would freely impute to less enlightened Americans, “the deplorables” as they would come to be known.

The Clintons found the confirmation they were looking for in a 1991 study by the Federal Reserve. According to the study, 61 percent of blacks had been approved in their quest for government-backed home loans as compared to 77 percent for whites. Bingo!

To make the racism story line work, the Clintons had to ignore another significant set of data, namely, default rates. A comprehensive HUD study of FHA loans for the years 1992-1999 found that blacks were defaulting more than twice as frequently as whites, and Hispanics were defaulting three times more frequently. If minorities had been held to a higher standard, their default rates should have been lower than whites, not higher. This was obvious.

No matter. As early as 1993, HUD began to bring legal action against those mortgage bankers who declined a higher percentage of minorities than whites. In 1995, the Clinton administration put teeth in Jimmy Carter’s 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which had merely “encouraged” financial institutions to “help meet the credit needs of local communities.” Under Clinton, regulators moved from encouraging to strong-arming.

The regulators were backed by the street-level bullyboy tactics of the late and unlamented ACORN, shorthand for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Historically, banks had been reluctant to offer home loans to people who might not pay them back, and so ACORN set out to embarrass bankers into overcoming that reluctance.

A sympathetic media romanticized ACORN and turned what might have been a nuisance for the banks into a public-relations nightmare. As the New York Times reported approvingly, “The nation’s largest banks have come to the negotiating table just to silence objections that could derail or create costly delays to a merger.”

To make ACORN’s task easier, the Clinton administration demanded that banks quantify the progress they were making in giving loans to LMIs -- people of “low and moderate income.” The administration encouraged banks to use “innovative or flexible” lending practices to reach their LMI numbers.

Meanwhile HUD, which Congress had made the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 1992, began to pressure these agencies to set numerical goals for affordable housing, even if that meant buying subprime mortgages. The media cheered the agencies on. A September 1999 Times article commended Fannie Mae for prodding banks to provide mortgages to those whose credit was “not good enough to qualify for conventional loans.”

With a gun to their head, the lenders turned to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to relieve them of the imprudent loans they were now being forced to make. Before the 1990s, Fannie and Freddie had sufficiently tough lending standards that default was not much of an issue. That would change.

In 1999, the Clintons’ newly appointed CEO, Franklin Delano Raines, was boasting of the changes Fannie Mae had already made and the changes to come. As he told the Times, Fannie Mae had lowered the down payment requirements for a home and now planned to extend credit to borrowers a “notch below its traditional standards.” That notch was spelled subprime.

Given the greater risk, subprime prospects typically have had to pay more interest to secure a loan. For investors, high interest translated into high yield. In October 1997, the investment banks Bear Stearns and First Union Capital Markets underwrote the first securitization of subprime loans for a total of $385 million.

The back-patting press release announcing the launch hit all the bubble-era hot buttons: these “affordable” and “flexible” mortgages offered the possibility of credit for “low and moderate income families” in “traditionally underserved markets.”

These securities proved enormously popular. They promised a 7.5 percent yield in a low-interest environment and, if that were not enough, a chance to cleanse one’s venal Wall Street soul by doing what appeared to be a social good.

To rally the base a week before the 2000 election, the Clinton administration announced historic new regulations that would put a further squeeze on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “These new regulations will greatly enhance access to affordable housing for minorities, urban residents, new immigrants and others left behind, giving millions of families the opportunity to buy homes,” said HUD Secretary, now New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo.

The regs upped Fannie and Freddie’s “affordable housing” quota from 42 to 50 percent. “We have not been a major presence in the subprime market,” boasted CEO Raines, “but you can bet that under these goals, we will be.”

Raines deflected criticism by focusing on Fannie Mae’s success at social engineering. “We have met or exceeded our affordable housing goals, even as they have increased,” he told the Congressional Finance Committee in late 2003. He also shared the company’s “voluntary goal,” namely, to “lead the market in serving minority families.”

