Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pastor who got "under God" added to pledge dies

Lest there was any remaining doubt that the 1954 insertion of "under God" into the pledge of allegiance was explicitly religious, the news has covered the death of the Rev. George M. Docherty, a Presbyterian minister from Scotland, noting that it was his sermon heard by President Dwight D. Eisenhower that prompted the change:
"I didn't know that the Pledge of Allegiance was, and he recited it, 'one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,'" he recalled in an interview with The Associated Press in 2004. "I came from Scotland, where we said 'God save our gracious queen,' 'God save our gracious king.' Here was the Pledge of Allegiance, and God wasn't in it at all."
He delivered his sermon calling for "under God" to be added to the pledge first in 1952 with little effect, but delivered it again on February 7, 1954, while Eisenhower was in attendance at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., near the White House. Eisenhower immediately let Congress know he wanted it to happen, and Rep. Charles G. Oakman (R-MI) introduced a bill the very next day to make that addition, which Eisenhower signed into law on Flag Day.

Michael Newdow currently has a second lawsuit working its way through the courts to remove "under God" from the pledge on the grounds that Congress's action was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. His first lawsuit went to the Supreme Court, where the justices declined to rule on the merits of the argument, and instead reasoned that he lacked standing to bring the suit because he was involved in a custody dispute over his daughter, who was the plaintiff because she was required to recite the pledge in school. That ruling, like Eisenhower's signing of the original unconstitutional bill, was delivered on Flag Day (in 2004).

Phoenix-area foreclosures

Yesterday the Arizona Republic had an interactive foreclosure map and document of data (PDF) which includes the monthly foreclosure statistics for the last eighteen months:

April 2007: 553
May 2007: 475
June 2007: 579
July 2007: 676
August 2007: 806
September 2007: 1,093
October 2007: 936
November 2007: 1,344
December 2007: 1,617
January 2008: 2,052
February 2008: 2,249
March 2008: 2,365
April 2008: 2,969
May 2008: 3,402
June 2008: 3,717
July 2008: 4,104
August 2008: 4,013
September 2008: 4,378
October 2008: 4,587

Total foreclosures per year:
2004: 4,444
2005: 1,370
2006: 1,070
2007: 9,920
2008: 33,836 through October

This is not good news for a state where construction and real estate provide a large share of the employment opportunities. It is good news for those who do not own homes and have been waiting to buy at lower prices--it looks like next year will offer significantly better prices than this year, but there are still a lot of delusional sellers out there asking way too much. (There's a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house on a half acre in a quiet neighborhood near us that looks very nice, but is probably worth about half of the $429,000 asking price, based on comparable sales and the current downward trend. Zillow says it's worth $277,000.)

See their summary article, which has links to the map and other documents.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Disorder breeds disorder


When Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City, he had a zero-tolerance policy on graffiti, litter, and broken windows, on the assumption that small crimes like vandalism create an environment conducive to more serious crimes.

Now, a study in the Netherlands published in Science provides support for this theory. In an alley used to park bicycles, the experimenters set up two conditions, one in which the walls of the alley were freshly painted and one in which they were tagged with graffiti. Flyers advertising a bicycle shop were attached to the handlebars of all parked bicycles. In the graffiti condition, 69% of bicyclists dumped the flyer on the ground as litter; in the clean condition, 33% littered. They performed several other similar experiments, and in each case the test subjects were more likely to engage in anti-social acts such as littering, trespassing, and stealing in the condition of disorder as opposed to in the condition of order.

(Via The Economist, where you can read more details of the experiments.)

Peter Schiff vs. Art Laffer, Tom Adkins, Mike Norman, Ben Stein, Charles Payne

Gee, who was completely full of crap?



I love the captions--Dow over 13,000 and Ben Stein is saying now's the time to buy... Merrill Lynch a buy at $76, Charles Payne says buy Bear Stearns... they were delusional idiots.

Schiff was right about everything except inflation and gold (at least so far--deflation looks like a bigger immediate risk than inflation). He was saying to buy gold at $830 in late 2007; it's at about the same point today, but if you had taken his advice you could have sold higher earlier this year, and at least you wouldn't have taken any real losses.

