Archive for January 2008

Spam Call of the Day

Me:  Hello?
Caller:  I represent your local yellow pages and need to update our information on your account

BIG RED FLAG:  There are many scam artists out there who take your business information and then treat it like a "buy" order for advertising and bill later.  Beware people calling saying they are just trying to "update your listing."   I have also had folks who actually cut and pasted recordings of my phone calls to paste my answers to questions that have not been asked.

Me:  What city are you representing?
C:  we're local
M:  Local where?
C: here
M:  I have 200 locations across the country, what local area are you representing?
C: we're worldwide -- everywhere.
M:  CLICK (me hanging up)

Wow, telemarketing scripts by Kafka.  Unbelievably, they called again 10 seconds later

M: Hello
C:  We represent Phoenix
M:  OK, Phoenix.  I don't have any operations in Phoenix, just my HQ.  I don't want to be listed in Phoenix
C:  You are already listed
M:  Well that explains why I get calls at my accounting office looking for a camping space.  Please remove me.
C:  Can I have your name please
M:  No you may not.  You said I had an account already.  You should know my name  CLICK

Incredibly, my new favorite Indian pitbull telemarketer calls again

M:  Hello
C:  blah, blah, something, blah blah.
M:  Look, please take this down.  I do not want a yellow pages listing in Phoenix.  I would like my Yellow Pages listing removed in Phoenix.  I do not want to pay you any money.  I do not want to give you any information.  I do not want you to call me any more.  CLICK

I do not want it sam I am.  I do not want green eggs and spam. 

I probably still will get a bill.

Clintons: Welcome to 1905

Bill Clinton is at least honest to some extent in saying that cutting back on CO2 emissions will requires us to throttle back the economy:

In a long, and interesting speech, he [Bill Clinton] characterized what
the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to do to combat global
warming this way: "We just have to slow down our economy and cut back
our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our
grandchildren."

But how much?  Activists try to make the average person feel like the amount is "not much" by spinning out rosy stories of 3rd graders fighting global warming by recycling.  But in fact Bill's wife Hillary makes the degree of cuts clearer:

...[Clinton's] plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming...

And recognize, this is the typical figure being cited by global warming catastrophists for "necessary" US cuts.  So how much is 80%?  With current technology, an almost unimaginable cut.  Its hard to get good Co2 data, but here is a chart from some place called the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center that purports to show US historic CO2 production from man-made sources:
Usaco2_2

The chartsmanship sucks here, but 1990 looks like about 1.35 billion metric tons.  20% of that would be 0.27 billion metric tons.  That appears to be the level we hit in about ... 1905.  So, apparently without using nuclear power (since Clinton opposed nuclear expansion in one of the debates, I think in Nevada)  she wants us in the next 42 years to get back to the energy production of about 1905.  Now this is a bit unfair, since efficiencies and GDP per ton of CO2 have improved substantially since 1905.  So to be fair she may only want to take us back to about 1930.

While this is scary, what Clinton and other global warming crusaders want to do to the third world is even scarier.  Right now, close to a billion people who have been in poverty forever are posed, via growth in China, India, and SE Asia, to finally exit poverty.  Global warming crusaders want this to stop.  For example, here is the former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern says that India must stay poor:

Mr
Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank, sends out a very
clear message: "We need to cut down the total amount of carbon
emissions by half by 2050." At current levels, the per capita global
emissions stand at 7 tonnes, or a total of 40-45 gigatonnes. At this
rate, global temperatures could rise by 2.5-3 degrees by then. But to
reduce the per capita emissions by half in 2050, most countries would
have to be carbon neutral. For instance, the US currently has, at 20-25
tonnes, per capita emissions levels that are three times the global
average.

The European Union's emission levels stand at 10-15
tonnes per capita. China is at about 3-4 tonnes per capita and India,
at 1 tonne per capita, is the only large-sized economy that is below
the desired carbon emission levels of 2050. "India should keep it that way and insist that the rich countries pay their share of the burden in reducing emissions," says Mr Stern.

No cars for these folks either!

The Productive Worker Exodus

Well, Arizona nativists are getting what they wanted:  Productive workers who don't happen to have been licensed by the government to work here are leaving in droves  (via Disloyal Opposition)

Unable to find jobs, or fearful that their loved ones will be caught
and deported, illegal immigrants and their legal friends and relatives
are fleeing the state in what the press has dubbed "Hispanic panic." In
a state where illegals make up better than 10% of the workforce,
the exodus promises to have a major impact. The vacancy rate in
Tucson-area apartment complexes favored by illegal immigrants has
jumped dramatically since the law went into effect....

Of course, advocates of the sanctions law will say that this is exactly the result they were hoping for; they want Hispanics to flee the state (usually, they'll claim that they just want the illegal
ones to leave). But with workers leaving Arizona, taking their rent
money, mortgage payments and shopping dollars with them, and with state
employers facing rising labor costs -- if they can even find workers --
the economy is likely to take a major hit. In fact, the University of
Arizona predicts a $29 billion economic loss if illegal workers are successfully purged from the state (full report here in PDF).

