Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sub-prime Mortgage Crisis: Dan Haar

Speaking tongue and cheek about the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, The Long Johns is a satirical British sketch comedy program which skewers news much like Jon Stewart on The Daily Show is known for, but as they sit and discuss investment bankers, the market, and the simpletons who were presumably duped by mortgage salesmen, they seem to be fairly accurate albeit entertaining.

By late October, countless news programs had gone through the notions of the subprime crisis explanation; even Internet websites like Youtube contained several homemade versions of, what they believed to be, the appropriate and most accurate depiction of the problem. As if it still hadn't been uncovered yet, National Public Radio's 'This American Life' thought many Americans were still left clueless as to what happened, so they created and dedicated two shows to the situation.

But was this enough? The media is known for taking a subject and churning out massive amounts of the same information in all sorts of directions, waiting for the public to take a bite.

In an interview conducted over the phone, Dan Haar, Business Editor and Columnist at The Hartford Courant, said he believed the media did okay with what they were given. “At it's heart, this has never been complicated and the so-called mainstream media had for the most part called it like it is, yet another investment bubble,” he said.

Defining the elements involved in this master scheme, Alex Blumberg, contributing editor of NPR's 'Planet Money', painted a mental picture for his audience in describing the world's collective subset of savings as a 'giant pool of money.' To increase the size of the pool, the bankers who oversee the 70 trillion dollars needed a low-risk, high return investment bubble: mortgage loans. In the first fifteen minutes of this special explanatory report, Blumberg and Adam Davidson had, domino by domino, knocked down the specifics; even translating Alan Greenspan's lingo into lamens terms.

Most programs explained the assembly package process of the mortgages and how they're multiplied and bundled. John Bird, portraying an investment banker, described the package of mortgages as they're moved along to Wall Street: “Suddenly this package of dodgey debts stops being called a package of dodgey debts, and starts being called a structured investment vehicle,” he said. Bird then gave a fake scenario of how an investment banker would buy and sell the 'SIV's' all over the globe. “I will ring up someone in Tokyo and say, 'I have this package, would you like to buy it?' and they, 'What's in it?' and I say, 'I haven't got the faintest idea,' and they say, 'How much do you want for it?' and I say, 'One hundred million dollars' and they say, 'Fine that's it.' The comical rendition of the situation was funny yet simplistic.

A major trend in all financial meltdowns seem to show an increase of explanations and reports after blow ups are reported as extreme; not so much beforehand as the problem intensifies. Explaining that the crisis has unfolded since 2006, Haar said, “The need to understand what happened and the levels and layers of ramifications had evolved, obviously to the point where the problem is far larger than all of the bad mortgages put together.”

Diving deeply into archives of articles regarding the topic, there is mentioning of the subprime crisis spanning back to 2003 when the United States had begun giving out mortgages at minimal conditions; it wasn't till 2006 that the real estate prices increased exponentially and the 'bubble' was created. However, the outdated articles regarding the issue are concise, brief, and bland. “It was less crucial for Americans to understand in those early months,” said Haar. “Most people didn't bother to figure it out.”
Even though the media may have faltered in expanded coverage throughout the course of the crisis in its entirety, they had explained the scenario sufficiently and effectively in the end. The real problem therein lied within Americans. “It is up to each person in society to reach toward an understanding of what's happening in public life,” Haar said. “That didn't happen because the typical person doesn't care enough to do a little bit of work to learn an abstract concept.”
Although admitting that most business writing is bad and news companies tend to abandon their responsibilities of properly covering the news, Haar didn't believe the media failed in regards to explaining the roots of the crisis.
Haar posed a bigger question on whether there is such thing as “the media.” “What is mass media and what is consumer electronics-based communication, in an age of Twitter and iPhones?” he asked. “The breakdown of that distinction, not the failure of professional journalists, is the heart of the reason why the typical person doesn't have the slightest idea what is going on in this world.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

