Monday, April 30, 2007

Where Are We Headed?

Click Image for Full Size
Click Image for Full Size
Given the explosive growth Maricopa County's Trustee Sale Notices saw in the second half of 2006, the numbers for the first four months of 2007 have seemed somewhat like a plateau. April’s total was 11 below March’s 1720, leading me to seriously wonder what the future holds.

From a recent Reuters article:

Subprime mortgages to less creditworthy borrowers comprised only 13.7 percent of outstanding U.S. mortgage debt in the fourth quarter of 2006, and their delinquency rate was 13.3 percent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

If, like the article, you believe that the woes of the subprime mortgage market are “well contained,” then perhaps we have a hint of what the remainder of 2007 has in store.

Assume, for (extreme) simplicity’s sake, that...

1) All 1,250,231 houses in Maricopa County have a mortgage, and
2) The percentages quoted above remain the same for all of 2007, and
3) No one who does not have a subprime loan will become delinquent,

... then that means the average number of Phoenix-area trustee sale notices per month should come to 1898. I’m inclined to take it as a good sign that we’ve only seen a peak of 1720 so far, in spite of Mish’s contention, over at his Global Economic Trend Analysis, that containment is spreading.

However, the graph below, far more than Mish’s falling sky pronouncements, gives me pause:

Click to Enlarge this Graph
Trustee’s Sale Notices are a lagging indicator, since they don't happen until the borrower has been in big trouble for several months. That fact, in conjunction with the data behind the Credit Suisse graph, leads me to believe that late 2007 through early 2008 (and beyond) is when we should be expecting the big wave to hit. How big? Who can say?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Who's to blame for the Virginia Tech shootings

The Cynical-C Blog is keeping a running tab, and are up to a list of 72 items so far...

Individual armed resistance can bring school shootings to a halt

Classically Liberal reports on multiple school shooting incidents which have been successfully stopped by private individuals with handguns--though the media has mostly failed to report that the individuals apprehending the gunmen were armed, so these examples aren't widely known.

Patri Friedman at Catallarchy observes:

Anyway, I am not claiming that any one story (or in this case, four stories) prove anything about the overall tradeoffs. But these stories are in direct contrast to explicit statements some of you have made about how you think the world works. So please realize that you were wrong, and that guns are demonstrably capable of stopping massacres short. Doesn’t mean we should have them, but it is directly relevant to yesterday’s incident. We don’t know what the distribution of death reductions would have been if the massacre hadn’t been in a gun free zone, but it surely has a non-zero mean, and quite possibly a significant one. After all, this was an extremely bad massacre, which means more people involved and more time to get armed.

But of course, probabilistic lives saved by guns are vastly less visceral than actual lives ended by them, hence much more difficult for us to view as real.

How sleazy real estate gurus make money

Einzige has a great post at his blog titled "Making Fortunes* in Foreclosures (* Once you've discarded your ethical compass)" which describes the details of how some sleazy real estate gurus make money off of gullible homeowners in distress.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Back from the UK

We are back from a trip to London (with side trips to Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, and a couple days in Cambridge). Although we didn't plan it, we happened to see a number of interesting things on St. George's Day--the immediate aftermath of the attempted suicide jumper rescue at Millennium Bridge (my own photos are much less interesting than the Daily Mail's) and the Guinness Record attempt (successful, I believe) for largest coconut orchestra at Trafalgar Square (with Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and the cast of Spamalot in attendance, singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"). We got to see both Oxford and Cambridge's respective Bridges of Sighs (Cambridge says theirs is better because it's over water; Oxford's is really named Hertford Bridge), had lunches at the Eagle Pub and at The Orchard.

The photo is me in a doorway at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Unfortunately, we did not make it to Logic Lane.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

CREW points out there are millions of missing White House emails

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington points out that there are millions of emails missing from the White House servers (the official ones, not the Republican National Committee ones):
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today has released a report, WITHOUT A TRACE: The Missing White House Emails and the Violations of the Presidential Records Act, detailing the legal issues behind the story of the White House e-mail scandal.

In a startling new revelation, CREW has also learned through two confidential sources that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) has lost over five million emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005. The White House counsel's office was advised of these problems in 2005 and CREW has been told that the White House was given a plan of action to recover these emails, but to date nothing has been done to rectify this significant loss of records.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, said today, "It's clear that the White House has been willfully violating the law, the only question now is to what extent? The ever changing excuses offered by the administration -- that they didn't want to violate the Hatch Act, that staff wasn't clear on the law -- are patently ridiculous. Very convenient that embarrassing -- and potentially incriminating -- emails have gone missing. It's the Nixon White House all over again."

