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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Outdated Government Technology

GAO reports:
Federal legacy IT investments are becoming increasingly obsolete: many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported. Agencies reported using several systems that have components that are, in some cases, at least 50 years old. For example, the Department of Defense uses 8-inch floppy disks in a legacy system that coordinates the operational functions of the nation's nuclear forces. In addition, the Department of the Treasury uses assembly language code—a computer language initially used in the 1950s and typically tied to the hardware for which it was developed. OMB recently began an initiative to modernize, retire, and replace the federal government's legacy IT systems. As part of this, OMB drafted guidance requiring agencies to identify, prioritize, and plan to modernize legacy systems. However, until this policy is finalized and fully executed, the government runs the risk of maintaining systems that have outlived their effectiveness. The following table provides examples of legacy systems across the federal government that agencies report are 30 years or older and use obsolete software or hardware, and identifies those that do not have specific plans with time frames to modernize or replace these investments.
Brian Fung reports at The Washington Post:
There are parallels here to fiction, which can be just as instructive. In the 2004 hit TV series “Battlestar Galactica,” humanity comes under assault from robots that it created. Much of the human space fleet is taken by surprise, crippled by a robot-built computer virus that spreads from ship to ship thanks to the sophisticated networks linking the crafts together. The Galactica, an obsolete warship due to be mothballed, is one of the few to survive the initial surprise attack. Why? Because the Galactica’s systems were not part of the humans’ IT network, sparing it from the virus that disables the rest of the fleet. The lesson seems clear: Sometimes, newer is not better.

As it happens, a similar logic underpins the U.S. military’s continued use of floppy disks. The fact that America’s nuclear forces are disconnected from digital networks actually acts as a buffer against hackers. As Maj. General Jack Weinstein told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 2014:
Jack Weinstein: I'll tell you, those older systems provide us some -- I will say huge safety when it comes to some cyber issues that we currently have in the world.
Lesley Stahl: Now, explain that.
Weinstein: A few years ago we did a complete analysis of our entire network. Cyber engineers found out that the system is extremely safe and extremely secure on the way it's developed.
Stahl: Meaning that you're not up on the Internet kind of thing?
Weinstein: We're not up on the Internet.
Stahl: So did the cyber people recommend you keep it the way it is?
Weinstein: For right now, yes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Coming Apart, Staying at Home

Pew reports that in 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults under 35 were more likely to live with their parents (31.1 percent) than with a spouse or partner (31.6 percent).  The underlying reasons involve ominous trends of declining marriage and employment rates.
A variety of factors contribute to the long-run increase in the share of young adults living with their parents. The first is the postponement of, if not retreat from, marriage. The median age of first marriage has risen steadily for decades. In addition, a growing share of young adults may be eschewing marriage altogether. A previous Pew Research Center analysis projected that as many as one-in-four of today’s young adults may never marry. While cohabitation has been on the rise, the overall share of young adults either married or living with an unmarried partner has substantially fallen since 1990.
In addition, trends in both employment status and wages have likely contributed to the growing share of young adults who are living in the home of their parent(s), and this is especially true of young men. Employed young men are much less likely to live at home than young men without a job, and employment among young men has fallen significantly in recent decades. The share of young men with jobs peaked around 1960 at 84%. In 2014, only 71% of 18- to 34-year-old men were employed. Similarly with earnings, young men’s wages (after adjusting for inflation) have been on a downward trajectory since 1970 and fell significantly from 2000 to 2010. As wages have fallen, the share of young men living in the home of their parent(s) has risen....

The Great Recession (and modest recovery) has also been associated with an increase in young adults living at home. Initially in the wake of the recession, college enrollments expanded, boosting the ranks of young adults living at home. And given the weak job opportunities facing young adults, living at home was part of the private safety net helping young adults to weather the economic storm.
For young adults without a bachelor’s degree, as of 2008 living at home with their parents was more prevalent than living with a romantic partner. By 2014, 36% of 18- to 34-year-olds who had not completed a bachelor’s degree were living with their parent(s) while 27% were living with a spouse or partner. Among college graduates, in 2014 46% were married or living with a partner, and only 19% were living with their parent(s). Young adults with a college degree have fared much betterin the labor market than their less-educated counterparts, which has in turn made it easier to establish their own households.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TSA #Fail

Ron Nixon reports at The New York Times:
Facing a backlash over long security lines and management problems, the head of the Transportation Security Administration shook up his leadership team on Monday, replacing the agency’s top security official and adding a new group of administrators at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

In an email to staff members, Peter V. Neffenger, the T.S.A. administrator, announced a series of changes that included the removal of Kelly Hoggan, who had been the assistant administrator for the Office of Security Operations since 2013.

Beginning late that year, Mr. Hoggan received $90,000 in bonuses over a 13-month period, even though a leaked report from the Department of Homeland Security showed that auditors were able to get fake weapons and explosives past security screeners 95 percent of the time in 70 covert tests.

In addition, several employees who say they were punished with reassignments to other airports after filing whistle-blower complaints have alleged that Mr. Hoggan played a role in their forced transfers.