Wild West Mentality

Unfortunately, Arizona Sheriffs, including out own egregious Joe Arpaio here in Phoenix, still have a wild west mentality:

On the night of July 29, 2007, Dibor Roberts,
a Senegalese-born American citizen living in Cottonwood, Arizona, was
driving home from her job as a nurse's aide at an assisted living
center located in the Village of Oak Creek, an unincorporated community
near Sedona. Along Beaverhead Flat Road, an unlit, unpopulated route
through the desert, she suddenly saw flashing lights in her rearview
mirror. Fearful of stopping on a deserted stretch of pavement,
especially in light of reports she'd heard of criminals impersonating police,
she decided to proceed to a populated area before stopping the car, the
nearest such area being Cornville, an unincorporated settlement along
the road to Cottonwood. She slowed her car to acknowledge the flashing
lights and continued to drive. Her decision wasn't especially unusual
-- in fact, it's recommended by some police departments....

On Cornville Road, well before the populated area, Sheriff's
Sergeant Jeff Neunum apparently tired of waiting for Roberts to reach a
settled area. While he was, in fact, a police officer, he now proceeded
to justify every fear an American may have about rogue cops. He raced
his cruiser in front of Roberts's car, forcing her off the road. He
then smashed her driver's-side window with his baton and grabbed a
cellphone she was using to check his identity. Accounts vary at this
point. While police deny it, the press has reported that Neunum dragged
Roberts from her vehicle, threw her to the ground, and handcuffed her
while driving his knee into her back.

All of this because she was going 15 miles over the speed limit on a deserted rural road.

The Consumers are Saved!

I could probably start a blog just featuring ridiculous government licensing practices.  As I have written before, licensing generally has little to do with the consumer, and more to do with protecting current incumbents from competition.  Via Radley Balko, this is one of the uglier examples I have seen of late:

Mary Jo Pletz was really, really good at eBay. But now the former
stay-at-home mother and gonzo Internet retailer fears a maximum $10
million fine for selling 10,000 toys, antiques, videos, sports
memorabilia, books, tools and infant clothes on eBay without an
auctioneer's license.

An official from the Department of State knocked on Pletz's
white-brick ranch here north of Allentown in late December 2006 and
said her Internet business, D&J Virtual Consignment, was being
investigated for violating state laws....

The 33-year-old opened her Internet business in 2004 so she could
stay home with her 6-month-old daughter, Julia, who was diagnosed with
a hypothalamic hamartoma brain tumor.

She cooperated when told it was illegal and works at dental offices
in Allentown, Bethlehem and Lehighton as a hygienist to help pay the
bills at home. Julia, whose health stabilized on medication, is
enrolled in day care. Pletz also has a son, Douglas, 7.

But the state has not dropped prosecution. It sent Pletz a complaint in
April and an amended complaint in December. The complaint says she
could be fined $1,000 for each violation of the state law. The April
complaint noted 10,000 sales. Pletz and her attorney, Joseph V. Sebelin
Jr. of Palmerton, did the math - $10 million in possible fines. The
second complaint does not list a number....

Because of the complaint, Pletz worries the state also could revoke
her dental hygienist's license, which she earned by attending community
college for seven years at night.

"I really wish that they will walk away from that one and prosecute
somebody else," said State Rep. Michael Sturla (D., Lancaster), who is
chairman of the House Professional Licensure Committee. "There is every
reason in the world that if she is found guilty, she should be
exonerated," he said.

This latter is the most outrageous of all, and it is a line taken by a number of public officials -- that the concept of prosecuting people who are selling things on eBay is just fine, but they should not have started with someone who has less sympathetic.  Maybe Exxon has an eBay arm.

Sturla has proposed the bill to create the electronic auctioneer's
license. The license would require the Internet seller to buy a $5,000
bond for about $40 a year. This would protect consumers, he said.

Bull.  This would protect competitors.  eBay has numerous controls in place to identify problem sellers.

D&J Virtual Consignment had 11,000 feedback comments on eBay
and 14 were negative, Pletz said, giving her a 99.9 percent
satisfaction rating.

I can say from experience that for some reason they must teach this in
government school -- when in doubt, make service businesses get a
bond.

This is not unique - Ohio tried to do the same thing.  But why is a person who sells on eBay an auctioneer at all?  Isn't eBay the auctioneer?  If I turn my stuff over to Christies to auction off, setting a reserve price in advance and having them take a sales commission, how is that any different than putting the same stuff on eBay.  In Ms. Pletz case, eBay is earning the auction commission.  She is just taking a retail margin.

The New Micro-Fascism

Get ready, because global warming will soon be an excuse for government micro-management of any number of everyday behaviors.  We have already seen California's attempt to have the government take control of your home thermostat.  In England, the target is patio heaters:

Britain's growing café culture and taste for alfresco drinking and
dining may be under threat from MEPs who want to ban the patio heater.

A
vote in Brussels today is expected to call on the European Commission
to abolish the heaters to help to tackle climate change. Such a move
could cost the pub and catering trade dear.

Pubs spent about £85
million on patio heaters after the smoking ban was introduced last
year. Besides forcing smokers into the cold there is concern that a ban
on patio heaters could bring a significant cash loss to pubs, cafés and
restaurants.