When President Bush expressed concern about the precarious state of Fannie and Freddie in June 2004, he triggered seventy-six Democrats in Congress to sign a letter warning that “an exclusive focus on safety and soundness is likely to come, in practice, at the expense of affordable housing.”

Despite early signs of impending disaster, Congress kept the pressure on. On June 27, 2005, Barney Frank, the ranking Democrat on House Financial Services Committee, took to the House floor to chide those who worried about a housing bubble.

“You are not going to see the collapse that you see when people talk about a bubble,” he lectured his colleagues. “So those on our committee in particular are going to continue to push for homeownership.”

And push they did. Subprime credit had become, what one wag called, “the mad cow disease of structured finance.” With a clean bill of health from the media and the Democrats, and a shockingly ignorant assist from Wall Street, the infected product was allowed to poison the entire economy.

No sweat for Hillary. The final convulsion -- Phew! -- occurred on George Bush’s watch.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Men NOT at Work

from the Washington Free Beacon
Probably since time immemorial, each generation has thought the next one lacked industriousness. But for the last half-century, this belief has been true of American men. Even as the economy has grown, a rising share of prime-age males have opted out of work.

Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis, a brief book by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, drives this point home forcefully, drawing on an impressive array of data to explain what’s happening and why.

The ups and downs of the economy obviously matter; more men stop working during recessions. But for half a century, there’s been a trend of increasing joblessness, as is especially obvious from the bars depicting decade-long averages. This trend does not go away when Eberstadt adjusts the data to account for things like rising college enrollment and an aging population.

Men who aren’t even looking for jobs are driving a lot of the trend. To judge from various surveys, these men fill their days with mindless leisure, sometimes including drugs. They are actually less socially engaged than men with jobs, with lower rates of church attendance and volunteering. In fairness, non-working men do spend about 30 minutes more each day on housework than working men, which puts them roughly on par with employed women.

Why is this happening? Eberstadt offers a number of explanations, some more controversial than others.

One obvious factor is that the economy has changed in ways that make life harder for low-skilled men, the group that has experienced the most pronounced drop-off in employment. We can argue about how much to blame immigration, trade, or technology for the shift, but the bottom line is that the days of easily available, decent-paying factory jobs for men with little education are over. This isn’t a full explanation—for instance, low-skilled immigrants don’t seem to have trouble finding jobs—but it’s a big one.

Another factor may be the rise of mass incarceration, though as Eberstadt notes, any policy change in this area must be made with an eye toward preserving public safety. Only about one-half of one percent of the American population is imprisoned at any given time, but that’s still five times the rate of the 1960s. Additionally, most prison sentences are short, meaning that while the “stock” of prisoners is low relative to the size of the total population, the “flow” of prisoners is substantial. During the course of their lives, many men enter the system and then return to society with criminal records.

Eberstadt marshals a lot of data about this problem, which is a welcome surprise given that few surveys ask about Americans’ incarceration history. But the number I found most helpful was one the book inspired me to dig up myself. In 2012, the General Social Survey asked Americans a question often seen on job applications: “Not counting minor traffic offenses, have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Among men 25-54, one-fifth said they had. Drawing on other data, Eberstadt estimates that 13 percent of adult men have been convicted not just of any crime but of a felony. Criminal records are concentrated among African-Americans and those with less education.

How does this affect the labor market? Eberstadt provides unsurprising data showing that greater involvement with the justice system correlates with less work, both among individuals and at the state level. I wish he had also cited “matched pair” studies in which actors pose as job applicants with and without criminal records. Such studies show convincingly that employers discriminate severely against men with criminal records. As a group, men who break the law are probably destined to have below-average work histories whether they get caught and convicted or not, but a criminal record makes employment even less likely for these men, and there are a lot of them.

A third argument Eberstadt makes is sure to enrage the left—indeed, the book contains a response from liberal economist Jared Bernstein taking issue with it. Eberstadt argues that the social safety net is financing men’s decisions to stop working. While the 1996 welfare reform law did a lot to promote work among single mothers, there has also been a steady rise in men collecting disability, even as jobs have become less dangerous.