Mr. Hoggan’s bonus was paid out in $10,000 increments, an arrangement that members of Congress have said was intended to disguise the payments. During a hearing of the House Oversight Committee two weeks ago, lawmakers grilled Mr. Neffenger about the bonus, which was issued before he joined the agency in July.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Social Security Myths

The Social Security Trustees project that the trust funds will run out of reserves in just 18 years, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects they will run out in 13 years. Little time remains to enact sensible changes that would avoid deep cuts for nearly all seniors and workers with disabilities.
Yet too little of the discussion in Washington and on the campaign trail is about the types of solutions necessary to fix Social Security, and too much is focused on perpetuating myths that cloud the discussion. In this paper, we identify and debunk nine such myths:
  • Myth #1: We don’t need to worry about Social Security for many years.
  • Myth #2: Social Security faces only a small funding shortfall.
  • Myth #3: Social Security solvency can be achieved solely by making the rich pay the same as everyone else.
  • Myth #4: Today’s workers will not receive Social Security benefits.
  • Myth #5: Social Security would be fine if we hadn’t “raided the trust fund.”
  • Myth #6: Social Security cannot run a deficit.
  • Myth #7: Social Security has nothing to do with the rest of the budget.
  • Myth #8: Social Security can be saved by ending waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Myth #9: Raising the retirement age hits low-income seniors the hardest.
Read the short version as a printer-friendly PDF.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Federalist 86

Reposted from Epic Journey:

Reacting to news that Donald Trump had pretended to be other people while calling reporters, Roger Stone said: James Madison, John Adams,Alexander Hamilton — they all wrote under pseudonyms, they all had things they wanted to say and they wrote under pseudonyms.”

Indeed, the John Barron Center of Trump University has uncovered an example:  the long-lost 86th Federalist Paper:

Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.

It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated.  But they did make terrific statues.  Let me tell you, we will bring those statues over here and put them in beautiful fountains.

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  So to hell with angels. Now, our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that knows the art of the deal.

I'm a uniter. There are three methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; two, by controlling its effects, three, by putting me in charge. Trust me, you want number three.

A lot of you don’t know the world of economics. Don’t worry. Leave it to me. In political arithmetic, two and two do not always make four.

Forget all this talk, talk, talk about reflection and deliberation. If ever you hear low-energy losers talk about the mild voice of reason, just drown them, okay? Energy in the executive, that's what it's all about.

So what kind of president will the new Constitution give us?  Just listen to what the haters are saying. He has been shown to us with the diadem sparkling on his brow and the imperial purple flowing in his train. He has been seated on a throne surrounded with minions and mistresses, giving audience to the envoys of foreign potentates, in all the supercilious pomp of majesty. So what do you think? Doesn't that sound terrific?  I guarantee you, we will have the classiest diadems and the best minions!

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, into my very large hands would be fantastic.  After all, you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.  So leave it to me, folks, I've been saying this for a long time: everybody will do as I say.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Troubles for First-Time Home Buyers

Peter Tobias writes at US News:
[T]he government, through burdensome zoning laws and regulations is preventing construction companies from providing more entry-level homes. Although builders are able to absorb some of the regulation costs when selling luxury homes with wider profit margins, they can’t do it with tighter margins in lower end homes. Again, those most adversely affected by such policies are lower-income and increasingly minority, first-time home buyers.

Despite these obstacles, supported by an improving job market and increasing leverage, first-time buyers have been flocking into the market, even as home prices continue to boom. They now account for 52 percent of all buyers. (The AEI First-time Buyer Mortgage Share Index is based on a near-census of loans guaranteed by federal agencies.) But as more entry-level buyers chase a limited supply of homes, entry-level prices have been rising rapidly. Over the last year alone, the median home price for first-time buyers rose 8.5 percent, compared with just 2.5 percent for repeat buyers. The only way that first-time buyers can survive in this environment is by taking on even more debt. This echo of the previous housing crash is again evident in today’s market.

So what should be done to break this vicious cycle? Repealing zoning laws and regulations will take time and run into fierce opposition from NIMBY communities and industry groups such as the National Association of Realtors, who all benefit from higher prices. A more immediate solution exists in the form of the Wealth Building Home Loan, which offers an alternative for first-time buyers. Instead of the standard 30-year fixed rate mortgage, the WBHL is based on a 15- or 20-year amortization schedule. This enables borrowers to build a larger buffer against default through faster equity accumulation without sacrificing any buying power relative to a 30-year FHA loan. The Wealth Building Home Loan also requires little or no down payment. A growing number of banks are offering the loan, and government support for the loan would speed its market penetration.
When connecting the dots, current housing policies amount to nothing less than a government-sponsored wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Republican Government and Presidential Selection

Peter Wehner writes:
The founders themselves favored a republic rather than a direct democracy precisely because they were suspicious of the temporary passions of the people, believing it was the responsibility of political leaders and our system of government to contain, channel and refine them.
Irving Kristol made this point when he wrote:
My friend the late Martin Diamond, one of the most thoughtful of political scientists, used to say that the American democracy is based on one key assumption: that the people are usually sensible, but rarely wise. The function of our complex constitutional structure is to extract what wisdom is available in the people, at any moment in time, and give it a role in government. Our system of representation (as distinct from direct, participatory democracy) is supposed to play this role, as do the bicameral Congress, the separation of powers, our federal arrangements, and the Constitution itself with its careful delineation of rights and prerogatives. Ultimately, of course, the popular will cannot be denied in a democracy. But only “ultimately.” Short of the ultimate, the Founders thought it appropriate that popular sentiments should be delayed in their course, refracted in their expression, revised in their enactment, so that a more deliberate public opinion could prevail over a transient popular opinion.
In sum, then: The argument for or against Donald Trump as president revolves around one’s judgment as to his fitness to serve as president. If you believe, as many Republicans now seem to, that he is qualified – even exceptionally well qualified – to lead the United States, you’ll obviously support him over Hillary Clinton. If you believe, as others do, that his vices – intellectual, temperamental, characterological – disqualify him from being president, then invoking unity or the will of the people is entirely unpersuasive. And if you believe that both major party candidates are fundamentally unfit to be president you are not under any obligation to choose one over the other.