(Hat tip to Brett Vickers for the video.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cranky 9/11 truther joins lawsuit against Obama

The case of Philip J. Berg v. Barack Hussein Obama, filed in the eastern district of Pennsylvania in an attempt to argue that Obama cannot become president because he is not a U.S. citizen, has been joined by Paul Andrew Mitchell, a "private attorney general" and 9/11 truther known for filing nonsensical papers with the courts. The character of Mitchell's filing can be seen on p. 5, where he writes that "I, Paul Andrew Mitchell, Sui Juris, hereby verify, under penalty of perjury, under the laws of the United States of America, without the 'United States' (federal government), that the above statement of facts and laws is true and correct ..." The italics and bolding are as in the filing. Mitchell is one of the crackpots who argues that the United States of America is distinct from the United States and that he's not subject to the laws of the latter, including the income tax, because he's a "sovereign citizen."

Mitchell used to be a customer of Primenet, an Internet Service Provider based in Phoenix, that was my employer. He named us in one of his lawsuits, along with numerous other ISPs, on the grounds that one of our users had the temerity to put a link on his web page to a copy of Mitchell's "The Federal Zone: Cracking the Code of Internal Revenue." Mitchell insisted that he didn't authorize that copy of his work, and that our user's link constituted contributory infringement of his copyright. When I pointed out that the link was actually a dead link and didn't point to anything at all, this did not persuade him that Primenet shouldn't be sued. He never bothered to properly serve Primenet with papers, and the case was thrown out of court.

Mitchell is or was also a member of the "Scholars for 9/11 Truth" organization; I've previously written more about Mitchell and that organization on this blog.

FFRF billboard in California taken down at city request

The FFRF's "Imagine No Religion" billboard in Rancho Cucamonga, California, is being removed by General Outdoor Advertising after they received a request to remove it from the city. The city asserts that it requested the removal but did not demand it, and therefore did not violate the First Amendment. The contract no doubt gives General Outdoor the ability to back out of the contract and refund the money in response to controversy. FFRF says the company has agreed to refund the money.

The city reports that they received about 90 complaints.

Has anyone ever heard of a religious billboard in this country being removed after a government request?

UPDATE (November 25, 2008): FFRF plans to sue Rancho Cucamonga for this infringement of its freedom of speech. The city's Redevelopment Director, Linda Daniels, apparently realizes now that she has done something wrong, and has changed her story:

Last Thursday, Redevelopment Director Linda Daniels said a member of her staff had informed the sign company about the 90 complaints the city received regarding the billboard.

"We contacted the sign company and asked if there was a way to get it removed," Daniels told the Daily Bulletin.

On Friday, Daniels denied making the comment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ApostAZ podcast #11

The latest ApostAZ podcast is now available:
Episode 011 Atheism and Feces-Free Thought in Phoenix! Go to meetup.com/phoenix-atheists for group events! Shyness, Group News,Election Post-Mortem, Email from Shawn of Tough Questions Podcasts, Winter Solstice, Musings on Rhetorical Debate Styles, Ridiculous Marriage Amendment.
My comments: Duane Gish was vice president of the Institute for Creation Research.

Nice listener email on the FLDS members pretending to be truck stop hookers--I like the listener feedback.

Obama opposes same-sex marriage.

On proving a negative, please see this and/or this.

Phoenix-area foreclosures and preforeclosures

October set a new record of 8,503 notices of trustee's sales in Maricopa County, of which 900 were duplicates of previous notices. The number of pending foreclosures has dropped, as Bank of America cancelled numerous foreclosures after acquiring Countrywide. 3,516 foreclosures were cancelled in October, about double September's rate.

At the end of October, there were 27,874 pending foreclosures in Maricopa County. (Back in the summer of 2005, the total inventory of homes for sale was around 5,000. Today it's around 50,000 34,000, which obviously has the potential to go much higher.)

Trustee's sales hit 4,587 in October, up from 4,378 in September.

(Via azcentral.com.)