By the way, something not mentioned in the article, perhaps because it takes a knowledge of actual science and stuff, is that these heaters tend to burn LPG and propane, which due to their molecular structure produce far less CO2 per BTU than other fossil fuels.

One is left to wonder what pareto-style ranking of CO2 reduction opportunities put patio heaters at the top of the list.  In fact, there is no possible rational analysis that would make this a legislative priority.  It is a great illustration of two points about such technocratic endeavors:

  1. Government cannot correct supposed market irrationalities because governments always act more irrational than private players in the market, no matter who is in charge.
  2. Most legislation supposedly to fight global warming is using global warming as a fig leaf to hide the actual reason for the legislation.  My guess in this case is that the sponsors of this legislation have some other reason for wanting the ban, but dress it up as global warming.  This mirrors the larger issues, there socialists, unrepentant Ehrlich admirers,  and anti-globalization loonies have repackaged themselves as fighting global warming and then, surprise, proposed the same government actions they were pushing for pre-global-warming-hysteria.

Like Bill Gates Complaining About Starbucks Prices

I thought this from

At Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, parents fear cuts in
Montgomery County's proposed $2.1 billion budget will threaten the
math-science magnet program.

Schaeffer puts this in perspective:

The desperate schools of Montgomery County will need to find some way
[to] stretch the $15,246 they have to spend on each of the 137,745 students
in their schools.

This is simply hilarious.  Sometimes it is hard to compare per-pupil spending on an apples to apples basis since each grade tends to be progressively more expensive than the last (high school is more expensive than middle school which is more expensive than elementary school).  Recognize that this is only partially because the education per se is more expensive at each step -- it is more because the expectation of extra-curriculars (sports, theater, etc.) go up at each level. 

However, taking 8th grade as a mean, I can say that my 8th-grader's tuition in a for-profit private school that receives no donations or outside scholarship money is less than half $15,246.  And the education he gets is generally considered the best in the city  (though his school is lighter than some rich-suburb public school on extra-curriculars).

If you have any doubt that local media generally act as cheerleaders for increased public spending, look no further than this.  Note the newspaper quote (from the Washington Post) and then Schaeffer's context:

I have saved the most touching story for last . . .

In Loudoun County, School Board members approved a
budget 14 percent higher than last year's to accommodate an expected
3,000 new students. The county faces a projected $250 million
shortfall, and the 54,000 student system will probably have to look for
new places for savings.

My heart goes out to the Loudoun County administrators. I can't see
how anyone can be expected to educate a child with just $15,000 or to
cover a 6 percent enrollment increase with just a 14 percent increase
in the budget.

The New Stadium Lie

This week, we in Phoenix are supposedly getting our payoff for subsidizing the hapless Arizona Cardinals with a billion dollar football stadium that is used for its intended purpose (football games) for 33 hours per year  (3 hours per game times 11 games:  2 Cardinals pre-season, 8 home regular season, Fiesta Bowl).  In exchange we get a nicer stadium (if I were to want to see a Cardinals game live) but worse TV options (because instead of the best game of the week, we have to see our home team).

The big selling point, the cherry on top of the sundae the NFL uses to push new stadiums, is a Superbowl.  Which is in town this week.  So far, the huge economic stimulus has not really poured into our household, but I guess I need to be patient.  Anyway, the timing seems good to link this article, which comes via the Sports Economist:

If you build it, they will come. This is usually the mantra of those in
favor of publicly financed sports stadiums, including the current
proposal for a new soccer stadium in Chester. In this case they
are visitors whose spending would turn devastated cities and
neighborhoods into exciting destination points. Local schools,
merchants, and residents all would benefit as municipal coffers swelled.

There's only one problem with this scenario. It's not true. Never has been. They
do come, but cities are not saved. Over the past two decades, academic
research has generated literally hundreds of articles and books
empirically challenging the alleged economic wonders of new stadiums,
even when they're part of larger development schemes. I have been
studying and writing about publicly financed stadiums for more than 10
years and cannot name a single stadium project that has delivered on
its original grandiose economic promises, although they do bring
benefits to team owners, sports leagues and sometimes players....

Why, then, given the overwhelming academic research challenging
stadium-centered economic development do political leaders (if not
average citizens) still support such projects? In a just-released
article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, my colleagues and I
studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in
16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the
mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward
supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact
on the initiatives' success.

This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium
proponents' economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters
far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous
objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently
examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout
the country, especially those in oft-cited "success cities" such as
Denver and Cleveland.

I can attest to the latter.  During the run up to various stadium-related referenda, the media was quite rah-rah for the stadium subsidies.  In fact, on radio, several talk show hosts denigrated voters who opposed the stadium subsidies as "stupid old retired people."  I remember calling in to a couple of talk shows opposing the stadium bills and being treated like a Luddite.

My article on sports team relocations and stadium subsidies as a prisoners dilemma game is here.

What He Said

I couldn't have expressed my frustration with the economic illiteracy of the press and the general population better than does TJIC:

Jane Galt has a series of posts
explaining why a competitive free health care market creates new drugs,
and why strict regulation and/or nationalization wouldn't improve
things.

