Howard County Maryland Blog

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Archive for October, 2008

What McCain Doesn’t Get

Posted by Jim Walsh on Monday, October 27, 2008

As I write this, eight days before the election, I am dismayed about the course of the McCain campaign on several fronts.  It is an understatement to say that the Republican ticket has not caught fire with voters.  There’s still some hope of pulling off a victory, but those chances look slimmer and slimmer every day.  For what it’s worth, here’s my observations about some of the things that have gone wrong.

(1)  Sarah Palin – I love the selection, and I think she’s an intelligent person, but any Republican has to realize that the MSM are not your friends.  They should have prepared her better for what she was to face.  She did well enough in the debate with Joe Biden, but the Couric interview was a disaster.  And when the economy is in a meltdown, is it really necessary to spend $150,000 on clothing for her?

(2)  Spend But Don’t Tax – At the risk of committing Republican heresy, I think it’s a major mistake for McCain’s biggest mantra to be a 2008 version of “Read my lips, no new taxes.”  As recently as 2000, the federal government was running huge surpluses to the point that pundits were speculating on what would happen when the national debt was paid off and there would be no more Treasury bonds issued.  The last 7.75 years have been an irresponsible mess of tax cuts in the face of two wars and burgeoning domestic spending that has led to the debasement of the currency.  While the GOP taxes liked Republicans, they spend like Massachusetts Democrats.  Running up record deficits hardly qualifies the GOP to lay claim to being the Party of Fiscal Responsibility.  People understand that we can’t continue to run the federal government this way.  At least Obama gains some credibility when he says he’s going to raise taxes for some people.  And here’s news for Republicans:  thanks to Ronald Reagan and the Tax Reform Act of 1986, there’s a huge segment of the working population that pays little or no taxes already, and their response to Republicans is “But what have you done for me lately?”  Further tax cuts do not appeal to that group AT ALL.

(3)  Welfare in Disguise – Part of Obama’s plan is refundable tax credits for people who already pay no income taxes.  In other words, it’s not a tax break, it’s a massive welfare scheme.  Of course, the MSM won’t point that out, but why doesn’t McCain?  By wrapping up his wealth-transfer giveaway as a negative income tax, it’s going to be that much harder for future administrations to undo the damage:  “Massive tax increases on our most vulnerable,”  the Dems and the New York Times will cry.

(4)  Homeland Security – Possibly McCain’s strongest issue that he could use to his benefit is his advantage over Obama on homeland security.  And yet he’s not using it at all.  Yes, the MSM will probably twist any argument that McCain legitimately makes on this issue as a personal attack on Obama’s semi-Muslim heritage, but I repeat:  the MSM are not your friends.  They loved you when you were the outsider attacking the Republican administration, but they still hate you for being a Republican, especially when you have a chance at heading another Republican administration.  You have to craft your message carefully, and be prepared for the backlash that will follow.  I don’t buy the argument that McCain’s not raising the issue because it’s not on voters’ minds:  he needs to make it an issue and frame the debate to his advantage.  Or he can just write off one of his strong points and lose the election.

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Posted in General, Jim Walsh, Republicans | 22 Comments »

Can you guess the source?

Posted by Ed C on Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Okay, here is the opening paragraph; can you guess the author and the document?

North Philly, May 4, 2001. Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three dollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force. He’d made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

Devlin spotted him: a lone man on the corner. Another approached. Quick exchange of words. Cash handed over; small objects handed back. Each man then quickly on his own way. Devlin knew the guy wasn’t buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer. Sure enough: three bags of crack in the guy’s pocket. Head downtown and book him. Just another day at the office.

Well, North Philly (and the date) would rule our Dashiell Hammet or Mickey Spillane.  Maybe the opening for an Edward Norton crime movie?

Actually, this was written by Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts dissenting from the denial of certiorari in Pennsylvania v. Nathan Dunlap.

(h/t Weekly Standard Blog)

Posted in Ed C, General | Leave a Comment »

2009 State Business Tax Climate – MD sinking like a rock?

Posted by Ed C on Monday, October 13, 2008

Remember when Gov. O’Malley said that he wanted to raise taxes to make Maryland more “competitive” with our neighboring states?  The Tax Foundation has released its annual comparison of the Business Tax Climate (Which States Are Best for Business?  2009 State Business Tax Climate Index – Six Edition).  The summary is here and the full report (pdf) is available here.

How did Maryland fare this year?

Maryland ranks 45th overall, a drastic drop from its 24th rank last year. Maryland lawmakers achieved this remarkable feat by raising most of the state’s major taxes for FY 2009. They raised the corporate income tax rate to 8.25% from 7%, the sales tax rate to 6% from 5%, and the cigarette excise tax to $2.00 from $1.00 per pack. They also created four new income tax brackets, raising taxes on filers earning more than $150,000 per year. Maryland’s top personal income tax rate is now 6.25% (up from 4.75%); that’s on top of a weighted average local option rate of 2.98%. Maryland now has by far the worst personal income tax in the country, with a significantly lower score than second-place California.