WITHOUT A TRACE covers the following areas:

Presidential Records Act (PRA): Enacted in 1978, requires the president to preserve all presidential records, which are defined as those records relating to the "activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of [the president's] constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties..."

Clinton Administration Policy: In 1993, then-Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary John Podesta sent a memo to all presidential staff explaining that the PRA required all staff members to maintain all records, including emails. Podesta stated that the use of external email networks was prohibited because records would not be saved as required. The 1997 White House Manual and a 2000 memo issued by Mark Lindsay, then Assistant to the President for Management and Administration echoed this policy, requiring staff to use only the White House email system for official communications.

Bush Administration Policy: The Bush Administration has refused to make public its record-keeping policy. A confidential source provided CREW with a 2002 document indicating the use of "non-EOP messaging-enabled mechanisms should not be used for official business."

Bush Administration Practice: In the wake of the scandals surrounding Jack Abramoff and the fired U.S. Attorneys, emails were released showing that top White House staffers routinely used Republican National Committee (RNC) email accounts to conduct official business. For example, J. Scott Jennings, White House Deputy Political Director, used an RNC account to communicate with the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales regarding the appointments of new U.S. Attorneys. Similarly, Susan Ralston, a former aide to Karl Rove, used RNC email accounts to communicate with Abramoff about appointments to the Department of the Interior.

PRA Violations: 1) The administration failed to implement adequate record-keeping systems to archive presidential email records; 2) two confidential sources independently informed CREW that the administration abandoned a plan to recover more than five million missing emails; 3) White House staff used outside email accounts to conduct presidential business, ensuring that emails were not adequately preserved. In fact, former Abramoff associate Kevin Ring said in an email to Abramoff that Ralston had told him not to send emails to her official White House account "because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc."

Hatch Act Excuse: The administration has claimed that Rove, Jennings and other staffers use RNC accounts to avoid violating the Hatch Act. This is untrue. The Hatch Act prohibits White House staff from using official resources for purely "political" purposes. "Political" refers to the president's role as either a candidate for office or as the leader of his party. Email communications regarding presidential appointments for U.S. Attorney and Interior Department positions clearly fall within the PRA as making appointment is an official presidential function and does not relate to the president's role as party leader.

I ask once again, can we impeach Bush now?

UPDATE (January 19, 2009): The Washington Post reports that some 14 million emails have been found and will be transferred to the National Archives.

UPDATE (December 15, 2009): Looks like 22 million "missing emails" have been located.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

FBI focus on counterterrorism leads to increase in unprosecuted fraud and identity theft

With the FBI being directed to focus its attention on counterterrorism, its investigations of fraud, identity theft, civil rights violations, and crime in general have plummeted:
-- Overall, the number of criminal cases investigated by the FBI nationally has steadily declined. In 2005, the bureau brought slightly more than 20,000 cases to federal prosecutors, compared with about 31,000 in 2000 -- a 34 percent drop.

-- White-collar crime investigations by the bureau have plummeted in recent years. In 2005, the FBI sent prosecutors 3,500 cases -- a fraction of the more than 10,000 cases assigned to agents in 2000....

-- Civil rights investigations, which include hate crimes and police abuse, have continued a steady decline since the late 1990s. FBI agents pursued 65 percent fewer cases in 2005 than they did in 2000.


"There's a niche of fraudsters that are floating around unprosecuted," said one recently retired top FBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They are not going to jail. There is no law enforcement solution in sight."...

By the time the bureau started putting together its fiscal 2007 budget in mid-2005, "we realized we were going to have to pull out of some areas -- bank fraud, investment fraud, ID theft -- cases that protect the financial infrastructure of the country," [Dale Watson, who left in 2002 as the FBI's executive assistant director over counterterrorism programs] said...

[FBI Assistant Director Chip Burrus] acknowledges that the bureau has reduced its efforts to fight fraud. He likened the FBI's current fraud-enforcement policies -- in which losses below $150,000 have little chance of being addressed -- to "triage." Even cases with losses approaching $500,000 are much less likely to be accepted for investigation than before 9/11, he said.

There is "no question" that America's financial losses from frauds below $150,000 amount to billions a year, Burrus said. The top security official for a major American bank agreed, saying unprosecuted fraud losses easily total "multibillions."

Is America safer?

(Via TPM Muckraker.)

RNC accidentally loses White House aides' email about attorney purge

One of the facts that has come out of the U.S. Attorney purge scandal is that the White House has been using email accounts set up by the Republican National Committee to avoid official records being kept in the White House email systems. This also, however, has undermined White House attempts to claim that these are privileged internal communications.

Now, however, the RNC says that it has accidentally lost "an undetermined number of emails concerning White House business." Oops.

(Via Talking Points Memo.)

