Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Progress in reducing segregation:

[I]n 1960, blacks made up less than 1 percent of the population in 56 percent of city census tracts (tracts are census-defined units with about 5,000 inhabitants). Almost one in five tracts had no black Americans. By 1990, only about 7 percent of city tracts were 100 percent white.

As the figure shows, as of 1970, almost 80 percent of either whites or blacks would have had to move neighborhoods in order to achieve an even distribution of whites and blacks within the average metropolitan area. By 1990, that dissimilarity measure had dropped to 66 percent; it is 54 percent today. We are very far from living in a perfectly integrated society, but our nation is far more integrated than it was 40 years ago.

The progress over the last decade has been particularly dramatic. Every one of the 10 largest metropolitan areas experienced drops in both dissimilarity and isolation of 3.6 points or more. The isolation index is below 45 percent in every one of those 10 largest areas, except for Chicago. Long among the most segregated places in America, the Windy City has experienced a particularly dramatic decline in segregation since 2000.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When did income inequality grow the most:

Friday, January 20, 2012

It's not a bad movie, clumsy North Korean assassins really do exist:
But more than his appearance, they will likely be remembering the chilling words he spoke: ‘I came here to cut Park Chung-hee’s throat.’

Kim was a would-be assassin, sent to kill the then-South Korean president. It was January 1968, and Kim was being presented to the nation live on TV. He had just been captured after a bloody, days-long chase, and was the only one of 31 North Korean commandos captured alive by South Korean authorities.

Kim’s journey may seem like the kind of horror story consigned to the annals of Cold War history. But recently, South Koreans have been forced to re-confront some old truths involving the brutal world of secret agents. Covered in the national media with headlines that sent a collective shudder down the spine of the nation, in late September it emerged a man allegedly posing as a North Korean defector had attempted to murder a high-profile anti-Pyongyang activist in Seoul using poison-tipped pens – on the orders of the North. It’s an incident, say experienced observers, which presents a timely reminder that North Korean spies still operate in their midst.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The uncomfortable link between Section 8 housing vouchers and rising crime.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How can a prison gang tax street gangs at levels of 10-30%?

Monday, January 16, 2012

The US's expanding military role in Africa:
Plen­ty of peo­ple have ask­ing; why are we now pub­licly announc­ing that U.S. troops are chas­ing the LRA and that we’re build­ing air­fields in Africa after years of Pen­ta­gon being very wary of too much pub­lic­i­ty for its African ops? Could the Pen­ta­gon’s inter­ests in Africa have grown beyond sim­ply fight­ing Islam­ic ter­ror­ists to fight­ing desta­bi­liz­ing insur­gen­cies across the con­ti­nent? Or maybe these moves are meant to check increased Chi­nese influ­ence on the con­ti­nent? This is pure spec­u­la­tion, there could be a ton of answers to this ques­tion.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What is the root cause of the financial crisis? Left leaning commentators blame greedy banks and Wall Street, while right leaning pundits point out the role of the GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well has the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Even now, many on the left accuse the right of inventing the "myth that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis" as Joe Nocera did last month in the pages of the NYT. Much of the early data was on their side, showing that FM/FM held very small portions of the sub-prime market. However, that data is changing, and the scale of it is shocking (chart from the SEC):

One of the most significant markers, to me, of the weakness of the progressive argument is the utter dearth of criminal charges against the banks for fraud and mis-representation of they types of loans that they were repackaging. Such fraud seems to be the core of the left-leaning argument. Recently, the tide has been turning. Fraud charges have been filed not against the banks, but against executives of the GSEs over their subprime portfolio:
The S.E.C. charged the most serious violations in its arsenal: intentional fraud under Rule 10b-5 and, for Mr. Mudd and Mr. Syron, the filing of false certifications of the corporate financial statements. The crux of the cases is that the executives misled investors about Fannie and Freddie’s exposure to subprime mortgages by playing down these low-end loans even though their value on the books ballooned in the two years before the housing market collapsed in 2008...

[T]he case will focus on what constitutes a “subprime” mortgage, a term that does not have any fixed meaning. In a pie chart accompanying the complaints, the S.E.C. portrays how the disclosures about Fannie and Freddie’s exposure to subprime mortgages was minuscule compared with the total amount of such loans on the books.

Over at the AEI, Peter Wallison and Edward Pinto have some details of the scale of the misrepresentation:
Of particular interest are Fannie and Freddie’s non-prosecution agreements with the SEC, in which they agree with facts that confirm—and in many cases go beyond—our original research concerning the scope of the GSEs’ subprime and Alt-A exposure. These are facts, and Nocera and others who might wish it otherwise should become familiar with them.

For example, in its non-prosecution agreement Freddie agreed that as of June 30, 2008, it had $244 billion in subprime loans, comprising 14 percent of its credit guaranty portfolio, rather than the $6 billion it had previously disclosed. Freddie also agreed that it had $541 billion in reduced documentation loans alone, vastly more than the $190 billion in previously disclosed Alt-A loans which Freddie had said included loans with reduced documentation.

