Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Barney Frank and the financial crisis

The New York Times, September 11, 2003:
"These two entities -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- are not facing any kind of financial crisis,'" said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. "The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing."
The Washington Post, November 7, 2003:
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said the administration's position is driven by concerns about the financial safety and soundness of the companies "to the exclusion of concern about housing." Committee members were ready to support legislation that would give the Treasury Department oversight of Fannie and Freddie, as the administration has sought, Frank said, not power over the companies' housing activities, which are regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Now he seems to have forgotten what he said back then, and the fact that he was encouraging the moral hazard created by the GSEs encouraging and buying up bad loans.

UPDATE: A friend points out this post at the Big Picture blog by Barry Ritholtz arguing that the Community Reinvestment Act and GSEs had nothing to do with the housing bubble. While I think Ritholtz makes some excellent points that demonstrate there were other factors, he doesn't really address the GSE moral hazard issue and he makes this statement that seems to me to offer a striking disconnect from reality:

"The four biggest problem areas for housing (by price decreases) are: Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Miami, Florida, and San Diego, California. Explain exactly how these affluent, non-minority regions were impacted by the Community Reinvestment Act ?" All of those cities have very large non-affluent minority populations. I'm most familiar with Phoenix, where the housing bubble was marked by expansion of housing into South Phoenix (where I live), Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, Surprise, and other outlying areas around Phoenix which have very large Hispanic populations. Also see my comment below about mortgage broker telemarketing targeting low-income areas of town with minority majorities.

He wants to place the blame on deregulation, but if you need to find a single cause, I think the Fed keeping interest rates too low is a better root cause. My own experience regarding telemarketing showed that there existed regulations that could have been applied to the sleazy telemarketers that simply weren't being enforced. When you have an enforcement problem, all the regulations in the world won't help, in fact adding more regulations is likely to increase the severity of your enforcement problem.

UPDATE (November 21, 2011): Barry Ritholtz argues persuasively that the Community Reinvestment Act had nothing to do with the housing bubble.  He also downplays the role for the GSEs, though I think they had a contributory role (which is also what the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded) to play in increasing the size of the bubble--they purchased half of the U.S. mortgage market by 2008, $5.1T in loans, including $90B-$175B/year in subprime and Alt-A between 2002 and 2006.  But the above analysis overlooks other important factors including the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the 2004 SEC decision to reduce capitalization requirements on investment banks, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 which allowed credit default swaps with little regulatory oversight, and inaccurate credit ratings from the Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations.  Wikipedia's entry on "Subprime mortgage crisis" has a good referenced list.

FutureKind CD release show

If Einzige and I were not going to be in Pasadena for the Skeptics Society conference, we would be attending the CD release show for FutureKind's "Surround," Friday, October 3 at the Last Exit Bar and Grill, 1425 W. Southern Ave., Tempe, AZ 85282. There's a $5 cover charge and it's a 21 and over show, and other bands performing are DJ Seduce, Human Mirror, Talk Fiction, and Random Karma.

Here's FutureKind's video for their song "Hideaway," the first song on the new CD:

UPDATE (October 6, 2008): The show apparently went well, and I agree with the New Times reviewer that Thalia's singing is sometimes reminiscent of Björk.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Another military religious freedom case

Dustin Chalker, stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, has filed a lawsuit about being forced to attend Christian proselytization events in the military, including a presentation which claimed that Christianity and creationism give life meaning, while evolution and atheism remove hope. The complaint describes this event, which took place at a U.S. military base in England, delivered by Chaplain Christian Biscotti (!) and was approved by Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop (!) who spoke afterward:
Another slide titled "Contrasting Theories of Hope, Ultimate Theories Explaining Our Existence," has two columns, the first titled "Chance," and the second "Design," comparing Charles Darwin, creationism, and religion are also part of a chart comparing the former Soviet Union to the United States, concluding that "Naturalism/Evolution/Atheism" leads to people being "in bondage" and having "no hope," while theism leads to "People of Freedom" and "People of hope/destiny." After several more slides like these, the presentation continues with a slide titled "Christian's Message," and a slide with an image of a man looking upwards with his hands outstretched and the caption "Please open up both of your hands to receive this powerful tool."
This lawsuit, like that of Jeremy Hall, was filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Chaplain Biscotti is a real person, currently stationed at the Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

UPDATE (October 18, 2008): Jeremy Hall has withdrawn his lawsuit on the grounds that he will soon be out of the military and suspects the case will be dismissed for lack of standing once he's out. Chalker's case continues.

UPDATE (January 7, 2009): Chalker's suit has been updated and expanded to add further examples of "the noxiously unconstitutional pattern and practice of fundamentalist
Christian oppression" in the military, including the Air Force sponsoring "Team Faith" motocross stunt shows, promoting attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan to Christianity, and the Army's 2008 manual on suicide prevention, which promotes "religiosity" as a necessary component.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ApostAZ podcast #9

ApostAZ podcast #9 is out, and it's something new and different--atheists Brad and Shannon in conversation and debate with evangelical Christian hip-hop artist Vocab Malone and Omri Miles.
Episode 009 Atheism and Evangelism in Phoenix! Go to atheists.meetup.com/157 for group events! What can be euphemistically termed a conversation between two non-believers, an evangelist, and a non-denominational Christian. Guests Vocab Malone and Omri Miles. How long can a civil conversation last? Brad's brain turns to mush (even more than usual)!
Additional info from Susan Jacoby's History of American Secularism (great book, buy it!)
There's an interesting followup exchange between Vocab and Brad at the Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group forum.

The ApostAZ podcast is also now available through iTunes.

I'm looking forward to listening to this one, and may add some commentary here and at the Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group forum when I do.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Google to close Arizona office

Google is closing its office in Tempe, Arizona on November 21. It's also closing offices in Denver and Dallas.

Alan Eustace, SVP of Engineering & Research, writes at Google's blog:
At Google, engineering is everything - no great engineers, no life enhancing products, no happy users. So we've spent a lot of time structuring our engineering operations to make the most of the exceptional talent that's available across America - developing local centers that give engineers the autonomy and opportunity to be truly innovative. These principles have served us well as we've grown, so when the model fails, it's doubly disappointing.

We opened our Phoenix office in 2006 and hoped that it would develop to support many of our internal engineering projects, the systems that make Google, well, Google. But we've found that despite everyone's best efforts, the projects our engineers have been working on in Arizona have been, and remain, highly fragmented. So after a lot of soul searching we have decided to incorporate work on these projects into teams elsewhere at Google. We will therefore be closing our Arizona office on November 21, 2008.

We'd like to thank everyone involved in this project for their energy and enthusiasm: our engineers; the engineering community in Arizona; Arizona State University; the city of Tempe; and the greater Phoenix area. We are now working with the Phoenix Googlers to transition them to other locations, or to identify other opportunities for them at Google.
I've been expecting to see Google start cutting back on expenses in various ways, as it seems to me that their model of business, with huge per-employee expenses, isn't sustainable for the long term. Apparently it's also the case that it's not cost-effective to put separate engineering centers in many locations--they probably need a critical mass of engineers and profitable projects that they didn't get here. This is probably good news for other high-tech companies and startups in Phoenix, as those Googlers who wish to stay in the Valley become available talent.