Mostly, this series just makes me sad and tired, the same way
I'd be sad and tired if I saw smart verbal well educated people
spending their time explaining that, no, Jews don't have horns, and
it's a bad idea to drown your neighbors to see if they are witches.

The sheer wasted effort combating idiocy and ignorance, when
these talented people could be doing so much more, if not for the
resting levels of stupidity and ignorance cloaked with self-righteous
anger that permeate the population.

The only proviso I would add is that for those of our political class, I suspect the ignorance may be more willful than actual, since a clear understanding of economics in the general populace might stand in the way of gaining personal power.  I expressed related sentiments here:

Economics is a science.  Willful ignorance or emotional
rejection of the well-known precepts of this science is at least as bad
as a fundamentalist Christian's willful ignorance of evolution science
(for which the Left so often criticizes their opposition).
  In
fact, economic ignorance is much worse, since most people can come to
perfectly valid conclusions about most public policy issues with a
flawed knowledge of the origin of the species but no one can with a
flawed understanding of economics.

Does Anyone Have A Feeling For Numbers Anymore?

The Boston Globe, in its usual blundering math-challenged media way, blithely published an editorial the other day that included this hilarious "fact"

Since June, Israel has limited its exports to Gaza to nine basic
materials. Out of 9,000 commodities (including foodstuffs) that were
entering Gaza before the siege began two years ago, only 20 commodities
have been permitted entry since. Although Gaza daily requires 680,000
tons of flour to feed its population, Israel had cut this to 90 tons
per day by November 2007, a reduction of 99 percent. Not surprisingly,
there has been a sharp increase in the prices of foodstuffs.

OK, the Gaza has over a million residents, but do these 1.4 million people really require 1.36 million pounds of flour a day??  I find that hard to believe, and amazing that no editor even asked the question, much less checked.

Update:  Did a search.  Found this.  The Palestinian ministry puts consumption around 350 tons per day.  That makes a bit more sense.  Congratulations on missing the number by over 3 orders of magnitude.  You can bet they are doing a lot of quality fact-checking on those global warming estimates too.

Update 2: I agree with the commenter that the number they should have used was something like 680,000 pounds rather than tons.  I would have written it off as a typo, transposing tons for pounds, but the math was based on it being tons, not pounds, so it is not just a typo issue.

Feed Your Gambling Habit

I am all for full legalization of gambling, but, at the risk of preaching at you, if you are betting one of the following Superbowl prop bets with any kind of cash, you might have a gambling problem.  Here are several examples from Sports Book Review:

What song will Tom Petty open with?
Petty is this year's halftime entertainment in
Glendale; FOX advertised this fact during previous NFL games using
"Runnin' Down a Dream" off the 1989 album Full Moon Fever. That's a
strong indicator the song will at least be part of what will be a short
set, although a medley like the one Prince performed last year is
certainly possible.

"Runnin' Down a Dream" is the favorite at +110, followed by the 1977 classic "American Girl" at +175.

Color of liquid winning head coach is doused in?
Football lore has it that Bill Parcells got the first Gatorade shower
in 1985, courtesy of Jim Burt and Harry Carson, when the Giants beat
the Washington Redskins
17-3 during a midseason game. The Gatorade was orange (+200), as it was
when Parcells took a bath after winning Super Bowl XXI. But Bill
Belichick was doused in a clear liquid (+300) after winning Super Bowl
XXXIX over the Eagles.

Halftime commercial to have highest rating
Budweiser is the big favorite at "“180, followed by godaddy.com at +275.
Last year's winner was a commercial by Hewlett-Packard; the Bud Light
ads didn't even crack the Top 3. So Anheuser-Busch has reportedly taken
out nine (!) Super Bowl ads this year; Bud should be the value pick
here by sheer volume alone.

Length of National Anthem
American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will sing the
Star-Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XLII, presumably because FOX is the
television host for both programs. The over/under for this prop is
103.5 seconds. Sparks took about 102 seconds to complete the anthem at
Game 1 of the 2007 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Here are a few others I found at this site, with all the prop bets you could ever wish for:

2008 Super Bowl XLII Props - First offensive lineman called for a holding penalty.
Chris Snee (NYG) 7/1
David Diehl (NYG) 7/1
Grey Ruegamer (NYG) 8/1
Kareem McKenzie (NYG) 7/1
Shaun O'Hara (NYG) 5/1
Dan Koppen (NE) 7/1
Logan Mankins (NE) 7/1
Matt Light (NE) 7/1
Nick Kaczur (NE) 8/1
Rich Seubert (NE) 7/1
Stephen Neal (NE) 8/1
Field (Any Other Player) 4/1
Who will the MVP of the Game thank first?
Teammates +200
God +250
Family +200
Coach +500
Doesn't thank anyone +600

We must be a secular society - God's fallen to third.  I always wanted to see someone from the losing side get interviewed right after the winner thanked God for their win.  Wouldn't you just love the losing player to say "Well, you heard it.  God was against us.  What chance did we have?"