How large was this change compared to other states? A histogram generated from the change from 2008 to 2009 in Table 1 shows how Maryland stands out from the crowd this year.

2008 - 2009 Rank Change Histogram

2008 - 2009 Rank Change Histogram

The ten worst business tax climate state ranks are:

  • 41. Minnesota
  • 42. Nebraska
  • 43. Vermont
  • 44. Iowa
  • 45. Maryland
  • 46. Rhode Island
  • 47. Ohio
  • 48. California
  • 49. New York
  • 50. New Jersey.

As for our neighbors?  Delaware ranks 10th, Virgina 15th, and Pennsylvania 28th.

Posted in Ed C, Maryland, Taxes | 5 Comments »

Housing and Prices

Posted by David Keelan on Saturday, October 11, 2008

Thomas Sowell, and economist and social commentatory, wrote an article explaining the artificially high price of housing in San Fransisco putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of well meaning enviromentalists and anti-sprawl advocates.

Sowell went on to explain that the unintended consequences were that lower income, working class, and some middle income people were priced out of the housing market.  He was speaking about police, firemen, teachers, etc.  When I visited San Fransisco eight years ago people were talking about it and were rather disgusted with the situation.  Perhaps with the burst housing bubble things got better?

Well, Barney Frank still refuses to recognize the unintended consequences of government social engineering and in particular its role in the current financial situation.  Zod thinks it is ok too.  After all it was all done with good intentions never mind the consequences.  If you don’t support it you don’t care.

What they don’t mention is that they created a market that because of easy credit housing prices sky rocketed.  They didn’t think the bubble would burst?  They didn’t think that low income households were buying houses at the high end of the market prices (bubble) and that they would end upside down on their loans?  They didn’t think that they were creating false hope?

Don’t worry about it.  Fred and Fran will pick up the tab.  After all they are backed by the US Government.

All we have to do is look around to see what those good intentions gave us and the harm that they ultimately did to the people they tried to help (I include Freddie and Frannie because they have ties to Frank as well).

It is not good public policy to force banks to make loans to people that can’t pay them back.  It is not good

“public policy to mandate lending for reasons other than the capacity of households to make their payments. ”

“The implicit operative philosophy: Our financial system is inherently unfair, and the disenfranchised should, by mandate, be dealt in on whatever terms. ”

One can say that banks should not have made the loan. But the fact is the law gave them the incentive to do so — all the more so because such loans in low-income ZIP codes were easily sold to Fannie Mae under pressure from Congress and HUD to meet its “affordable housing goals and subgoals.”

So, instead of helping those who needed help they gave them false hope, ravaged neighborhoods that were on the brink of recovery and now full of foreclosed homes.  And you, if you agree with me, are a racist and just don’t care?

Hmmm.  I wonder what Barney is doing to help these families and neighborhoods?  WIll his brand of social engineering help them now?

Read the whole article here: http://www.investors.com/editorial/editorialcontent.asp?secid=1502&status=article&id=308444032256060

Posted in General | 6 Comments »

Who Cares?

Posted by David Keelan on Saturday, October 11, 2008

Don’t we all care?

So, the Palin Report incriminates Gov. Palin for abuse of power threatening her image as a reformer.

Or does it?

Depends on where you stand.  Some people want it to hurt her and others are going to brush it off.

The GOP spin on this report prior to it’s release was very good.  They managed to sow a lot of doubt about the objectiveness of the legislative panel that released the report.

However, where there is smoke there is usually a fire smoldering somewhere.

Was it an abuse of power?  I don’t think so.  What do you think?

Report stings Palin over Troopergate flap

By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writer

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The politically charged investigation into Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is over, and its conclusions are stinging. But the fallout, if any, might not come until Election Day. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in General | 22 Comments »

Washington and New York

Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, October 9, 2008

What a duo this pair makes.  The invisible hand of the market pushed along by the environment created in DC.

Copyright New York Times Company Sep 30, 1999

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets — including the New York metropolitan region — will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates — anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

”Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990’s by reducing down payment requirements,” said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae’s chairman and chief executive officer. ”Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.”

Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980’s.

”From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,” said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ”If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.”

Under Fannie Mae’s pilot program, consumers who qualify can secure a mortgage with an interest rate one percentage point above that of a conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgage of less than $240,000 — a rate that currently averages about 7.76 per cent. If the borrower makes his or her monthly payments on time for two years, the one percentage point premium is dropped.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, does not lend money directly to consumers. Instead, it purchases loans that banks make on what is called the secondary market. By expanding the type of loans that it will buy, Fannie Mae is hoping to spur banks to make more loans to people with less-than-stellar credit ratings.