Comparing Obama's and McCain's economic advisors

McCain's economic advisors:
Doug Holtz-Eakin source
Holtz-Eakin is a formerly respected academic and government economist who has been reduced to making distortionary arguments to paper over the massive deficit black hole McCain's tax cuts would create.

Arthur Laffer source
Laffer is the originator of the Laffer curve, the fringe view that claims government revenue increases when tax rates are lowered. There is zero empirical evidence this is true at current tax rates. McCain has repeatedly said that he believes this foolishness, but Holtz-Eakin has said (also repeatedly) that McCain does not.

Phil Gramm source
Gramm is a lobbyist who was vice president of one of the investment houses most heavily implicated in the mortage industry scandal. As a senator he pushed for the banking deregulation that contributed to the current crisis. See more here.

Kevin Hassett source
Hassett has been widely ridiculed for writing the book Dow 36000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market in 1999, predicting that the Dow would hit 36,000 within five years, if not sooner.

Donald Luskin source
Luskin has been repeatedly named the Stupidest Man Alive by Brad Delong. See here for an example. I can attest based on my own interaction with him a few years back that in addition to being not the sharpest tack in the box, he is also an extremely unpleasant person.

Nancy Pfotenhauer source
Pfotenhauer is a pure distilled product of Koch Industries, an oil company which funds much of the right wing message machine. See here for details.

Carly Fiorina source
Fiorina was spectacularly fired from her previous job as CEO of HP. According to the Times,
... Republicans say Ms. Fiorina is using the McCain campaign to rebuild her image after her explosive tenure at Hewlett-Packard. They also say it is hard to see why a woman widely criticized for mismanaging one of Silicon Valley’s legendary companies is advising and representing a candidate who acknowledged last year that he did not understand the economy as well as he should.
Regarding Fiorina, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the senior associate dean for executive programs at the Yale School of Management, says "What a blind spot this is in the McCain campaign to have elevated her stature and centrality in this way. You couldn’t pick a worse, non-imprisoned C.E.O. to be your standard-bearer.”
Obama's economic advisors:
Jason Furman (director of economy policy) source bio
Austan Goolsbee (senior economic policy advisor), University of Chicago tax policy expert source Wikipedia website
Karen Kornbluh (policy director) source bio Wikipedia
David Cutler, Harvard health policy expert source Wikipedia website
Jeff Liebman, Harvard welfare expert source Wikipedia website
Michael Froman, Citigroup executive source bio
Daniel Tarullo, Georgetown law professor source bio
David Romer, Berkeley macroeconomist source website
Christina Romer, Berkeley economic historian source website
Richard Thaler, University of Chicago behavioral finance expert source Wikipedia

Robert Rubin, former Treasury Secretary source Wikipedia bio
Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary source Wikipedia bio
Alan Blinder, former Vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve source Wikipedia bio website
Jared Bernstein, Economic Policy Institute labor economist source bio
James Galbraith, University of Texas macroeconomist source Wikipedia website

Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve 1979-1987 source Wikipedia
Laura Tyson, Berkeley international economist, Bill Clinton economic adviser source Wikipedia
Robert Reich, Berkeley public policy professor, former Secretary of Labor source Wikipedia weblog
Peter Henry, Stanford international economist source website
Gene Sperling, former White House economic adviser source Wikipedia
My comment on the Laffer curve--Laffer's basic point is obviously correct, that there are points at which raising taxes further would cause revenues to decline and points where lowering taxes further would cause revenues to increase (most obviously at a 100% tax rate), but to the best of my knowledge he never did any empirical or mathematical work to show what the Laffer curve actually looks like and what factors play into it. If you don't know the shape of the curve or where we currently fall on it, you don't know without testing that raising taxes will reduce revenue or lowering taxes will increase revenue. Factcheck.org looks at the actual effects of some U.S. tax cuts in this regard.

I do think that we can speculate that reducing U.S. corporate taxes (currently the highest in the OECD with the exception of Japan) could increase corporate tax revenue, given Ireland's experience with just that happening. Multinational companies will do their best to book their profits in the countries with the lowest corporate tax rates, thus increasing the tax revenue in those countries. Of course, there are other factors, such as regulatory environment, cost of labor, risk of litigation, etc.

Sam Harris on Sarah Palin and elitism

Sam Harris has a great op-ed piece at Newsweek:

The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary.

We have all now witnessed apparently sentient human beings, once provoked by a reporter's microphone, saying things like, "I'm voting for Sarah because she's a mom. She knows what it's like to be a mom." Such sentiments suggest an uncanny (and, one fears, especially American) detachment from the real problems of today. The next administration must immediately confront issues like nuclear proliferation, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and covert wars elsewhere), global climate change, a convulsing economy, Russian belligerence, the rise of China, emerging epidemics, Islamism on a hundred fronts, a defunct United Nations, the deterioration of American schools, failures of energy, infrastructure and Internet security … the list is long, and Sarah Palin does not seem competent even to rank these items in order of importance, much less address any one of them.


What doesn't she know about financial markets, Islam, the history of the Middle East, the cold war, modern weapons systems, medical research, environmental science or emerging technology? Her relative ignorance is guaranteed on these fronts and most others, not because she was put on the spot, or got nervous, or just happened to miss the newspaper on any given morning. Sarah Palin's ignorance is guaranteed because of how she has spent the past 44 years on earth.


What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world's only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

"Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child's brain?"

"Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I'm an avid hunter."

"But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind."

"That's just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink."

Read the rest at Newsweek.

UPDATE: A letter written to The Economist (September 20, 2008, p. 26) from Sue Crane of Johns Creek, Georgia, expresses the anti-elitist pride in ignorance Harris condemns, when she writes:

Sir - Lexington (September 6) lapsed into the same mode of thinking that exists in the powdered-wig political salons and among the media twitterati in his assessment of Sarah Palin, which stopped him from understanding why she strikes a chord with America's heartland. Mrs. Palin connects with voters because she is one of us, not some elite politician entrenched in Washington's ways. John McCain had a problem with energising the Republican base, hence his choice of Mrs. Palin. I, along with many other Republicans, was prepared to sit this contest out had he chosen either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge.

This contrasts with a letter on the same page from Michael Golay, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, who writes:

Sir - Alaska is very different from the rest of the United States, and this difference affects the fitness of Mrs Palin to be vice-president. Fundamentally, Alaska is a pre-modern welfare state, where the economy is almost purely extractive (with the exception of defense and tourism). If you don't kill it, dig it or cut it down you don't get it. From that perspective "bridges to nowhere" are simply further extractions, or tokens for transfer payments from the rest of us, as are the annual payments to residents from North Slope oil revenues.

Not surprisingly Alaska is largely an innovation-free zone. It is also the only world that Mrs Palin has known. Along with her chronological and career inexperience this background renders her unprepared to lead the country.