UPDATE (April 12, 2007): Dan Froomkin points out how the White House staff must have known that they were violating federal law and White House policy by using RNC email accounts and deleting emails.

Plagiarism, deception, and fraud: The JRM prayer study

Bruce Flamm points out that another reason to doubt the authors of the dubious Journal of Reproductive Medicine prayer study has surfaced, with one of them being charged with plagiarism:
In summary, the man who designed and supposedly conducted the prayer study resides in federal prison, and the man originally listed as lead author admits he knows nothing about the alleged research. The only remaining author has now been charged with plagiarism. . . This may be the first time in history that all three authors of a randomized, controlled study have been found guilty of fraud, deception, and/or plagiarism. Even more remarkable is the fact that the JRM has steadfastly refused to retract its physics-defying paper.
Taner Edis has more at the Secular Outpost.

Scott Adams' lame arguments for copyright

Scott Adams' lame arguments for copyright are taken apart by Kevin Carson at the Mutualist Blog. There are good arguments to be made for some form of copyright protection, but Adams doesn't make them.

I guess it's not just the subject of evolution where Adams goes off the rails.

Inflation-adjusted home prices as a roller coaster ride

This video shows U.S. inflation-adjusted home prices from 1890 to present, as a roller coaster ride. Gee, I wonder what the next piece of the ride will look like?

(Via Catallarchy.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

PBS drops "Islam vs. Islamists"

The series "America at a Crossroads" commissioned a series of films about Islam in America that will air next week. One of the films, "Islam v. Islamists: Voices From the Muslim Center," by Martyn Burke, will not be shown.

Burke, who was previously the producer of "Pirates of Silicon Valley" and "The Hollywood Ten," says that his film was dropped for political reasons (including the fact that two of his co-producers, Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev, are neoconservatives from the Center for Security Policy) after "tampering" by PBS and managers from WETA Washington D.C. He listed these examples of tampering:
• A WETA manager pressed to eliminate a key perspective of the film: The claim that Muslim radicals are pushing to establish "parallel societies" in America and Europe governed by Shariah law rather than sectarian courts.

• After grants were issued, Crossroads managers commissioned a new film that overlapped with Islam vs. Islamists and competed for the same interview subjects.

• WETA appointed an advisory board that includes Aminah Beverly McCloud, director of World Islamic Studies at DePaul University. In an "unparalleled breach of ethics," Burke says, McCloud took rough-cut segments of the film and showed them to Nation of Islam officials, who are a subject of the documentary. They threatened to sue.
PBS claims that Burke's film was not completed on time, had "serious structural problems" and was "irresponsible" and "alarmist, and it wasn't fair."

Burke's film featured Phoenix medical doctor Zuhdi Jasser, head of the Islamic Forum for Democracy, a non-profit that advocates "patriotism, constitutional democracy, and a separation of church and state." Jasser, a staunch Republican and former U.S. Navy physician, was an internist at the Office of the Attending Physician at the U.S. Capitol in the late nineties.

There are more details and a short clip of Jasser from the film at the Arizona Republic (from which the above bulleted points are quoted).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Geraldo takes on O'Reilly

Via Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blog, here's video of Geraldo Rivera arguing with Bill O'Reilly about illegal immigration. Geraldo does a great job of actually getting his points out on O'Reilly's show, though he has to raise his voice to do it. I agree with Geraldo, pointing out that this move of attacking illegal immigration because of some other problem (in this case, drunk driving) is a deceptive way of arguing against illegal immigration, unless there is some evidence that illegal immigrants as a group create more of the problem than other people.

The truth about the sinking of the Titanic

See the persuasive video, "Unfastened Coins," at the Official Website of the Titanic Truth Movement.

(Hat tip: Andrew Ramsey.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

RIP, Grandma Lippard

On Sunday morning I received a phone call from my father informing me that my grandmother had died. By Monday morning, the funeral arrangements had been made, and my sisters and I booked our flights to Indianapolis.

My grandmother's obituary in the Indianapolis Star reported some facts and statistics of her life--born April 19, 1919 in Indianapolis (not, as I had always thought, in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where her older sister had been born), died April 1, 2007. She had worked in the Neurology Department at Indiana University Medical Center. She had been an active member of Clermont Christian Church since the mid-1940s, and married to my grandfather, who survives her, for nearly 69 years. Her brother Ernie, a Pearl Harbor survivor, also survives her.

What the obituary didn't express was the love that she had for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and how, as my cousin Aaron said at the funeral service, she always focused her attention on others and made us feel special.

The visitation at the funeral home and the funeral service was attended by hundreds of people, including many relatives I didn't even know I had. What was a time of loss also became a reunion of family members from across the country, that I'm sure my grandmother would have been overjoyed to see.

We'll all miss her.