While the SEC documents about $1.03 trillion in previously undisclosed subprime and Alt-A loans in Fannie and Freddie’s credit guaranty portfolios, an estimated $812.8 billion, or about 80 percent, were already accounted for in the totals of Fannie and Freddie subprime and Alt-A exposures included in Pinto’s Forensic Study and Wallison’s Dissent from the majority report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

The SEC findings add $219 billion and 1.43 million loans to our original Fannie and Freddie subprime and Alt-A totals, bringing the combined subprime and Alt-A total to $2.041 trillion and 13.37 million loans.

All told, after adding the SEC’s new data to our original estimates, there were approximately 28 million subprime and Alt-A loans outstanding on June 30, 2008, before the financial crisis, with a value of approximately $4.8 trillion. This was half of all mortgages in the United States. Of these loans, over 74 percent were on the books of U.S. government agencies and firms subject to government housing finance policies.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Joel Klein (!) on the recent HHS study on the effectiveness of Head Start:
We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program's effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

According to the Head Start Impact Study, which was quite comprehensive, the positive effects of the program were minimal and vanished by the end of first grade. Head Start graduates performed about the same as students of similar income and social status who were not part of the program. These results were so shocking that the HHS team sat on them for several years, according to Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, who said, "I guess they were trying to rerun the data to see if they could come up with anything positive. They couldn't."

If even Time Magazine is referring to Head Start as criminal and ineffective, then it is time that we shut it down.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Army Times has a great six part series on the covert war that we are conducting in Somalia against al-Qaida (parts one, two, three, four, five and six). An excerpt:
That [CIA] officer was present when the Kenyan authorities arrived at the café to arrest the suspected al-Qaida emailer, only to find two suspects — both male, one larger than the other — instead of one. With the case officer on the phone with the Nairobi station reporting events in real time, the police placed both under arrest and were about to put them into a paddy wagon when the larger suspect, later identified as a young Kenyan named Faisal Ali Nassor, suddenly gave his companion a sharp shove and then pulled a grenade from his clothes. “One guy pushes the smaller guy away from him,” said a special operations source with firsthand knowledge of operations in the Horn. “The [larger] guy blows himself up and takes the police out.”

The explosion killed Nassor and a policeman. In the ensuing chaos, the other suspect made a run for it. To the surprise of the CIA and the Kenyan authorities, that man turned out to be Harun Fazul, East Africa’s most wanted man with a $5 million bounty on his head. “Clearly we didn’t expect to get Fazul himself,” the intelligence source said. “We figured we’d get just his courier.”

But rather than just being a courier, Nassor was “a suicide bodyguard,” said the special ops source.

Security forces converged on the scene, but Fazul was too smart for them. He ran into a mosque and emerged disguised as a woman, wearing a hijab or some other form of Islamic facial covering. “He walked right out as a woman and nobody touched him,” the intelligence source said.

Fazul had moved in with Nassor that July. Using an ID seized from one of them, the security forces went straight to their apartment. There they found Fazul’s passport, a machine for making visas, “bits and pieces of other passports,” as well as a light anti-tank rocket hidden in a couch, said the special ops source. But of Fazul himself, there was no sign. The wily operative had again given the authorities the slip. It would be another eight years before Fazul’s tradecraft — and his luck — would fail him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Occupy Wall Street:

via Powerline.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The economic suicide of Hollywood:
Production-code-era Hollywood hadn’t ignored the darker side of human existence, but even its hardest-boiled noir films weren’t anything like this. The countercultural movies of “New Hollywood”—such as Arthur Penn’s violent, criminal-glorifying Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Robert Altman’s cynical antiwar comedy M.A.S.H. (1970), Hal Ashby’s sordid paean to the sexual revolution Shampoo (1975), and Martin Scorcese’s urban nightmare Taxi Driver (1976)—wowed critics, who shared their anti-establishment and anti-American attitudes.

But moviegoers turned up their noses. Weekly film attendance in 1967, the first year after Hollywood dumped the production code, plummeted to 17.8 million, from 38 million the year before (television had already eroded moviegoing from its late-1940s peak of 90 million a week). “In a single one-year period,” Medved notes, “more than half the movie audience disappeared—by far the largest one-year decline in the history of the motion picture business.” That audience then hovered around 20 million for the next three decades, despite a growing U.S. population...

Still dominated by countercultural types, Hollywood keeps churning out “edgy,” envelope-pushing movies—more than half of its films receive R ratings, for example—and Americans keep giving them thumbs-down, as the correlation of profit and ratings shows. Only five of the 50 top-grossing movies of all time have R ratings, and 13 of the top 100. A big 2005 Dove Foundation study examined the 3,000 most widely distributed Hollywood movies from 1989 through 2003 in each ratings category. It found PG- and PG-13-rated films between three and four times more profitable on average than R-rated ones—and G films, like this year’s hit nature documentary, March of the Penguins, more profitable still. The average R movie loses $6.9 million, the study showed; the average PG movie made nearly $30 million; the typical G movie made over $70 million.
Guy Laramee, landscapes carved from books:

Monday, January 9, 2012

What was the cause of the sub-prime mortgage scandal?
Beginning in 1992, the government required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to direct a substantial portion of their mortgage financing to borrowers who were at or below the median income in their communities. The original legislative quota was 30%. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development was given authority to adjust it, and through the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations HUD raised the quota to 50% by 2000 and 55% by 2007.