In the same issue of The Economist, the Lexington column, "Richard Milhous McCain," points out that the McCain strategy in selecting Palin "is perfectly designed to create a cycle of accusation and counter-accusation. The 'liberal media' cannot do its job without questioning Mrs Palin's qualifications, which are astonishingly thin; but they cannot question her qualifications without confirming the Republican suspicion that they are looking down on ordinary Americans." It attributes this strategy to Richard Nixon, who "recognised that the Republicans stood to gain from 'positive polarisation': dividing the electorate over values."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Largest corporate bankruptcies in U.S. history

At Trading Markets is a story about the largest corporate bankruptcies in U.S. history, with the recent Chapter 11 filing of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. at the top of the list.

At #9 on the list is my employer, Global Crossing Ltd., about which the article says:

Hurt by a sluggish demand and declining prices for bandwidth capacity, and burdened by a heavy debt load, telecom company Global Crossing Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on January 28, 2002. At the time of filing, Global Crossing had $30 billion in assets and $12 billion in debts.

In December 2003, Singapore Technologies Telemedia acquired a 61.5% equity share in Global Crossing for $250 million, paving way for the troubled telecom company to exit Chapter 11. In addition, Singapore Technologies Telemedia agreed to purchase $200 million in senior secured notes that were meant to be distributed to former creditors. Global Crossing used the $200 million cash to pay off its creditors.

The company emerged from bankruptcy on December 9, 2003. By the time, Global Crossing exited bankruptcy, its debt was reduced to a mere $200 million from $11 billion at the end of 2001, including $1 billion of Asia Global Crossing debt. As of the most-recent quarter ended June 30, 2008, Global Crossing's total debt was $1.45 billion and for the past 52-weeks, the shares have been trading in the range of $14.54 - $24.75.

There's much more that could be said about that. For some of the other companies, the article reports on employee layoffs. Global Crossing went from a peak of nearly 15,000 employees down to just above 3,000, a process that was painful for both those who were laid off and those who remained and had to pick up the slack. The process was much-needed, however, and forced consolidation of acquired assets that had been operating in separate silos with separate management structures, eliminated many middle management positions, saw the departures of almost all senior management, and resulted in improved network performance and customer satisfaction ratings and subsequent growth in number of customers and customer traffic on the network. Global Crossing remained a tier 1 network provider through the bankruptcy, and is now #3 on Renesys' list of the top 25 Internet service providers by customer base.

John Morris exposes his ignorance about horse fossils

Troy Britain gives John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research a thorough debunking regarding his article in the September 2008 issue of the ICR's Acts & Facts, demonstrating that Morris really has no idea what he's talking about.

Palin's Christianity

I've previously written to critique claims that Sarah Palin is a Christian reconstructionist or dominionist, or that she's a young-earth creationist or tried to put creationism in the public schools.

I still stand behind the former argument, but I think there is now some evidence that she is a young-earth creationist and supported Mat-Su Borough School Board candidates who aimed to put creationism in the public schools, but never got a majority on the school board. There's also now evidence that Palin is an advocate of pushing an allegedly secularized version of principles from Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles, which I previously wrote about here when serial killer Matthew Murray blamed them for his problems.

Palin's Creationism
David Talbot's article at Salon.com about Sarah Palin's clashes with Rev. Howard Bess over his book about how churches should deal with homosexuality contained a passage that stated that she is a young-earth creationist:
Another valley activist, Philip Munger, says that Palin also helped push the evangelical drive to take over the Mat-Su Borough school board. "She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board," said Munger, a music composer and teacher. "I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism -- your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.'

"I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."
Munger said the same thing on his own blog:
In June 1997, both Palin and I had responsibilities at the graduation ceremony of a small group of Wasilla area home schoolers. I directed the Mat-Su College Community Band, which played music, and she gave the commencement address. It was held at her [former -jjl] church, the Wasilla Assembly of God.

Palin had recently become Wasilla mayor, beating her earliest mentor, John Stein, the then-incumbent mayor. A large part of her campaign had been to enlist fundamentalist Christian groups, and invoke evangelical buzzwords into her talks and literature.

As the ceremony concluded, I bumped into her in a hall away from other people. I congratulated her on her victory, and took her aside to ask about her faith. Among other things, she declared that she was a young earth creationist, accepting both that the world was about 6,000-plus years old, and that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time.

I asked how she felt about the second coming and the end times. She responded that she fully believed that the signs of Jesus returning soon "during MY lifetime," were obvious. "I can see that, maybe you can't - but it guides me every day."
I spoke with Philip Munger by telephone on September 17, hoping to be able to find others who could confirm Palin's creationist views. Unfortunately, he said that there weren't other witnesses to his conversation, but he did give me a lot of background information about Palin's political career. He said that the Wasilla government had been dominated by Democrats until 1994, when it shifted to Republicans and John Stein became mayor. Stein was Palin's original political mentor, but she decided to run against Stein in 1996, under the tutelage of Alaska State Rep. Victor Kohring, Republican representative from Wasilla, who began a 3.5-year prison term for corruption in July. Munger described Kohring, a member of the Christian Businessman's Association, as a member of the religious right. Stein, while a Republican, was vulnerable to attack as being not sufficiently conservative, due to the fact that his wife is a pro-choice Democrat who hasn't taken his last name.

Munger told me that Palin also supported a slate of religious right candidates for the Mat-Su Borough School Board, including Cheryl Turner, who he described as a creationist. But he said that the creationists didn't win a majority on the school board, and as a result made no attempt to push that agenda.

Munger said that he called in a question to Sarah Palin when she appeared on the Don Fagan program around October of 2006, and he asked her if her views on creationism had moderated since the Dover case. Her response indicated that her views had not changed, and that she had no idea what the Dover case was. Munger offered to explain it to her in detail if she contacted him, but she never did. He said that she didn't say anything to explicitly endorse creationism, instead resorting to the same tactics suggested by the Discovery Institute of protecting academic freedom, allowing "both" views to be taught, teaching the controversy, etc.

My impression is that Palin is likely a young-earth creationist, but not one who knows much about it or has it high on her agenda for political change. She's probably smart enough to see that such could be a liability for her future political career and so will avoid questions about it or answer in generalities.

Palin and Bill Gothard
Sarah Posner has a new article at Salon.com titled "Sarah Palin, faith-based mayor." This article points out that the Wasilla City Council passed a resolution in April 2000 at her direction declaring Wasilla to be a "City of Character" and a supporter of the International Association of Character Cities, run by Steven Menzel. This organization promotes a secularized version of the principles from Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Life Principles, which is a sort of Christianity-lite cult that promotes the prosperity gospel and a whole lot of craziness like this:

Wives who work outside the home are to be compared to harlots — Bill Gothard

It is a total insult in Scripture to be called uncircumcised, and the only moral choice parents can make is to have their sons circumcised in order to follow in the footsteps of Jesus — Bill Gothard

“Unmerited favor” is a “faulty definition” of grace. Grace for sanctification is merited as we humble ourselves before God — Bill Gothard

Females who enjoy horseback riding have a problem with rebellion — Bill Gothard, from testimonies of people who use their real names who have heard him say this in person

Unbiblical submission taught — Abigail was WRONG to do what she did in saving Nabal and his servants — Bill Gothard

Tamar was partially at fault for being raped, because she wasn’t spiritually alert and didn’t cry out — Bill Gothard

Rock music is evil because it is evil — Bill Gothard

Cabbage Patch dolls are demonized — Bill Gothard

Palin learned about the IACC at a conference held at Gothard's IBLP International Training Center in Indianapolis in April 2000, a conference at which speakers included Bill Gothard and crackpot pseudohistorian David Barton, who argues that the separation of church and state is a myth.