CCSU Secretary Loves Her Job

“When my assistant director threw a toy pig out the window and made it fly, that's when I knew I was in the right place,” laughed Linda Kaupas as she sat at her desk, answering phone calls and speaking to her co-workers. In a back room of the office, voices are heard tossing around the idea of a trip to a Ron-A-Roll. “He's just a John Travolta wannabe,” says one to another.
“It's generally like this around here the majority of the time,” smiled Kaupas.
14 months ago, Linda Kaupas took on the Department Secretary position of Central Connecticut's SA/LD student activities and leadership development, located in the Student Center on the second floor. “The first couple days were stressful; it has always been a challenge,” she admitted. “There's always something different, each club has their own nuance.”
Coming in at the crack of dawn every day of the week, Kaupas unlocks the office, turns on the lights, opens the doors, and soon after, people start to trickle in. Being the secretary, she is always expected to be there: no ifs, ands, or buts.
Having grown up in the New Britain area her entire life, Kaupas has been forever familiar with Central's campus. While most of her friends attended college at Central, she opted for an alternative. “I tried to go to Briarwood College after high school but it was very elitist,” Kaupas explained, which was very unsettling to her. “They frowned upon public institutions like Tunxis, and I withdrew from Briarwood and went there instead.”
While Kaupas was more at ease at Tunxis, her hectic schedule didn't make graduating particularly easy. “I graduated a lot later than most because I had three jobs, so I could only take one or two classes a semester,” she said. “It took me about five years to get an associates degree.”
After working for Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection for a couple years, Kaupas got bored and wanted a new adventure. Tunxis had a faculty secretary position available, and is what ignited her interest in helping students.
“One time, a student was skipping classes, always using the excuse that one of his grandparents passed away,” Kaupas recalled. “In one semester, he killed off five grandparents. I told him that losing five grandparents was horrible, but that I'd need him to bring in an obituary. He said, 'I'll be in this afternoon,' and I said, 'I thought you would.'”
Switching from faculty secretary to admissions, Kaupas found her new job to be repetitive and routine. “As long as a student had a GED or a high school diploma, they are generally accepted at Tunxis,” Kaupas explained. “After a couple years of working there, it wasn't challenging anymore; who knows how many times I repeated 'pay your application fee, fill out your application, give me a copy of your GED or official transcript.'”
While trying on for size a couple other jobs, one of them took away Kaupas' social interaction with the students by establishing an Internet program called e-learning that halted students from entering her office. “The students weren't there anymore; I sat there twiddling my thumbs,” said Kaupas.
Ever since she started at Central, Kaupas admits there has never been a typical day. In between sending e-mails to students reminding them about activities and handing out paychecks to student workers and university assistants, Kaupas gets phone calls ranging from normal to unique.
“A woman called up recently asking about a yearbook, and I asked her what year she graduated,” said Kaupas. “1974. I'm still researching it.” After telling the story, her phone lights up again. Kaupas grabs it and kindly speaks to someone about campus tours.
Dealing with 112 clubs and organizations can get interesting for Kaupas; she helps with the creation of clubs, and watches some flourish while a few slowly fade. “There was a hand gliding club once,” she said. “That would scare the daylights out of me.” She was amazed that a marksmen rifle club was approved for next semester, but backed it up positively. “It won't just be about shooting, it will be informative as well.”
Kaupas' favorite part of her position is speaking with the students. When asked if she had any children, she says no, but quickly adds, “I have how many here? I have plenty here! Once I'm done with them, they go back to their parents!”
While dealing with a personal loss recently, Kaupas still came into work despite her co-workers urging her to take some time to herself. “I'd rather be here because it's the students who keep my mind off of it and keep me going.”
Once she leaves in the evening, Kaupas is completely family oriented. Having a big family and many dogs, she recently helped cook a Thanksgiving meal for 14 relatives, and is planning on baking 40-80 dozen Christmas cookies with her sister soon. “We call it the great cookie bake off,” she laughed.
Kaupas is comfortable and happy with her current job situation. “Being a secretary is what I wanted to be years ago, and still am now.” When asked about any future endeavors, she hopes to go back to school and get her Arts and Liberal Sciences master at Wesleyan. “I like to know what makes my students tick, it's a part of the Sociology major in me,” she said. “I like to take care of my students.”
“I could see myself here for another 15 years,” she added. “Or until I hit lotto.”