UPDATE (November 26, 2008): Updated the inventory number to October 21, 2008, which is down from a peak of over 50,000, but which has been climbing back up from a recent low of just under 26,000 at the beginning of August 2008.

Friday, November 14, 2008

White House may be forced to recover "lost" emails

Lawsuits by the National Security Archive of George Washington University and the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have won a ruling from a U.S. district court judge that the White House can be forced to recover the five million "lost" emails that were deleted between March 2003 and October 2005. Those emails were required to have been preserved under the Presidential Records Act. Another set of emails from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney from September 30, 2003 to October 6, 2003 were found to be "lost and unrecoverable" by an Office of Administration investigation.

65,000 backup tapes have been preserved as part of the litigation, and those tapes will apparently be available for review to recover some of the five million lost emails.

More details at IntelDaily.

Criminal activity by air marshals

Looks like the air marshals have a problem similar to the TSA and the Border Patrol:
Shawn Nguyen bragged that he could sneak anything past airport security using his top-secret clearance as a federal air marshal. And for months, he smuggled cocaine and drug money onto flights across the country, boasting to an FBI informant that he was "the man with the golden badge."

Michael McGowan used his position as an air marshal to lure a young boy to his hotel room, where he showed him child porn, took pictures of him naked and sexually abused him.

And when Brian "Cooter" Phelps wanted his ex-wife to disappear, he called a fellow air marshal and tried to hire a hit man nicknamed "the Crucifixer."

Since 9/11, more than three dozen federal air marshals have been charged with crimes, and hundreds more have been accused of misconduct, an investigation by ProPublica, a non-profit journalism organization, has found. Cases range from drunken driving and domestic violence to aiding a human-trafficking ring and trying to smuggle explosives from Afghanistan.

More details at USA Today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How delusional is John Hinderaker?

John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog writes:
Obama thinks he is a good talker, but he is often undisciplined when he speaks. He needs to understand that as President, his words will be scrutinized and will have impact whether he intends it or not. In this regard, President Bush is an excellent model; Obama should take a lesson from his example. Bush never gets sloppy when he is speaking publicly. He chooses his words with care and precision, which is why his style sometimes seems halting. In the eight years he has been President, it is remarkable how few gaffes or verbal blunders he has committed. If Obama doesn’t raise his standards, he will exceed Bush’s total before he is inaugurated.
I find it difficult to imagine the amount of delusion and cognitive dissonance that can produce such a paragraph. George W. Bush is the man whose spoken words have produced multiple books of "Bushisms," and multiple years of "Bushism" calendars with a quotation for every day of the year.

The Sadly No blog responded to this paragraph with a series of YouTube videos vividly depicting Bush gaffes. I prefer this Andy Dick contribution:

Saturday, November 08, 2008

ACLU plan for restoring U.S. civil rights

Day one steps are closing Guantanamo Bay, ceasing and prohibiting torture, ceasing and prohibiting extraordinary rendition; steps for the first 100 days include ending warrantless spying, watch lists, the Ashcroft doctrine on FOIA requests, monitoring of activists, the Real ID Act, the abortion gag rule, the death penalty, and faith-based initiatives.

At least one of Obama's transition teams is, at the very least, reviewing Bush's executive orders for constitutionality, which covers some elements of the above. Most, however, have been implemented by act of Congress, which will require Congressional action to repeal.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Behind the scenes during the election process

Newsweek reports some interesting tidbits from behind the scenes of the election process in both the McCain and Obama campaigns:
  • Both the McCain and Obama campaigns had computers compromised by "a foreign entity or organization [which] sought to gather information on the evolution of both camps' policy positions." And that entity was successful in collecting such data, apparently.
  • Palin's shopping spree was more extensive and expensive than has previously been reported: "While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards." The spending was allegedly tens of thousands of dollars more than reported.
  • McCain rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and although she wanted to speak in Phoenix along with McCain for his concession speech, this was vetoed by McCain's campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt.
  • The Secret Service reported "a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied."
  • Palin attacked Obama about his connection to William Ayers before the campaign had finalized its plan about that issue--McCain had not given his approval, and a top advisor was resisting it.
  • Hillary Clinton was on much better terms with McCain than with Obama, and McCain feared that Hillary Clinton would be named as Obama's VP, and was glad when he chose Biden.
There are lots of other interesting bits in the article, as well.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Good and bad news on propositions

Good: Washington joins Oregon in allowing doctor-assisted suicide, South Dakota rejects further abortion limits, Michigan allows medical marijuana and stem cell research, California rejects further abortion limits, Colorado rejects the definition of person as beginning at conception.