It appears that the IACC features actually implemented in Wasilla are pretty mild and unobjectionable--giving out certificates of good character to citizens who do things like return lost wallets, as an example given by the executive assistant to Wasilla's current mayor.

Palin's also clearly no hardcore advocate of Gothard, at least with respect to the first rule listed above about women not working outside of the home. And I still don't think the fears of theocracy, dominionism, and Christian reconstruction have any substance. But what is concerning about her IBLP involvement is that she looks very much like another George W. Bush. As Posner's article notes, Gothard promotes the idea of "confidence that what I have to say or do is true and just and right in the sight of God," which seems to promote the idea of moving confidently forward in decisions with blinkered ignorance and disastrous consequences that are simply ignored. Palin seems to have governed Alaska in such a manner, acting above the law in "Troopergate" with her husband refusing to show up to testify and claiming to support the environment while implementing policies that have left both lakes in Wasilla devoid of life. She also seems to be submissive to her husband in ways which do not seem appropriate for a governor, such as allowing him to play a role in making government decisions, adding some real substance to the concerned questions raised at Debunking Christianity:
• Is it now your view that God can call a woman to serve as president of the United States? Are you prepared to renounce publicly any further claim that God's plan is for men rather than women to exercise leadership in society, the workplace and public life? Do you acknowledge having become full-fledged egalitarians in this sphere at least?

• Would Palin be acceptable as vice president because she would still be under the ultimate authority of McCain as president, like the structure of authority that occurs in some of your churches? Have you fully come to grips with the fact that if after his election McCain were to die, Palin would be in authority over every male in the USA as president?

• If you agree that God can call a woman to serve as president, does this have any implications for your views on women's leadership in church life? Would you be willing to vote for a qualified woman to serve as pastor of your church? If not, why not?

• Do you believe that Palin is under the authority of her husband as head of the family? If so, would this authority spill over into her role as vice president?

• Do you believe that women carry primary responsibility for the care of children in the home? If so, does this affect your support for Palin? If not, are you willing to change your position and instead argue for flexibility in the distribution of child care responsibilities according to the needs of the family?
(As I've already noted here, there are some evangelicals who oppose Sarah Palin because they don't think a woman should be in such a position of authority, which is more consistent with Gothard.)

UPDATE (September 24, 2008): David Talbot's "Mean Girl" at Salon.com confirms several things that Munger told me, including Palin's betrayals of former mentors and (something I didn't write about here) her allusions that John Stein wasn't really a Christian, but a Jew, as part of her campaign to defeat him as mayor of Wasilla.

UPDATE (November 19, 2009): Palin's book shows that she's certainly a creationist.

HUD zero down payment mortgages

Craig Cantoni has pointed out the following January 19, 2004 press release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:

Initiative Aimed at Removing Major Barrier to Homeownership

LAS VEGAS - As part of President Bush's ongoing effort to help American families achieve the dream of homeownership, Federal Housing Commissioner John C. Weicher today announced that HUD is proposing to offer a "zero down payment" mortgage, the most significant initiative by the Federal Housing Administration in over a decade. This action would help remove the greatest barrier facing first-time homebuyers - the lack of funds for a down payment on a mortgage.

Speaking at the National Association of Home Builders' annual convention, Commissioner Weicher indicated that the proposal, part of HUD's Fiscal Year 2005 budget request, would eliminate the statutory requirement of a minimum three percent down payment for FHA-insured single-family mortgages for first-time homebuyers.

"Offering FHA mortgages with no down payment will unlock the door to homeownership for hundreds of thousands of American families, particularly minorities," said HUD's Acting Secretary Alphonso Jackson. "President Bush has pledged to create 5.5 million new minority homeowners this decade, and this historic initiative will help meet this goal."

Preliminary projections indicate that the new FHA mortgage product would generate about 150,000 homebuyers in the first year alone.

"This initiative would not only address a major hurdle to homeownership and allow many renters to afford their own home, it would help these families build wealth and become true stakeholders in their communities," said Commissioner Weicher. "In addition, it would help spur the production of new housing in this country."

For those that choose to participate in the Zero Down Payment program, HUD would charge a modestly higher insurance premium, which would be phased down over several years, and would also require families to undergo pre-purchase housing counseling.

So, how's that program working out?

If you're not in a position to be able to save funds for a downpayment, you're also not in a position to be able to have an emergency savings account for all of the unexpected expenses that arise with home ownership.

EFF sues the NSA, Bush, Cheney, Addington, etc.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed Jewel v. NSA to try another tactic in stopping unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping of U.S. residents. Their previous lawsuit against AT&T, Hepting v. AT&T, is still in federal court as the EFF argues with the government over whether the telecom immunity law passed by our spineless Congress is itself constitutional or applicable to the case.

Jewel v. NSA names as defendants the National Security Agency, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and "other individuals who ordered or participated in warrantless domestic surveillance."

Drugs in drinking water are controlled substances

In another amusing unintended consequence of the war on drugs, it turns out that the pharmaceuticals most likely to get disposed of into city water supplies are controlled substances. The restrictions on who has access to over 365 controlled substances are such that they can't be disposed of via normal hazardous waste disposal methods such as incineration, due to the costs of maintaining the controls on contractors who handle and haul away drugs for disposal.

As a result, hospitals and assisted living facilities are dumping drugs like codeine, morphine, oxycodone, diazepam (e.g., Valium) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) down the drains, behind locked doors with a witness to the disposal for record-keeping purposes.

The DEA is reportedly working out some modified regulations with the assistance of the EPA.

Sarah Palin and the John Birch Society

Orcinus has an interesting article about Sarah Palin, prompted by the finding of a 1995 photograph of Palin at her Wasilla city council desk with an article from the March 1995 issue of the John Birch Society's New American in front of her. Ben Smith at Politico has a more balanced piece on the same subject, which points out that there were lots of copies of that particular article sent out, and that Birchers themselves don't appear to be particularly impressed with Palin.

Government restriction on short sales may have unintended consequences

A lot of my investments are in S&P 500 index funds, which, until the recent dive by financial institutions, included financial stocks as its largest sector of investment (finance is now third after energy and IT). Over the past couple years, I've held shares in the Prudent Bear Fund (BEARX), a mutual fund that uses a strategy of shorting various stocks, purchasing put options, and investing in gold, as well as making some short-term trades of the exchange-traded funds ProShares UltraShort S&P 500 (SDS), which goes up when the S&P 500 goes down, and ProShares UltraShort Financial (SKF), which goes up when the Dow Jones U.S. Financials Index (DJUSFI) goes down.

I had been holding some shares of SKF for a couple weeks with a 30-day limit order to sell at $142, which would give me a nice profit. When it shot up Thursday, I upped my limit, and ended up selling some of my shares at over $150, and closing out my position. The market then reversed, and SKF dropped as low as $110, so I picked up a few more shares at around $117. Friday morning, SKF dropped to $87 and started to climb back up, when all of a sudden it stuck at $93 and no more trades went through. Trading was halted.