An Environmental Plea

If the word "environmentalist" wasn't so corrupted, I would consider myself to be one.  For years, the main charity I have supported with my money and my advocacy has been private land trusts like The Nature Conservancy.  Just because I don't think that governments should quash individual rights to force people not to develop their own land does not mean that I don't think certain pieces of land are worth protecting from development.  But I do it the old-fashioned way -- I and others spend money to buy that land.  Here is more on why I (mostly) like  groups like the Nature Conservancy and here is a post wherein I lament the shift in charity from spending your money to achieve goals to spending money to lobby the government to force other people to achieve your goals.

Of course, my claim to be an environmentalist just because I, you know, spend my money and time on private conservation efforts would be laughed off because I take the wrong stand on certain litmus test environmental issues (e.g. global warming, of course).  In this world, someone who buys a silly and environmentally worthless $19.99 carbon offset has more environmental street-cred than I do.

So I guess it is nice, at least for once, to be in agreement with those "real" environmentalists:

The government's bid to make fuel consumption more environmentally
friendly will involve petrol and diesel being mandatory blended with
2.5pc biofuel from this April and the country's leading supermarket
chain is aiming to use twice this amount at over 300 of its petrol
stations.

But campaigners believe this is not the green alternative people think they are getting.

Jenn
Parkhouse from Norwich Friends of the Earth said: "From April, people
will have no choice but to contribute to the destruction of forests,
the eviction of small farmers and rising food prices which will mean
more hunger.

"More and more people now realise the need for a
strong movement to stop the destruction caused by the biofuel industry
and the legislation which encourages it."

Trojan Horse for Totalitarianism

Over at Maggies Farm, The News Junkie discusses a topic close to my heart, how feel good government programs like health care and education become Trojan horses for fascism. 

When Government Intervenes in Bargaining

A lot of conservatives have an incredible loathing for unions.  Which is one of the reasons why I differ from them as a libertarian.  In a free society, any group of people, including workers at a company, should be able to associate to achieve certain goals, including to increase their bargaining power in wage negotiations.  As I said here:

If a group of even two people want to get together at GM and call
themselves a "union" and approach management to negotiate, they should
be able to have at it.  In a free society, this is how things should work -- any
number of employees should be able to organize themselves.  If they get
enough people, then they will have enough clout, perhaps, to be
listened to by management.

Here is where the problem comes in, though.  Over history, governments have intervened to increase the power of unions vs. the companies they work for.  Some of the early legislation was fine from an individual rights perspective - e.g. "companies can't hire thugs to beat the crap out of workers to get them to come back to work."  However, over time, the government has passed laws to increase the bargaining power of unions artificially and to increase their power in general (e.g. to violate workers association rights by forcing them to join a pre-existing union or to at least pay union dues as a pre-condition to work in certain companies or industries).  In some states we have come nearly full cirle, to the point that it is almost impossible to prevent unions from using violence in strikes, for example against people crossing picket lines.

So when I see studies like this one, I don't see it as an indictment of unions per se, since unions exist in "right to work" states, but rather an indictment of government intervention trying to ham-handedly balance bargaining.  Here is the interesting chart, from a study by Arthur Laffer:

Righttoworkstates

Michigan in particular has made itself downright hostile to employers.  Given that the official government position is that "we aim to tilt the bargaining power against you in your negotiations with your largest suppliers," it is a wonder any business locates there.

Aren't These the Same?

I saw these two posts one after the other on Q&O.  One is about Chavez's food regulations in Venezuela, the other is about a government health care plan in California.  One is about government takeover of a critical industry, price controls, supply rationing, and demonizing large private corporations, and the other is about the same thing, but in Venezuela.  Since Chavez is further along with his program, we might see how things are working out for him:

Venezuela's top food company has accused troops of illegally seizing
more than 500 tonnes of food from its trucks as part of President Hugo
Chavez's campaign to stem shortages.

The leftist Chavez this
week created a state food distributor and loosened some price controls,
seeking to end months of shortages for staples like milk and eggs that
have caused long lines and upset his supporters in the OPEC nation.

The
highly publicised campaign has also included government crackdowns on
accused smuggling, with the military seizing 1,600 tonnes of food and
sending 1,200 troops to the border with Colombia....

He also threatened to expropriate companies selling food above regulated prices.

"Anyone
who is distributing food ... and is speculating, we must intervene and
we must expropriate (the business) and put it in the hands of the state
and the communities," Chavez said during the inauguration of a new
state-run market in Caracas.

Yep, sounds about the same.  Fortunately, people in the West can still travel across borders to get health care when government rationed and price-controlled services are not available, as many Canadians and British do. So in the US, when we implement all these same steps, we'll be able to travel to..., travel to...  Where will we be able to go?

I Love Maps

I have always loved maps.  As a kid, I could spend hours looking through an Atlas.  And, even better, my dad had this huge book in his office that had a collection of US maps by county, showing all kinds of crazy demographic and economic information.  I loved that book.   Since then, I have never found it on sale any where, but this map is a good example of the kind of thing it used to include.  Via strange maps, it is a map of leading religions by county.  The map also has a clever way of showing where the plurality is a majority. 