Just a few months ago, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers seemingly destroyed this talking point, noting that “from 1967 until 2014, the percentage of prime-age men receiving [Social Security Disability Insurance] rose from 1 percent to 3 percent, not nearly enough to explain the 7.5 percentage-point decline in the labor force participation rate over that period.”

Eberstadt counters that other programs are available to the disabled as well—and that in the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 57 percent of men who were out of the labor force lived in homes reporting disability benefits. That number has increased 20 percentage points since 1985, and it is twice as high as the council’s figure. It may also be an underestimate, because people don’t always admit to using safety net programs in surveys.

Eberstadt doesn’t spend much time talking about solutions, keeping the book unnecessarily short at 206 pages, including two dissents, Eberstadt’s response to his critics, and endnotes. The solutions he does offer are great in theory but difficult in practice: more jobs and economic growth, safety net reform, and efforts to draw ex-prisoners into the workforce. It’s “only one person’s initial thoughts and suggestions,” he writes. Indeed.

But that doesn’t undermine the value of Men Without Work. Eberstadt is right that this is “America’s invisible crisis”: an enormous problem that is rarely discussed and will not go away on its own. Eberstadt has done more than anyone else to raise awareness of the issue and to sketch its contours.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Get Out the Vote - Democrat Style!

from PJ Media
In moments of social unrest featuring violence and crime, one would expect the only proper role of the taxpayer-funded federal government is to quash the disturbance.

However, a unit of progressive attorneys within the Department of Justice has been at the center of every significant riot during the Obama administration, and this unit -- the Community Relations Service, or CRS -- was not at those scenes to protect the safety of all citizens.

In fact, the CRS was caught encouraging the chaos.

Not only did CRS side only with the protesters and not with law enforcement, they actively facilitated the protests, even as they were turning violent.

Additionally, this same unit has a serious fraud and corruption problem.

CRS came under fire this year for internally generated charges of incompetence, out-of-control management, and abuse of taxpayer funds.

The Washington Examiner reports:
A Justice Department spokesman told the Washington Examiner that staffers from its Community Relations Service will be deploying to Charlotte ...

The department's Community Relations Service provides conflict resolution specialists across the nation "to promote peaceful resolution of conflicts and tensions," according to the DOJ's website.

"The Community Relations Service is the department's 'peacemaker' for community conflicts arising from differences of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and disability," the website says.

Despite the reasoning behind CRS's existence, their actions under the Obama administration and the Eric Holder/Loretta Lynch DOJ couldn't have strayed further from the mission.

Rather than "promote peaceful resolution," the CRS instead -- and always -- promotes resolution only in favor of the side fomenting violence.

The Justice Department Community Relations Service (CRS) was founded in 1964, originally intended to be an intermediary between contested sides in racially charged disputes. In recent years, however, CRS has been criticized for taking sides in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, and Sanford, Florida. For example:

-- A report claimed that CRS helped facilitate bus transportation for protesters to attend a rally to protest the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford.

-- In Ferguson, CRS was criticized for appearing to take sides rather than serving as an impartial intermediary. Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Ferguson after the riots and made statements that reinforced this perceived bias.

The Orlando Sentinel revealed further details of CRS's actions in Florida:
When civil-rights organizers wanted to demonstrate, these federal workers taught them how to peacefully manage crowds.

They even arranged a police escort for college students to ensure safe passage for their 40-mile march from Daytona Beach to Sanford to demand justice ...

"They were there for us," said the Rev. Valarie Houston, pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church, a focal point for the community after the unarmed teen's death. She met the peacekeepers there for the first time during a March 20 town-hall meeting. "We felt protected," she said.

Houston said the conciliators told her they act as the "eyes and ears of the community" and provided guidance about keeping their message about nonviolence clear.


Thomas Battles, the Southern regional director for Community Relations Service, arranged a Thursday meeting between Special Prosecutor Angela Corey and a group of Sanford ministers, where Corey answered questions and shared her testimony of faith.