The SEC announced a "temporary emergency action" to ban short selling in 799 stocks of financial companies for the next ten business days (until the end of the day on October 2), which may be extended for up to another twenty business days (until the end of the day on October 31, bringing us right up to the election). The UK instituted a similar ban. Because of this ban, trading in SKF was temporarily halted. The SEC seems to be under the illusion that short sellers are responsible for the stocks of financial companies falling, rather than the fact that these companies have been engaging in risky behavior and are now loaded down with bad debt.

But a short time later today, trading in SKF resumed, after ProShares announced that they cannot accept orders to create new shares in the fund, since that would require taking new short positions in financial stocks, but those who hold existing positions are still permitted to trade them.

This effectively turns SKF into a closed-end fund, making SKF shares more scarce than they otherwise would be. When I saw that SKF was again trading, I bought more shares at $90, reasoning that the financial problems are far from fixed, the proposed government action is likely to be full of holes, and with normal routes to short selling closed, more of those who wish to hedge their bets against further drops in the financial sector will turn to other alternatives such as put options (though options markets are likely to be hurt by this ban as well, since the U.S., unlike the UK, didn't make an exception for options market makers) or shares in funds like SKF, the latter of which they will only be able to purchase from existing holders of the fund.

It's a serious mistake to think that short selling is something solely done by vultures trying to destroy companies at risk--it's a defensive measure against catastrophe for those who are mostly holding long-term investment positions.

An Associated Press story on the ban shows that the SEC is starting to recognize that it may cause some unintended problems:

But on Wall Street, professional short-sellers said they were being unfairly targeted by the SEC's prohibition. And some analysts warned of possible negative consequences, maintaining that banning short-selling could actually distort -- not stabilize -- edgy markets.

Indeed, hours after the new ban was announced, some of its details appeared to be a work in progress. The SEC said its staff was recommending exemptions from the ban for trades market professionals make to hedge their investments in stock options or futures.

"I don't think it's going to accomplish what they're after," said Jeff Tjornehoj, senior analyst at fund research firm Lipper Inc. Without short sellers, he said, investors will have a harder time gauging the true value of a stock.

"Most people want to be in a stock for the long run and want to see prices go up. Short sellers are useful for throwing water in their face and saying, `Oh yeah? Think about this,'" Tjornehoj said. As a result, restricting the practice could inflate the value of some stocks, opening the door for a big downward correction later.

"Without offering a flip-side to the price-discovery mechanism, I think there's a pressure built up in stock prices that only gets relieved in a great cataclysm," he said.

Disclosure: I presently hold no shares of BEARX or SDS, but do have a position in SKF. This post does not constitute investment advice.

UPDATE (September 20, 2008): Paul Krugman critiques leaked details of the bailout deal. If accurate, I agree with him that it's a bad deal and I expect to see SKF climb on Monday.

Iraq peace: surge working, or results of ethnic cleansing?

Reuters reports that nighttime satellite photos from Sunni Arab areas of Baghdad show that the lights in those areas began to go out before the U.S. troop surge began in 2007, suggesting that population shift, rather than the surge, may have had greater responsibility for the drop in violence.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sarah Palin's Yahoo account hacked

Sarah Palin has apparently been using a personal email account for State of Alaska business (perhaps following Republican precedent on how to avoid subpoenas?), and it's been compromised.

Wikileaks has the documents.

UPDATE (September 19, 2008): The screenshots used by the attacker showed that he used ctunnel as his web proxy, and contained enough information to identify his source IP in ctunnel's logs.

As pointed out by commenter Schtacky, it looks like they've identified the culprit, who used some Google research and Yahoo's password recovery feature to change the password on the account to break in.

This shows the problem with choosing "security questions" for password recovery that have answers which are easily publicly available.

I hope that this kid's actions don't sabotage the corruption case against Palin that may have been supported by evidence in her Yahoo email, evidence that is now tainted by the fact that it was compromised (and subsequently deleted).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Religious Right's Religious Right

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars discusses those right-wing Christians who oppose Sarah Palin because God doesn't want women to hold leadership positions or even vote.

He lays out some choice quotes from Covenant News, the website promoting these extreme views, and observes that this website is the home to contributors such as Gary North and Ron Paul.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cindy McCain's drug-related crimes

Radley Balko at The Agitator replies to Jennifer Rubin at Commentary about why the Washington Post's coverage of Cindy McCain's addiction to painkillers and commission of crimes to support it is newsworthy.

Balko gives two reasons:
  • John and Cindy McCain have touted her addiction an example in overcoming adversity. That presents quite the contrast to McCain’s legislative history as an ardent drug warrior. People accused of crimes similar to those Cindy McCain was accused of committing usually go to prison (even when they’re innocent). Her crimes haven’t been well-reported in the media. And they show how John McCain (who, by the way, is running for president) believes in one set of rules for the friends and family of powerful politicians, and a different set of rules for everyone else.
  • While Cindy McCain’s addiction and theft from her children’s charity to support that addiction were lightly covered at the time, there has yet to be much coverage of it at all during this campaign. And one aspect of the case that’s been covered even less is John and Cindy McCain’s attempt to railroad Tom Gosinski, the guy who blew the whistle on Cindy McCain’s theft from her children’s charity. The Post story is one of the first to get his version of what happened.

And Balko concludes:

So here we have a U.S. senator who tried to destroy the guy who blew the whistle on his wife’s crimes, who then used his political power to work out a sweetheart deal with prosecutors to get his wife a slap on the wrist for those crimes (which often send others to prison), and who has then spent his entire career fighting for longer sentences and less leniency for people who commit similar crimes. And he’s now running for president.

The Washington Post story is here. Phoenix's New Times covered the story of Cindy McCain's drug addiction and Tom Gosinski whistle-blowing back in 1994. The New Times story contains much more detail than the Post story, including lies told by Cindy McCain as part of the McCains handling of the unwanted media coverage of the story.

Amy Silverman of New Times, who has covered McCain in detail for many years, has a lengthy recent article about McCain here, which includes stories about McCain such as his sabotaging a hearing of Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford, Barry Goldwater's irritation with McCain, McCain's exploitation of the illness of Mo Udall for publicity, and more.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

McCain and Palin lie about factcheck.org

A McCain-Palin ad cites factcheck.org to claim that Obama has made false attacks on Palin--but the attacks haven't come from Obama. McCain and Palin are appealing to factcheck.org's accurate content in order to lie about Obama, and factcheck.org calls them on their dishonesty.

Palin falsely claims Alaska produces 20% of U.S. energy

Sarah Palin said in an interview with Charlie Gibson that Alaska "produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy."

Not true.

Alaska produces 14% of the oil from U.S. wells (not 14% of oil consumed), produces 3.5% of domestically produced U.S. energy, about 2.4% of U.S. energy consumed.

McCain repeated the same falsehood to Gibson, saying "[Palin's] been governor of our largest state, in charge of 20 percent of America's energy supply."

(Via factcheck.org.)

If they keep repeating this claim, they are liars. There's already good evidence that they are bullshitters.