Churchbodies

New Grisham Novel

I have not been able to read a Grisham lawyer novel since "the Runaway Jury,"  which was an absolutely amazing ode to the joys of jury tampering.  Seldom does one see an author treat so many abuses of due process and individual rights so lovingly, all because it is OK to take away a defendant's right to a fair trial as long as the defendant is an out-of-favor corporation.  (On the other hand, Grisham's "the Painted House," about growing up on a small cotton farm in the south, is wonderful).

Grisham's biases in the Runaway Jury become clearer to me now that I now he pals with Dickie Scruggs, notorious Mississippi tort lawyer who is soon to be sharing a cell next to Jeff Skilling, that is unless they can delay his investigation until Jon Edwards is attorney general.

Anyway, it seems Grisham may be up for the bad timing award:

With what might seem like startlingly bad timing, Scruggs chum/novelist (and campaign donation co-bundler,
if that's the right term) John Grisham is just out with a new fiction
entitled The Appeal, whose thesis, to judge by Janet Maslin's oddly favorable review in the Times,
is that the real problem with the Mississippi judicial system is that
salt-of-the-earth plaintiff's lawyers are hopelessly outgunned in the
task of trying to get friendly figures elected to judgeships to sustain
the large jury verdicts they win. One wonders whether any of Maslin's
editors warned her about recent news events -- she doesn't seem aware
of them -- that suggest that the direst immediate problems of the
Mississippi judiciary might not relate to populist plaintiff's lawyers'
being unfairly shut out of influence. Of course it's possible she's not
accurately conveying the moral of Grisham's book, and if so I'm not
likely to be the first to find out about it, since I've never succeeded
in reading more than a few pages of that popular author's work. By the
way, if you're wondering which character in the novel Grisham presents
as the "hothead with a massive ego who hated to lose," yep, it's the
out-of-state defendant.

If you would prefer a novel that make villains of tort lawyers and treats Mississippi as a trial-lawyer run legal hellhole, my novel BMOC is still on sale (and actually selling pretty steadily) at Amazon.

The UN Joke Just Continues

The UN remains a caricature of itself.  I hadn't known this, but am not surprised:

In the 17 months since [the UN Human Rights Council's] inception, the body has passed 13 condemnations, 12 of them against Israel.

LOL.  I'm not a huge Israel fan (its socialist to a stupid degree and maintains what are effectively two-tiers of individual rights, for its Jewish and Arab residents) but this is absurd.  Apparently the Council has the same problems as the human rights commission it replaced:

The problems begin with the council's composition. Only 25 of its 47
members are classified as "free democracies," according to Freedom
House's ranking of civil liberties. Nine are classified as "not free."
Four -- China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia -- are ranked as the
"worst of the worst." These nations are responsible for repeated
violations of the U.N.'s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet
it is they who dominate the council, leading a powerful bloc of
predominantly Arab and African nations that consistently vote as a unit.

Its predecessor human rights commission played a central role in my guide to "how to spot a dictatorship."

Update: More here

Thanks, Trial Lawyers

Because of the all-to-prevalent theory (which may become even more common if Jon Edwards becomes our next AG) that every accident must be the fault of the nearest person with deep pockets, I wasted an hour today.

I visited the NFL experience today with my son.  The NFLX is a kind of football-themed fair or amusement park that the NFL sets up near the site of each Superbowl  (HA HA NFL -- I said it.  I said "Superbowl" and not "the big game."  Come and get me).  After waiting in a reasonable line to enter, we found that to play the games (e.g. throw the football through a hoop) every participant (read 10,000+ people) had to individually fill out and sign a liability waiver and get a wristband attesting to the fact.  There were about 16 clerks at work, but it still was about an hour-long wait. 

It struck me that the NFL could have come up with a much better process.  Why not have people with Internet access (about everyone, since almost 98% seemed to be there with tickets they bought on the internet) print out the waiver and bring it with them already filled out?  The manager on-site claimed that Arizona state law and the Arizona AG required that the process proceed the way it did.  I give that explanation about a 50-50 between being correct and just covering their butt for something stupid.

Anyway, once signed, we had a good time at the event, and it was well worth the effort.

Save It

The Arizona Republic this morning had some goofy headline in their print edition that said something like "How should you spend your $800 tax rebate?"  Far be it for me to presume to tell people how to spend their own money (what do I look like, a Congressman?) but here is a bit of advice:  Save it.  Because this is not a grant, it is a loan.

All of these rebates will be paid for with additional deficit spending.  This means that everyone will eventually pay for their rebate in the form of a) higher future taxes; b) higher future prices due to inflation; or c) increased job insecurity and/or lower future earnings due to reduced output in the economy; or d) all of the above.

It HAS to be this way.  Unlike private wealth creation, the government can't get wealth from nowhere.

Licensing Everything

In case you thought the government was sane.  By a strict reading of the law, a license would be required to put a smoke detector in your own house.

Looming Problems at Fannie Mae

Maxed Out Mamma tells us that Fannie Mae may already have huge subprime exposure (emphasis added):

Maybe most voters believe
that FNMA and FHA are just in the conservative loan business.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Certainly no "trained journalist" is going to ask any
questions about this topic.