The visit came one day after Corey announced her office charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Why was Thomas Battles not organizing a meeting with those opposed to the filing of charges? Or with the majority of Sanford residents, who had preferred an end to the protests? Or with law enforcement?

Perhaps because Battles was ... at the dentist:
Employees have complained about the personal travel of Thomas Battles. The director of southeastern states for the DOJ, Battles makes in excess of $133,000 in salary and benefits in the Atlanta office of CRS. But DOJ employees have complained that Battles is using federal dollars for personal travel from his office in Atlanta to Miami, his hometown. The DOJ employees have complained that Battles makes taxpayer-funded travel to Miami approximately 24 times a year to visit his family -- and also to attend to personal affairs such as visiting his favorite dentist for teeth cleanings. Regional CRS employees in the Miami office purportedly are not even aware of Battles being in Florida when these taxpayer-funded visits occur.
Or, perhaps Battles was signing a lease for unnecessary prime office space:
PJ Media has obtained video taken inside Justice Department offices which show empty, unused office space within leased commercial space. The offices are intended for at least twenty federal employees according to DOJ sources -- but only TWO are using them.

The Justice Department Community Relations Service offices in Dallas are on the 20th floor of the Harwood Center, a luxury downtown high rise. Justice Department sources provided PJ Media with a video taken inside the Dallas DOJ offices which documents the brazen waste of taxpayer dollars.

The video shows empty offices, boxes stacked on unused desks, jumbo window offices with couches, large conference rooms with television sets running, enormous offices which appear to be unused, stacks of printer boxes, bookshelves filled with VHS tapes, and a kitchen area with seating for four.

The video shows 58 chairs for use by just two employees working in the office.

In reality, these "civil-rights organizers" and college students aided by CRS included many intent on violence.

The taxpayer-abusing, outrageously mismanaged CRS created a further, dangerous burden on law enforcement and the local community that could have been minimized had CRS carried out its actual mission rather than encourage one side.

They were the "eyes and ears of the community" -- but only of the very small segment of the community that wished to cause a disturbance. The vast majority of Sanford residents -- who preferred to stay inside and to return to their peaceful lives immediately -- were not aided by CRS.

But they did foot their bill.

And now, they're paying for CRS to possibly encourage even more chaos in Charlotte.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Maryland Poll Results

from the Baltimore Sun
While Donald Trump has made up ground recently in several battleground states, a new independent poll released Thursday finds the Republican presidential nominee has seen no improvement in deep blue Maryland.

Democrat Hillary Clinton is leading Trump 58 percent to 25 percent in the new Goucher Poll — a slightly larger margin than she had in a poll conducted in the state late month.

The poll also found no movement in the contest to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, with Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen holding a 30-point advantage over Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga.

"The Democrat-to-Republican ratio, coupled with a large percentage of African American voters and populous progressive strongholds continue to give Democratic candidates a significant advantage in presidential election years," Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, said in a statement.

Maryland hasn't chosen a Republican for president since George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis in 1988. President Barack Obama beat Republican nominee Mitt Romney by 25 points among Maryland voters in 2012.

The poll was, conducted from September 17-20, surveyed 514 likely Maryland voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Eighty-two percent of Maryland's likely voters said politics comes up in their everyday conversations "very" or "somewhat" often. Reflecting what some believe is a heightened level of polarization nationwide, most people tend to associate with those of the same political affiliation.

Among Republican voters, 57 percent said they have "some" or "a lot" of Democratic friends. Among Democratic voters, 37 percent said they have "some" or "a lot" of Republican friends.

The poll is the first to ask about Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers in the Senate contest. She received 2 percent, not enough to qualify her to take part in the two broadcast debates scheduled in the contest. Organizers have set candidate participation thresholds at 10 percent for one debate and 15 percent for the other.

Nearly two in 10 voters are undecided in the Senate contest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Simulacrum of Constitutional Government...