Walking with the Dinosaurs

Kat and I went last night to see "Walking with Dinosaurs" at the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix. It was a visually impressive show--they did a great job on the dinosaurs, which were quite realistic in appearance and movement, with only minor distractions. The smaller dinosaurs were operated by a person inside, whose legs were partially visible since a human's legs don't fit into the shape of the dinosaur's legs. The larger dinosaurs were each mounted on some kind of flat long vehicle that was colored to match the floor, but was still visible.

The music was loud and somewhat bombastic, the kind of stirring movie soundtrack music that can be sometimes irritating--but not as much so as the typical Phoenix Suns intro that regularly happens at the same location. The dinosaurs movements involved very limited interactions with each other--only occasionally so much as touching each other--which made the "battles" more of a suggestion than a depiction. No doubt this was to avoid damaging some expensive dinosaurs.

The production was narrated by an actor playing "Huxley" the paleontologist, who walked around on the floor with the dinosaurs, describing the historical context with the help of video projected onto several screens. The arena itself was encircled by inflatable plant life that "grew" and "died" at the appropriate times. Some lighting and smoke effects also contributed to the atmosphere, for fires, volcanos, and the comet theory of the K-T mass extinction. Some other props included some giant rocks which were also used to represent the continents, and a big ball of dinosaur poop (one of several kid-pleasing elements that I also appreciated).

It was definitely a bit more on the entertainment side of "edutainment" than the education side. Although the script tried to convey the timescales involved, it didn't try very hard--some visual analogies on the video screen might have helped. It explained the difference between fossils of dead animals and trace fossils that show evidence of how they lived, but made no attempt to talk about the geological strata or how we know the enormous ages involved. It didn't, to my mind, do much of anything to try to proactively counter young-earth creationist nonsense about the dinosaurs.

And that was a pity, because as we left the arena, we were confronted by young-earth creationists from the Arizona Origin Science Association handing out copies of Ken Ham's booklet, "What REALLY Happened to the Dinosaurs?" I heard one gentleman come back and ask for another copy, saying "my brother[-in-law?] is an evolutionary biologist, and I want to give him one." I hope that man's relative takes the time to rebut it.

There are some photos and video of "Walking with Dinosaurs" at Brian Switek's Laelaps blog, along with his description of the show.

August's Notices of Trustee's Sales

As Jim pointed out here, Maricopa County saw another record month for pre-foreclosures - though AZ Central's count is different than mine. I can only tell you what I get from the recorder's office (which was 7286).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Candidate charitable contributions

USA Today reports that the Biden family has given $3,690 to charity over the last decade, an average of $369 per year, on "modest" income that has ranged from a low of $210,797 in 1999 to a high of over $320,000 in 2005. Last year, they gave $995 on income of $319,853 (0.3%), their highest giving rate of the decade.

A 2005 study of households with incomes from $200,000 to $500,000 per year shows average charitable giving of $40,746 per year.

John McCain has given $202,000 to charity in the last two years, about 25% of his income--but of course he is married to a very wealthy woman who earned more than $6 million in 2006. Last year he gave $105,467 (half of what he and his wife donated as a couple) on income of $405,409, which would be more impressive if it weren't just an even division of their reported expenses reported without the comparison figure of her income.

The Obamas gave $240,000 to charity last year on income of more than $4.2 million (5.7%). In 2000, they gave $2,350 to charity on income of $240,726 (1%).

Palin's tax data hasn't yet been released. There may be some tax problems lurking in her records.

John McCain's personal charitable giving appears quite generous, but it's somewhat less so considering his wife's much higher separate income and my suspicion that she effectively subsidized his charitable giving as the chief breadwinner and provider. The Obamas were very generous last year, but not so much in 2000. The Bidens, not at all generous. This seems to lend further support to the thesis that conservatives are more generous with their own money than liberals.

My feeling is that most professionals earning six-figure incomes should be able to give 5-10% of their gross income to charitable causes without much trouble. The average figures for those earning $200,000 to $500,000 strike me as just about right.

(UPDATE, 17 May 2021):  The Bidens' 2020 tax returns show much more generous charitable contributions:

The Bidens donated $30,704 to 10 charities last year. The largest gift was $10,000 to the Beau Biden Foundation, a nonprofit focused on child abuse that is named after the president's deceased son.

But that's on $607,336 in income, so it's just over 5%.  Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff gave just under 1.6%:

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, also released their 2020 tax filings. They paid a rate of 36.7% on income of $1,695,225 and contributed $27,006 to charity.


Virginia Supreme Court strikes down anti-spam law

Spammer Julian Jaynes now gets off as a result of a bad decision from the Virginia Supreme Court, reversing its own previous decision from six months ago.

The court ruled that the Virginia anti-spam law's prohibition of header falsification constitutes an unconstitutional infringement of the right to anonymous political and religious speech, suggesting that it would have been acceptable of it was limited to commercial speech.

The court's decision was predicated on the assumption that header falsification is a necessary requirement for anonymity, but this is a faulty assumption. All that is needed for anonymity is the omission of identity information that leads back to an individual, not the falsification of headers or identity information. That can be done with remailers, proxies, and anonymously-obtained email accounts, with no header falsification required. I previously made this argument in more detail in response to the arguments given by Jaynes' attorney in the press.

I also disagree with the court's apparent assumption that commercial speech is deserving of less protection than religious or political speech. What makes spam a problem is its unsolicited bulk nature, not its specific content.

Foreclosures hit a record high

CNN reports:
Foreclosures hit another record high in August: 304,000 homes were in default and 91,000 families lost their houses.

More than 770,000 homes have been repossessed by lenders since August 2007, when the credit crunch took hold.

The report from RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosures properties, is the latest in string of bad news for housing.

Foreclosure filings of all kinds, including notices of defaults, notices of auctions and bank repossessions, grew 12% in August over July, and 27% compared with August 2007.

Arizona preforeclosures also set another record in August, according to the Arizona Republic:

...notice of trustee sales, in metropolitan Phoenix hit a new high of 7,271 in August, according to the real-estate-data firm Information Market. Foreclosures in the Valley have been hovering around 4,000 for each of the past few months but are bound to climb if more struggling homeowners don't get help.

So much for seeing July's drop as the start of a trend.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Palin collected per-diem from Alaska while at home

Yahoo reports:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has charged her state a daily allowance, normally used for official travel, for more than 300 nights spent at her home, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

An analysis of travel statements filed by the governor, now John McCain's Republican running mate, shows she claimed the per diem allowance on 312 occasions when she was home in Wasilla and that she billed taxpayers $43,490 for travel by her husband and children.

Per diem payments are meant for meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business. State officials told The Post her claims — nearly $17,000 over 19 months — were permitted because her "duty station" is Juneau, the capital, and she was in Wasilla 600 miles away.

Palin spends little time at the governor's mansion in Juneau, especially when the Legislature is out of session, and instead prefers to live in Wasilla and commute to her office in Anchorage.

I think the travel to and from Wasilla is arguably reasonable, depending on frequency, but per diem for meals and incidentals in Wasilla seems as wrong as if she were taking the per diem for meals and incidentals while staying in the governor's mansion.

UPDATE (September 15, 2008): The Palins haven't yet released their tax records, and it may be that she owes taxes on those per diems.