Fannie Mae officials stress that the new mortgages will be extended to all potential borrowers who can qualify for a mortgage. But they add that the move is intended in part to increase the number of minority and low income home owners who tend to have worse credit ratings than non-Hispanic whites.

Home ownership has, in fact, exploded among minorities during the economic boom of the 1990’s. The number of mortgages extended to Hispanic applicants jumped by 87.2 per cent from 1993 to 1998, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. During that same period the number of African Americans who got mortgages to buy a home increased by 71.9 per cent and the number of Asian Americans by 46.3 per cent.

In contrast, the number of non-Hispanic whites who received loans for homes increased by 31.2 per cent.

Despite these gains, home ownership rates for minorities continue to lag behind non-Hispanic whites, in part because blacks and Hispanics in particular tend to have on average worse credit ratings.

In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.

The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

2008 Howard County Flu Shot Information

Posted by Ed C on Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Howard County Health Department will be holding another Drive Thru Clinic for free flu vaccinations on Sunday, Nov 2, 2008.  No details on time or place seem to be posted yet.  A complete Howard County Heath Department schedule (pdf) is available here and more information may be posted at the http://www.howardcountymd.gov/Health/HealthMain/Health_HomePage.htm.

Flu shots are also available at local pharmacies.

  • Harris Teeter will offer a clinic on Monday 10/20 3:00 – 7:00 PM
  • Giant – Available from Pharmacists by appointment or walk up.
  • Safeway – Available from Pharmacists by appointment or walk up.

Posted in Ed C, Howard County | Leave a Comment »

Barney Frank Responds

Posted by David Keelan on Tuesday, October 7, 2008

And what does the Congressman have to say about accusations that the Democrats contributed as much to the current financial crisis as everyone else on Wall Street and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue did?

Republicans are racists.

Other than that it is a good defense for a sound bite. Then again, Barney knows the ropes.

BOSTON (AP) – Rep. Barney Frank said Monday that Republican criticism of Democrats over the nation’s housing crisis is a veiled attack on the poor that’s racially motivated. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in General | 5 Comments »

Blandair Park Committee Adopts Master Plan

Posted by Ed C on Monday, October 6, 2008

In an 11 to 7 vote, the Blandair Regional Park Advisory Committee adopted Alternate G-1 as the park concept that will go forward to the next steps in the development process.  The plan will continue to be refined as the Master Plan is developed.  The Master Plan will be presented at the Oct 15, 2008 Public Meeting in the Department of Recreation and Parks Conference Room, 7120 Oakland Mills Rd., Columbia MD at 7:30 PM.

Tonight, the advisory committee was presented with two alternatives G-1 (shown below) and I.

Blandair Alternate G-1

Blandair Alternate G-1

Alternative G-1 is a modification of the plan presented by the residents of Sealed Message at the Sept 11, 2008 public hearing.  Both G and G-1 locate the park’s multipurpose building and the skate park in the center of the park and route Oakland Mills Rd. extension to Rt. 175 through the center of the park.  The major modification in G-1 from the residents original proposal is the road is shifted slightly farther to the east.

Tonight, the Director of the Howard County Department or Recreation and Parks, Gary Arthur said he believes the department has sufficient funding to continue development of the park through the planning stage.  However, with the uncertain Maryland economy and the falling transfer tax revenues that provide the majority of park funding, he could only estimate that phase one work may be completed in 2010 – 2012 time frame.

Posted in Ed C, Howard County | 3 Comments »

Sub-Prime Antics

Posted by David Keelan on Monday, October 6, 2008

While some may not find a report from Fox News to be compelling (to each their own) they are certainly not the only organization who has a similiar spin on this issue.

Moshe Orenbuch, a Credit Suisse analyst who follows the mortgage industry, says Fannie and Freddie came under the same pressures that led private mortgage firms and companies in other industries to restate income related to derivatives.  Fannie and Freddie continued to write loans after the credit markets seized up in 2007 in order to fulfill their public mission, (affordable housing) leaving them with a greater share of the market and more problem loans. “If you take market share without tightening criteria, you effectively loosen,” notes Orenbuch.

As we saw from the CSPAN video on the previous post democrat after democrat mocked the OFHEO for calling out problems at Frannie and Freddie.

In recent years, regulators did raise questions about management at the government-sponsored housing lenders. In 2006, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), which monitors the financial health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, released a report describing an arrogant and unethical culture at Fannie Mae where employees manipulated earnings to generate higher bonuses for executives between 1998 and 2004. “Our examination found an environment where the ends justified the means. Senior management manipulated accounting; reaped maximum, undeserved bonuses; and prevented the rest of the world from knowing. They co-opted their internal auditors. They stonewalled OFHEO,” said James Lockhart, the director of OFHEO when the report was released.

While the Bush Administration called it out, and various members of Congress (mostly GOP) called for stricter regulation, Barney and Nancy and their cohorts stonewalled.

Eyes on the Wrong Prize: Leadership Lapses That Fueled Wall Street’s Fall

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