It is certainly possible to find prime borrowers among people with incomes below the median. But when more than half of the mortgages Fannie and Freddie were required to buy were required to have that characteristic, these two government-sponsored enterprises had to significantly reduce their underwriting standards.

Fannie and Freddie were not the only government-backed or government-controlled organizations that were enlisted in this process. The Federal Housing Administration was competing with Fannie and Freddie for the same mortgages. And thanks to rules adopted in 1995 under the Community Reinvestment Act, regulated banks as well as savings and loan associations had to make a certain number of loans to borrowers who were at or below 80% of the median income in the areas they served.

Research by Edward Pinto, a former chief credit officer of Fannie Mae (now a colleague of mine at the American Enterprise Institute) has shown that 27 million loans—half of all mortgages in the U.S.—were subprime or otherwise weak by 2008. That is, the loans were made to borrowers with blemished credit, or were loans with no or low down payments, no documentation, or required only interest payments.

Of these, over 70% were held or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie or some other government agency or government-regulated institution.

Meanwhile, have we learned from our mistakes? No:
Just days before Christmas, the Obama administration gave Bank of America a big lump of coal, levying a hefty $335 million dollar fine on the company for discriminating against minorities in its lending practices...

If a borrower can’t afford a down payment, Obama appears to view charging a higher interest rate as discrimination. Lenders also think that they shouldn’t treat borrowers whose sole source of income is welfare or unemployment insurance, the same as those applicants who have a job. But Obama, again, appears to view this as discrimination.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I've talked in the past about the flaws in the measurement of the poverty line, and the Obama administration has responded by introducing a new method of measuring poverty, which appears to be even worse. Mikey Kaus quotes Richard Bavier, formerly of the OMB, but now with the left-leaning Brookings Institution:
[T]he New Poverty Line line isn’t really a measure of what people need. For one thing, it starts its calculations at “the 30th to 35th percentiles of spending on food, clothing and shelter by two-adult, two-child families", who are among the most prosperous families, compared with say, one parent, two child families–indeed, even at the 33d percentile their income is apparently above the median income for all families of all types. (There seems to be some complicated fiddling with this measure to bring it a little more back in line with reality, which only adds to the New Poverty Line’s incomprehensibility.)

The New Poverty line is (most importantly, to my mind) not an absolute measure like the familiar Old Poverty Line. It is a moving goal post that rises as others in society get richer–a measure of inequality, in this sense, not poverty. …

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Richard Landes's short film Pallywood, on Palestinian photojournalism:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chicago Magazine on Gangs and Chicago politics:
And though gangs are anything but a monolithic voting bloc, they can, and sometimes do, offer enormous numbers come election time, especially when you count their relatives, friends, and those they muscle at the polls. “An alderman ain’t nothing without the backing of the neighborhood,” says a top-level Gangster Disciple from the South Side. “Without the gangs, it’s hard [for politicians] to exist.”

A Latin King, interviewed at Cook County Jail, recalls how the top leader of his gang, the Corona, ordered every member in his area to vote for Ricardo Muñoz, the 22nd Ward alderman. “Every chapter had to vote for that guy, anyone who was eligible to vote,” says the Latin King. “That was a direct order. That means you can’t say no. If you do, you face a violation”—typically a beating, or worse.

He estimates that the gang delivered hundreds of votes, maybe even a thousand or more, in one of Muñoz’s elections in the 1990s. Moreover, he says, members were also directed—under the threat of punishment—to pass out campaign flyers for Muñoz and walk around carrying his signs. They were instructed to wear their Sunday best: ties, khakis, trench coats. “No thug clothes,” he recalls.
Later on, the article details direct connections between an Alderman and the leaders of the the Gangster Disciples:
Rahiem Ali died on March 23, 2010, after ingesting a plastic bag of narcotics during an arrest and falling into a coma. (As he lay in the hospital, [the Alderman's son] Brendan Shiller represented him in court on charges of aggravated battery to a police officer and resisting arrest.) Ali’s death was ruled an accident by the Cook County medical examiner. Helen Shiller, still the alderman of the 46th Ward, reached out to the family, giving $200 to his mother the day before services were held at a West Side funeral home. The official record categorizes the expenditure as “community outreach–funeral expenses” from Citizens for Shiller, her campaign fund.

That a sitting alderman would help pay for the funeral of a notorious gangster shows how the interests of politicians and gangs can intertwine. For the Ali twins, the connection conferred an above-the-law aura. For their mother, it offered the opportunity to work in the community as part of the alderman’s inner circle. For Shiller, the relationship seems to have brought street cred and political muscle that helped her fend off tough challenges at the ballot box.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ruben Salvadori, a 22-year-old Italian photographer on the impact of photojournalism:
Copyright © Swing Right Rudie
A notebook to myself