Sex education reduces abortion rates

This doesn't seem terribly surprising, but Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars points out a New York Times op-ed piece that observes that the U.S. ties with Hungary for most abortions among OECD nations, even though Denmark has the most sexually active teenage girls. Denmark's teenage birthrate is 1/6 of the U.S.'s, and its abortion rate is 1/2 of the U.S.'s. The Netherlands has a teenage birthrate 1/7 of the U.S.'s, and an abortion rate 1/7 of the U.S.'s, and its teenagers start having sex on average two years after U.S. teens. The difference is that Denmark and the Netherlands have comprehensive sex education, while the U.S. has been pushing abstinence-only education that doesn't work, and about half of U.S. states now reject federal funding for abstinence-only sex education for that reason.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Factcheck.org on bogus Palin claims

Factcheck.org has a section up on "Sliming Palin." Check it before forwarding on emails, and reply to the authors who are spreading falsehoods.

Palin didn't cut Alaska's "special needs" education budget by 62% (she tripled it), she didn't ask for any books to be banned, she was never a member of the Alaskan Independence Party (though her husband was), she didn't endorse Patrick Buchanan for president in 2000 (she wore a Buchanan button as a courtesy when Buchanan visited Wasilla, but worked for Steve Forbes' campaign), and she hasn't tried to put creationism in schools.

UPDATE (September 16, 2008): Apparently one of the books that Palin had inquired about how to challenge and remove from the library was a book by a local Palmer, AK pastor named Rev. Howard Bess titled, Pastor, I am Gay. It does appear that there were some particular books that caught her attention which is why she made the inquiry.

UPDATE (September 16, 2008): Philip Munger of Wasilla says that Palin is definitely a young-earth creationist:
In June 1997, both Palin and I had responsibilities at the graduation ceremony of a small group of Wasilla area home schoolers. I directed the Mat-Su College Community Band, which played music, and she gave the commencement address. It was held at her church, the Wasilla Assembly of God.

Palin had recently become Wasilla mayor, beating her earliest mentor, John Stein, the then-incumbent mayor. A large part of her campaign had been to enlist fundamentalist Christian groups, and invoke evangelical buzzwords into her talks and literature.

As the ceremony concluded, I bumped into her in a hall away from other people. I congratulated her on her victory, and took her aside to ask about her faith. Among other things, she declared that she was a young earth creationist, accepting both that the world was about 6,000-plus years old, and that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time.

I asked how she felt about the second coming and the end times. She responded that she fully believed that the signs of Jesus returning soon "during MY lifetime," were obvious. "I can see that, maybe you can't - but it guides me every day."
Surely there must be other witnesses besides Munger to her creationist views who can provide confirmation.

ASU WebDevil article on FFRF billboards

Christina Caldwell has written a thoughtful and positive piece on the FFRF billboards in Phoenix for Arizona State University's student newspaper online.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Post-Mormon billboard in Gilbert

A "You are not alone" billboard promoting a group for people who have left the Mormon religion is up in Mesa, put up by Paul Hahn of www.postmormon.org.

Unlike usual anti-Mormon proselytizing, this group isn't promoting evangelical Christianity--it's religiously neutral, and its website includes comments about Richard Dawkins' "Root of All Evil," the film "Jesus Camp," and a debate between Rev. Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens, along with criticisms of Mormonism based on DNA evidence and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which are good rational reasons not to believe in the religion.

ApostAZ podcast #8

ApostAZ podcast #8 is out:
Episode 008 Atheism and Sam Kinnison!!! in Phoenix- Go to atheists.meetup.com/157 for group events! Discussion of Matthew 10:10's Energeticism. (Matt: you have an open invite to be on the show and discuss it) Basics of Evolutionary Psychology. http://www.mixx.com/s... Billboards and Photos.
This is really #9, and #8 is the "lost" podcast, thanks to the burglary of Brad's home and theft of his computer.

My comments on energeticism may be found at the Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group message board. I've got a copy of Matthew's book but haven't been able to get past the first chapter.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

RIP Chester William Anderson

The Arizona Republic has published this obituary:
Chester William Anderson passed away at age 97 on August 19, 2008, following a brief illness. Beloved husband of the late Laurel R. Anderson, he is survived by three children : Kelly (Will) Momsen, Barbara Anderson and Bob (Jannie) Anderson. He was blessed with five grandchildren : Bill (Lara) Momsen, Kirsten (Rob) Carr, Rick Momsen, Laura (David) Meehan and David (Marnie) Momsen. He is further survived by six great-grandchildren. He was born in Burlington, Iowa, to Charles and Hulda Anderson on February 6, 1911 together with siblings Carl Anderson, John Robert Anderson and Mildred Anderson. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1934. After working at Standard Oil of Indiana and Ordnance Steel Foundry, he became Executive Vice-President of Associated Industries of the Quad Cities. After 7 years, his family moved to Milwaukee where he became the President of Management Resources Assoc. of Milwaukee, an organization dedicated to providing information to employers in the area of labor/management. He retired after 26 years and moved to Phoenix in 1980. During his illustrious career, he was Chairman of the Illinois Industrial Council, the Wisconsin Industrial Council and the National Industrial Council's Industrial Relations Group. He was a Founding Board Member of the Council on a Union-Free Environment (Washington DC) and a lifetime member of the Foundation for Economic Education. He was Chairman and Board Member for the Institute for Humane Studies (Arlington, Virginia) and a lifetime Member of the Mont Pelerin Society of Economists, an international society of top economic thinkers. Among his proudest accomplishments was the creation of the Milwaukee Forum, a discussion group of business and professional leaders and educators who met with nationally known speakers on a quarterly basis. In Phoenix, he created the Economics Discussion Group in 1982 which continues to meet to this day. Other than his devotion to family, his greatest love was liberty and promoting the concept through education. With this in mind, memorial gifts to the Institute for Humane Studies (3301 Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA, 22201) are suggested in lieu of flowers. Memorial at Sunland Memorial Park September 7th at 2 PM.
I met Chet Anderson around 2001 when I joined his Economics Discussion Group, after learning of it at a reception for the Institute for Humane Studies. (I attended several IHS seminars and received IHS fellowships during grad school.) Chet was personally acquainted with many prominent figures in classical liberal and libertarian circles, including F.A. "Baldy" Harper (founder of IHS, on whose board Chet sat), Ludwig von Mises (Chet attended some of his lectures), Milton Friedman, Leonard Read (founder of the Foundation for Economic Education), and Ayn Rand (Chet once had lunch with her).

Chet always seemed positive and optimistic every time I spoke with him, and he remembered and asked about details of my life each time I met him, right up to the last meeting I saw him at a few months ago. His mind seemed clear and sharp even then, though I know he had a stroke in the weeks before he died and was unable to speak to a friend who visited him in the hospital.

At and after today's memorial service, many people spoke of Chet's optimism, his love for ideas and liberty, and his willingness to engage in courteous and patient discussion with anyone. He was an advocate for liberty and freedom who has done much to promote those ideas around the world, and I've gained much from my participation in the group he started 26 years ago.