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.

from The Daily Signal
On Tuesday night the Senate voted to proceed to the Continuing Resolution (CR), a bill that will allegedly fund the government until Dec. 9.

The only problem is that there isn’t actually a bill yet.

There is no text. There is no agreement between Democrats and Republicans on what the bill will fund — Planned Parenthood, the Export-Import Bank, control of the Internet — all of it remains a mystery.

Yet the Senate voted 89 – 7 to proceed to this non-existent bill..

The Senate operates under complex parliamentary rules that require a series of votes in order to “proceed to” or “get onto” a bill. The vote Tuesday night was the first in what will be a series of votes on the continuing resolution or spending bill.

And Senate leadership tried to pitch this as simply a process vote. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s, R-Ky., communications director tweeted that this vote was “just procedural” and “not a vote on the CR” or on Zika funding. Various reporters tweeted that this was just a vote on a “shell bill,” and that the text of the continuing resolution would be crafted at a later date.

But the fact still remains: on Tuesday, the Senate voted to proceed to a bill that does not yet exist.

Forget not being able to read it, or not having time to digest the policy at hand. The bill does not exist.

Despite Senate leadership’s protests to the contrary, a vote to proceed to a bill that’s not yet written is, in fact, a substantive act — particularly when there is so much at stake. The continuing resolution will be the battleground for major policies, like whether or not Planned Parenthood will receive Zika funding, if the Export-Import Bank can send taxpayer dollars to fund Boeing deals with Iran, or if the U.S. will lose control of the Internet.

All of these deals have yet to be struck (although press reports suggest that Republicans have already caved to Democrats on Planned Parenthood funding). What the Senate did Tuesday was to give the go-ahead to Senate leadership to strike those deals on their behalf. Each of the 89 senators who voted to proceed to text that they’ve never seen yielded their authority to have input on the deal, to influence the outcome of a major funding bill.

This is not just a procedural vote, and it is wrong to describe it as such. Voting to proceed to a bill is as much a substantive act as voting on the bill — different, but still substantive. In this case, the Senate voted to proceed to whatever backroom deal their leadership happens to strike.

As Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., explained his “no” vote to Congressional Quarterly, “We don’t have that text yet. It’s important that we do have that and we do know the direction that it’s going when we get to that spot.”

Lankford is right about why senators must have text before beginning any vote series, procedural or otherwise — you can’t approve the start of a process without knowing first where it’s going to end.

The McConnell-Reid era has witnessed a Senate that is less transparent, where individual members are less aware of their rights, and where there is a growing centralization of power in the Leader’s office. Tuesday’s vote was another step in that direction.

Individual senators are all equal in authority — with the same rights and the same access to the Senate rules. Senators would do well to keep that in mind next time their leadership says, “Trust us,” and tells them to approve moving forward on a bill they have yet to see.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pardon Him!

Underneath the sky where the cold winds cross
Theres an ocean where data flows
Woman in a boat out on the sea
A sea of little bits of you and me

Let it all go set it all free
You let the whole wide world see
Exactly what is going on
Exactly who was looking on
Theres no safe place to go
Now youve let that whistle blow
Show Exactly what is going on
Show Exactly who was looking on
Stories start to leak they color your name
While up above cloud turns to rain
You can feel the touch of a hand you know well
Its a very long way from Maryland

Let it all go
Set it all free
You let the whole wide world see
Exactly what is going on
Exactly who was looking on
Theres no safe place to go
Now you've let that whistle blow
Show exactly what is going on
Show exactly who was looking on
Some say youre a patriot
Some call you a sile
An American hero
Or a traitor that deserves to die
In the heart of the free world
In the home of the brave
You gave up everything
To bring down the veil

Let it all go set it all free
You let the whole wide world see
Exactly what is going on
Exactly who was looking on
Theres no safe place to go
Now youve let that whistle blow
Show exactly what is going on
Show exactly who was looking on

Let it all go
Set it free
Let it all go
Let it go free
Set it free
Huh huh huh huh haaa aaahh
information flow
information flow
information flow