Both Fannie and FHA will go to DTIs of over 60% in some cases. Especially refis. Try this thread on FHA.
If only I had saved down the 100 odd links or so I've run into over the
last year about how brokers were getting loans that the subprime
companies refused (who have since defaulted) through under FNMA!!! The
reason they did it as a last resort was only because FNMA paid less for
the loan. FNMA is already going to run into huge problems because of
the slopover into their portfolio in the interim between most of the
subprime lenders going down and FNMA's meaningful tightening of lending
standards. So FNMA already faces years of worsening financial trouble
without any new risks. Why does OFHEO oppose this? Hmmmm?

You can get information on Fannie's loan types at efanniemae.com. Believe me, they do high LTV, hybrids, 40 year etc. This page will show you information about Fannie's ARM products. Take a look. Take a good look. You want a 100% interest-only? They got it!! In fact, they'll take downpayment assistance, and go up to 105% with special programs. Chortle! Ya want interest-only ARM hybrids with DAP? Sure. BRING IT ON, cries Fannie. Simultaneous seconds? Sure 'nuff!!! (By the way, this is the escape from the refusal of the MI companies to play.)

The
bottom line is that every risk afflicting Alt-A lenders in high-cost
areas can afflict Fannie and really has. It's just that no one is
paying attention.

Prosecutorial Abuse

Tom Kirkendall has stayed on the case of Enron Task Force prosecutorial abuse even while most of the world has turned away, apparently believing that "mission accomplished"  (ie putting Skilling in jail) justifies about any set of shady tactics.

But the evidence continues to grow that Skilling did not get a fair trial.  We know that the task force bent over backwards to pressure exculpatory witnesses from testifying for Skilling, but now we find that prosecutors may have hidden a lot of exculpatory evidence from the defense.

Meanwhile, continuing to fly under the mainstream media's radar
screen is the growing scandal relating to the Department of Justice's
failure to turnover potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense
teams in two major Enron-related criminal prosecutions (see previous
posts here and here). The DOJ has a long legacy of misconduct in the Enron-related criminal cases that is mirrored by the mainstream media's myopia in ignoring it (see here, here, here, here and here).

This motion
filed recently in the Enron-related Nigerian Barge criminal case
describes the DOJ's non-disclosure of hundreds of pages of notes of FBI
and DOJ interviews of Andrew Fastow, the former Enron CFO who was a key prosecution witness in the Lay-Skilling trial and a key figure in the Nigerian Barge trial.

Enron Task Force prosecutors withheld the notes of the Fastow
interviews from the defense teams prior to the trials in the
Lay-Skilling and Nigerian Barge cases. If the Fastow notes turn out to
reflect that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence or induced
Fastow to change his story over time, then that would be strong grounds
for reversal of Skilling's conviction and dismissal of the remaining
charges against the Merrill Lynch bankers in the Nigerian Barge case.

The post goes on to describe pretty substantial violations of FBI rules in handling interviews with Fastow, including destruction of some of the Form 302's summarizing early interviews.  The defense hypothesis is that Fastow changed his story over time, particularly vis a vis Skilling's involvement, under pressure from the task force and the 302's were destroyed and modified to hide this fact from the defense, and ultimately the jury.

Long Time in Coming

Just about everything in the PC architecture has been upgraded -- much better microprocessors, more elaborate OS's, more memory, a much higher bandwidth bus architecture, etc.  However, one bit of 1980's era design still sits at the heart of the computer - the BIOS.  Sure, manufacturers have agreed to some extensions (particularly plug and play) and motherboard makers add in extensions of their own (e.g. for overclocking) but the basic BIOS architecture and functionality, which sits underneath the OS and gets things started when you flip the "on" switch, is basically unchanged. 

A few years ago, Intel proposed a replacement, but ironically only Apple has picked up on the BIOS replacement called EFI.  Now, it appears, at least one leading motherboard manufacturer for PC's is putting a toe in the water:

The specification allows for a considerable change in what can be implemented
at this very low level.

EFI is a specification that defines a software interface between an operating
system and platform firmware. EFI is intended as a significantly improved
replacement of the old legacy BIOS firmware interface used by modern PCs....

Graphical menus, standard mouse point-and-click operations,
pre-operating-system application support such as web browsers, mail applications
and media players, will all feature heavily within EFI.

The Critical Flaw with Catastrophic Global Warming Theory

I began with an 85-page book.  I shortened that to a 50-minute film, and then a 9-minute film.  With that experience, I think I can now pull out and summarize in just a few paragraphs why we should not fear catastrophic global warming.  Here goes:

Climate catastrophists often argue that global warming theory is "settled science."  And they are right in one respect:  We have a pretty good understanding of how CO2 can act as a greenhouse gas and cause the earth to warm.  What is well agreed upon, but is not well communicated in the media, is that a doubling of CO2, without other effects that we will discuss in a moment, will heat the earth about 1 degree Celsius (plus or minus a few tenths).  This is not some skeptic's hallucination -- this is straight out of the IPCC third and fourth assessments.  CO2, acting alone, warms the Earth only slowly, and at this rate we would see less than a degree of warming over the next century, more of a nuisance than a catastrophe.