Dirty Politician: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY)

Long-time drug warrior politician Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) turns out to be a dirty politician. As Radley Balko of The Agitator puts it:
...the chair of the House Committee that writes our tax laws didn’t know that he’d been given an interest-free loan for a luxury Caribbean Villa, didn’t know that he was getting taxable income off of rentals from said villa, and didn’t know that he had a duty to report and disclose and report the $75,000 in income from said rentals that apparently slipped his notice?

Riiii-iiiight. This would be the same guy who didn’t know how he somehow was able to accumulate four rent-controlled apartments in New York City, and didn’t know about laws against using rent-controlled apartments for purposes other than a primary residence.

Rangel’s either a corrupt liar, or he’s shockingly ignorant of laws a man with his position and responsibilities ought to know about. Either way, he should be stripped of his chairmanship.

I'd go farther than that--any corrupt politician should be removed from office and tossed into prison. It rarely happens, because nearly all of them, along with the leaders in the executive branch, are similarly corrupt.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Ian McShane narrates McCain: Reformed Maverick

The Daily Show has outdone itself with this one.

UPDATE (September 8, 2008): The part about McCain crashing five planes isn't true.

FFRF billboards are up

A group of us from the Phoenix Atheists Meetup had lunch today near one of the billboards and used the occasion for a photo op. This is one of the five billboards, which, contrary to my earlier descriptions, are all of the "Imagine No Religion" design. Too bad, I would have liked to have seen the "Beware of Dogma" design up, as well as the "Keep Religion Out of Politics" slogan. (If I obtain permission, I'll update this photo with one of the group shots, which can be seen at the Phoenix Atheists Meetup site.)

There's some additional coverage in Ed Montini's column at the Arizona Republic.

Cocaine plane was used by CIA

The Gulfstream II jet that crashed in Mexico last year with 3.7 tons of cocaine on board was frequently used by the CIA to fly terror suspects to Guantanamo Bay, and may have also been used for "extraordinary rendition" flights to CIA prisons overseas, as well as for Bush fundraisers. Donna Blue Aircraft, the company the plane was registered to, took down its website yesterday.

(Via The Agitator.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bobcats taking over foreclosed homes

See the story at BLDGBLOG. (Thanks for the link, Reed!)

Pundits are more honest when they think they're off the air

Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy say what they really think about Sarah Palin. Why couldn't they be honest about it on the air?

CNN finally does its job

Campbell Brown at CNN shows what a reporter is supposed to do when questioning the representative of a political candidate--insist that they actually answer the questions asked in a meaningful way. After this interview with McCain representative Tucker Bounds, McCain cancelled an interview with CNN in response to what he viewed as unreasonable behavior.

(Via Juan Cole.)

Sarah Palin, promoter of pork barrel spending

Before Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the town received no federal funds. As mayor, she hired the Anchorage law firm of Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, to help the town obtain federal funds. The Wasilla account was handled by Steven W. Silver, a partner in the firm and former chief of staff to indicted-for-corruption Sen. Ted Stevens, who helped secure $67 million in federal earmarks for the town of 6,700 residents--$4,000 per person.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

Palin has stood up to corruption, blowing the whistle on unethical behavior by the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party despite taking a lot of heat for it. But she's also gotten into some trouble of her own, and it almost seems that she fell into her anti-corruption role by accident.

A description of Palin from her fellow Wasilla, Alaska resident Anne Kilkenny is well worth reading. (Kilkenny is also quoted regarding Palin in this New York Times story.) For further perspective, here's another close-up view of Palin as she's seen in Alaska.

UPDATE (September 4, 2008): As governor of Alaska, Palin asked for $550 million in earmarks in her first year in office, and for 31 federal earmarks totaling $198 million so far this year. Oink!

John McCain has long been a critic of earmarks. Turns out he has specifically been critical of earmarks requested by Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Misinformation about Google's Chrome EULA

Adam Frucci at Gizmodo writes:
So, are you enjoying the snappy, clean performance of Google Chrome since downloading yesterday? If so, you might want to take a closer peek at the end user license agreement you didn't pay any attention to when downloading and installing it. Because according to what you agreed to, Google owns everything you publish and create while using Chrome. Ah-whaaa?
This is false. The EULA doesn't transfer ownership of anything. The provision that has everyone upset is the rather broadly worded provision 11.1:
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.
Note that the very first sentence says that you retain all intellectual property rights. This gives Google the rights to do the things it already does--let other people play YouTube videos you upload, syndicate your Blogger content, store cached versions of your web pages, allow people to see versions of your web pages translated into other languages, display thumbnails of images on your web pages in Google Images search, and so forth. The last sentence appears to limit it solely for the purpose "to display, distribute and promote the Services" and not allow them to, say, use your content in order to compete with you, undermine your intellectual property rights, etc.

An earlier provision in the EULA also makes this explicit:
9.4 Other than the limited license set forth in Section 11, Google acknowledges and agrees that it obtains no right, title or interest from you (or your licensors) under these Terms in or to any Content that you submit, post, transmit or display on, or through, the Services, including any intellectual property rights which subsist in that Content (whether those rights happen to be registered or not, and wherever in the world those rights may exist). Unless you have agreed otherwise in writing with Google, you agree that you are responsible for protecting and enforcing those rights and that Google has no obligation to do so on your behalf.
So even if 11.1 is a bit too broad, there's this provision to fall back on if you feel your intellectual property rights are being infringed.

Some commenters at Gizmodo said that they didn't agree with this provision and therefore have uninstalled the software, but that's not sufficient to terminate this agreement. Terminating the agreement requires you to give notice to Google in writing and close all of your accounts with them:
13.2 If you want to terminate your legal agreement with Google, you may do so by (a) notifying Google at any time and (b) closing your accounts for all of the Services which you use, where Google has made this option available to you. Your notice should be sent, in writing, to Google’s address which is set out at the beginning of these Terms.
One thing that is clear from these terms is that Google definitely wants to interpose itself between user and content in a manner similar to what Microsoft has done for years with Windows, and in a much stickier way than telecom providers are between user and content. If you have network neutrality concerns about telecom providers or had antitrust concerns about Microsoft's bundling of the Internet Explorer web browser with Windows, you should probably have similar concerns about Google, given the way use of its browser is bundled with an EULA covering all of its services. Shouldn't I be able to discontinue this EULA by getting rid of the browser, and not by terminating all of my accounts with Google? Will there be a lawsuit about unbundling the Google Chrome browser from the rest of its services?

UPDATE: Ars Technica reports that Google says this was an error and they will be correcting the license, which was borrowed from other Google services, apparently without careful review. It also notes that since Chrome is distributed under an open license, users can download the source code and compile it themselves without being bound by the agreement.

The major flaw in the 11.1 language is that it gives Google the right to publish content you merely "display" in the browser, even if it's private content on a local server or restricted content from a secured website. That clearly wasn't their intent, but that's an implication of how it was written.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Palin Christian heritage declaration misquotes, misrepresents

Last year, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin declared "Christian Heritage Week" in Alaska from October 21-27, 2007, with a proclamation that misquoted and misrepresented various Founding Fathers, at least two of whom would have opposed just such a proclamation (Jefferson and Madison).

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars steps through her proclamation and corrects the misinformation.