Bad: California, Arizona, and Florida ban gay marriage with constitutional amendments, Arkansas bans gay couples from adopting children.

(Results at CNN.)

UPDATE: Ed Brayton notes at Dispatches from the Culture Wars that the California result on gay marriage was evidently due to religious bigotry:
In California, exit polls showed that those who attended church regularly voted against marriage equality 83-17%. Those who attended church only occasionally voted for marriage equality 60-40%. Those who do not attend church at all voted for marriage equality 86-14%.
The same was true in Arizona, where exit polling found that:
Protestants generally supported the measure but that Catholics were fairly evenly divided. Nonreligious voters were solidly against it. ... Proposition 102 had slight leads among Whites and among Hispanics.
...
The youngest voters were split for and against, with support for Proposition 102 increasing among voters in older age groups. Voters age 65 or over were solidly for the amendment.
Prop. 102 will ultimately be overturned as the older generation dies off.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Arizona election results

Arizona will now have a majority of Democratic Representatives in the House, as Rick Renzi is replaced by Ann Kirkpatrick in District 1 in a close race. The other close race is District 5, where Harry Mitchell has defeated David Schweikert. This means the Arizona delegation will be Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl (both Republicans), and Representatives Ann Kirkpatrick (D-District 1), Trent Franks (R-District 2), John Shadegg (R-District 3), Ed Pastor (D-District 4), Harry Mitchell (D-District 5), Jeff Flake (R-District 6), Raul Grijalva (D-District 7), Gabrielle Giffords (D-District 8).

Bad news: Andrew Thomas was re-elected as Maricopa County Attorney, and Joe Arpaio was re-elected as Maricopa County Sheriff. And Arizona went for John McCain as president, though he has graciously conceded to Barack Obama.

Some bad results on the propositions: Prop. 102 is passing, amending the Arizona constitution to ban same-sex marriage, Prop. 101 on medical choice is failing. But there's also good news: the payday loan industry-backed Prop. 200 is failing (that would add barriers to entry to new payday loan companies, as well as prevent the current payday loan legislation from sunsetting), and Prop. 100's ban on additional home transfer taxes is passing.

UPDATE (November 5, 2008): Prop. 101 is still too close to call, with "no" votes leading by 2,195 votes (867,924 no, 865,729 yes). There should be a conclusive result tomorrow.

UPDATE (November 6, 2008): Still counting on Prop. 101--it's now a 2,944-vote lead for no, 887,821 to 884,877.

UPDATE (November 12, 2008): Prop. 101 has been defeated, 961,567 no votes to 950,440 yes votes.

Monday, November 03, 2008

ApostAZ podcast #10

ApostAZ podcast #10 is out:
Episode 010 Atheism and Dogma-Free Thought in Phoenix! Go to meetup.com/phoenix-atheists for group events! Quiverfull, Innocence, Over-population, Which Came First, Religion or Ignorance? (Some of David's artwork: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidbessent/), Fear and Dogma, Ignosticism, Priming the Gish Gallop.
There's some discussion of what the legal standards should be for government prevention of abuses by separatist religious groups like Warren Jeffs' FLDS group. It's a tough problem, especially when various child protective agencies themselves have a poor reputation and cause harm themselves. In the FLDS case in Texas, the state raided the FLDS compound on the basis of a hoaxed complaint, adult women were taken and held as minors, and the Texas CPS repeatedly misrepresented the facts to try to justify its actions (links are to several of numerous blog posts by economist David Friedman, who blogged the FLDS situation in detail).