But some scientists do come up with catastrophic warming forecasts.  They do so by assuming that our Earth's climate is dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the initial warming from CO2 by a factor of three, four, five or more.  This is a key point -- the catastrophe does not come from the science of greenhouse gases, but from separate hypotheses that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This is why saying that greenhouse gas theory is "settled" is irrelevant to the
argument about catastrophic forecasts.  Because these positive feedbacks are NOT settled science.  In fact, the IPCC admits it does not even know the sign of the most important effect (water vapor), much less its magnitude.  They assume that the net effect is positive, but they are on very shaky ground doing so, particularly since having long-term stable systems like climate dominated by positive feedback is a highly improbable.

And, in fact, with the 100 or so years of measurements we have for temperature and CO2, empirical evidence does not support these high positive feedbacks.  Even if we assign all the 20th century warming to CO2, which is unlikely, our current warming rates imply close to zero feedback.  If there are other causes for measured 20th century warming other than CO2, thereby reducing the warming we blame on CO2, then the last century's experience implies negative rather than positive feedback in the system.  As a result, it should not be surprising that high feedback-driven forecasts from the 1990 IPCC reports have proven to be way too high vs. actual experience (something the IPCC has since admitted).

However, climate scientists are unwilling to back down from the thin branch they have crawled out on.  Rather than reduce their feedback assumptions to non-catastrophic levels, they currently hypothesize a second man-made cooling effect that is masking all this feedback-driven warming.  They claim now that man-made sulfate aerosols and black carbon are cooling the earth, and when some day these pollutants are reduced, we will see huge catch-up warming.  If anything, this cooling effect is even less understood than feedback.  What we do know is that, unlike CO2, the effects of these aerosols are short-lived and therefore localized, making it unlikely they are providing sufficient masking to make catastrophic forecasts viable.  I go into several reality checks in my videos, but here is a quick one:  Nearly all the man-made cooling aerosols are in the northern hemisphere, meaning that most all the cooling effect should be there -- but the northern hemisphere has actually exhibited most of the world's warming over the past 30 years, while the south has hardly warmed at all.

In sum, to believe catastrophic warming forecasts, one has to believe both of the following:

  1. The climate is dominated by strong positive feedback, despite our experience with other stable systems that says this is unlikely and despite our measurements over the last 100 years that have seen no such feedback levels.
  2. Substantial warming, of 1C or more, is being masked by aerosols, despite the fact that aerosols really only have strong presence over 5-10% of the globe and despite the fact that the cooler part of the world has been the one without the aerosols.

Here's what this means:  Man will cause, at most, about a degree of warming over the next century.  Most of this warming will be concentrated in raising minimum temperatures at night rather than maximum daytime temperatures  (this is why, despite some measured average warming, the US has not seen an increase of late in maximum temperature records set).  There are many reasons to believe that man's actual effect will be less than 1 degree, and that whatever effect we do have will be lost in the natural cyclical variations the climate experiences, but we are only just now starting to understand.

To keep this relatively short, I have left out all the numbers and such.  To see the graphs and numbers and sources, check out my new climate video, or my longer original video, or download my book for free.

UPDATE: Based on a lot of comment activity to this post at its mirror at Climate Skeptic,
I wanted to add a bit of an update.  It is sometimes hard to summarize
without losing important detail, and I think I had that happen here.

Commenters are correct that positive feedback dominated systems can
be stable as long as the feedback percentage is less than 100%.  By
trying to get too compact in my arguments, I combined a couple of
things.  First, there are many catastrophists that argue that climate
IS in fact dominated by feedback over 100% -- anyone who talks of
"tipping points" is effectively saying this.  The argument about
instability making stable processes impossible certainly applies to
these folks' logic.  Further, even positive feedback <100% makes a
system highly subject to dramatic variations.  But Mann et. al. are
already on the record saying that without man, global temperatures are
unbelievably stable and move in extremely narrow ranges.   It is hard
to imagine this to be true in a climate system dominated by positive
feedback, particularly when it is beset all the time with dramatic
perturbations, from volcanoes to the Maunder Minimum.

To some extent, climate catastrophists are in a bind.  If historic
temperatures show a lot of variance, then a strong argument can be made
that a large portion of 20th century warming is natural occilation.  If
historic temperatures move only in narrow ranges, they have a very
difficult time justifying that the climate is dominated by positive
feedbacks of 60-80%.

The point to remember, though, is that irregardless of likelihood,
the historical temperature record simply does not support assumptions
of feedback much larger than zero.  Yes, time delays and lags make a
small difference, but all one has to do is compare current temperatures
to CO2 levels 12-15 years ago to account for this lag and one still
gets absolutely no empirical support for large positive feedbacks.

Remember this when someone says that greenhouse gas theory is
"Settled."  It may or may not be, but the catastrophe does not come
directly from greenhouse gasses.  Alone, they cause at most nuisance
warming.  The catastrophe comes from substantial positive feedback (it
takes 60-80% levels to get climate sensitivities of 3-5C) which is far
from settled science.