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Friday, March 31, 2006

Important (And Good) Economic News

The Emirates delay taking delivery of Airbus orders:
Emirates, the biggest Arab airline, delayed a $4.2 billion Airbus order for 20 planes to give the European aircraft maker time to develop a better version of the jet, which is losing sales to Boeing's 777.

"They're delaying the planes for a few years," John Leahy, Airbus chief commercial officer, said in an interview Thursday at company headquarters in Toulouse, France.

Emirates President Tim Clark "deferred the order until the manufacturer comes back with clearer plans about an enhanced version of the plane," said an Emirates spokeswoman, who declined to be identified.

Cynthia McKinney

I was considering letting this one pass by in sullen silence, but it's probably better to face it. Yes, Cynthia McKinney is a Georgia-elected CongressBrat. Yes, she adores terrorists and terrorist supporters. Yes, she has a severe case of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Yes, she tends to skip around will holding hands with Cindy Sheehan. Yes, she believes that from Galloway's lips drop pearls of wisdom.

Yes, she finds capitol policemen trying to protect the US Congress from being shot up viler than vile. Yes, her lawyer is currently orbiting the planet Mars on a spaceship controlled by the Merciless Ming:
Her lawyer, James W. Myart Jr., said, "Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, like thousands of average Americans across this country, is, too, a victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin."

"Ms. McKinney is just a victim of being in Congress while black," Myart said. "Congresswoman McKinney will be exonerated."
Members of Congress wear identifying lapel pins and routinely are waved into buildings without undergoing security checks. McKinney was not wearing her pin at the time, and the officer apparently did not recognize her, she has said.

"Congresswoman McKinney, in a hurry, was essentially chased and grabbed by the officer," Myart said. "She reacted instinctively in an effort to defend herself."

Several Capitol Police officials have said the officer involved asked McKinney three times to stop. When she did not, he placed a hand on her and she hit him, they said.

Asked on-camera Thursday by WSB-TV of Atlanta whether she intended to apologize, McKinney declined to comment. A news conference scheduled for Friday morning was canceled. She had issued a statement late Wednesday saying she regretted the confrontation.

"I know that Capitol Hill Police are securing our safety, and I appreciate the work that they do. I have demonstrated my support for them in the past and I continue to support them now," she said in the statement on her Web site.
Here's a hint, darling: here on Planet Earth support for your local police officer is rarely expressed by smacking him or her.

I say she should have to apologize and pay a nice chunk of money to some organization taking care of the families of slain policemen. Otherwise, charge her. I just want to point out that in a democracy occasionally cockroaches will be elected. It doesn't mean they should be allowed to punch out the police.

Nancy And Harry On National Security

Iowahawk has graciously featured an infomercial on the Democratic Plan for National Security. Read it or die. (Of course, if you do read it there is a chance you may die laughing.) Operation Steel Gazelle:
As you can see by the American flags behind us, this is a smart and tough new approach, embodied in a comprehensive plan that was developed by some of America's foremost military minds: Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, Markos Zuniga, and former General Wesley Clarke -- the celebrated "Falcon of the Balkans." We call our plan "Operation Steel Gazelle" -- strong and tough like steel, but smart and agile like the gazelle, as it nimbly eludes its hungry predators.
But don't be deluded by that title - the plan is not to run! Much. The plan is to double the number of America's Special Forces:
We will work to ensure that these expanded super soldier teams look like America, with plenty of elite security opportunities for all -- regardless of race, gender, age, or GLBT orientation. And, in keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act, all Special Forces training facilities under our plan will have accessibility ramps by 2008. We have already begun to recruit candidates from the ranks of TSA's elite airport security teams!
As Nancy says, "We can better do!"

More Human Bird Flu In Azerbaijan

Right after WHO cleared its personnel out, Azerbaijan is reporting more cases. More disturbing yet, they are relatives of the early fatalities. This one is confirmed H5:
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported that a Baku laboratory had confirmed the presence of the H5 strain of bird flu in the girl. Her blood sample has now been sent to a WTO laboratory in Britain for further verification.

Velibeyov said the girl, of the Salyan region in southwestern Azerbaijan, was from a family which had lost three members to the H5N1 virus.
This seems to be the family in which WHO had speculated that some of the cases were related to feathers plucked from dead wild birds. On one hand, there is nothing really different here. There has been a string of familial clusters in Indonesia and there was a big cluster in Turkey. It does make you wonder, though. Recombinomics commentary.

CurEvents FluClinic thread. Now it's two more cases, both sisters.

One of the Indonesian cases that really bothered me last year involved five cases. Two died before the first person was ever taken to the hospital (this was a poor farming village). Then there were two more after the first hospitalization. The reported intervals between first symptoms averaged to a week. There had been sick birds in the area, but those had been cleared more than a month before the last case.

On one hand, we are told that this virus is not good at infecting people, that you need significant exposure to get it, and that there are very few undetected cases out there. But the case of the two boys in Turkey who supposedly contracted H5N1 from playing with discarded gloves that had been used to cull birds seems to fly in the face of all that. They were never symptomatic and they should not have had massive exposure.

One possible explanation is that the virus is changing rapidly and that what may be true for a strain circulating in Cambodia is not for a strain circulating in Turkey. Another is that the virus may have a much longer latency period in some people.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Slightly Less Serious

Take heed, you guys. These bachelor sheep were living the good life. They roamed wild, free and unshorn. And then the ewes were brought in. Beware the ewes....

This can only be described as the memory hole in action. The ex-governor of New Jersey, McGreevey, is writing a book. It sounds like it is going to be a real tell-all, including details of sexual affairs and:
McGreevey friend, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, tells the newspaper the book will also feature New Jersey politics and there are some people who don't come across well.

McGreevey announced in 2004 that he would resign because he had a gay affair.
McGreevey is currently way high on the list of "people who don't come across well" in New Jersey politics.

What is this - an attempt at blackmail by McGreevey? There is no question that he does know enough to be troublesome, but this is not a safe thing for an ex-New Jersey politician implicated in a truly awesome list of scandals to do. The man is either nuts or very, very reckless.

As for why McGreevey resigned, it's not because he had a gay affair. It's because the flood of indictments of close associates and political appointees had reached memorable proportions, McGreevey was recorded using the previously arranged code word "Machievelli" during a meeting set up by someone who was selling McGreevey's power to fix a real-estate deal, and then, as a final blow, it turned out that McGreevey's lover had been appointed to New Jersey's top security position without any credentials or even US citizenship. The political pressure over that pushed the lover out, and then the man came back and made charges of sexual harassment (which were absolutely not true), but did puncture the bubble of official silence.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Conversation - Students And Liberalism

A while back I read an article claiming that students at Harvard were becoming more conservative. I felt skeptical, but I wandered over to ask Pedro the Quietist, who lives and breathes at the heart of the academic beast, what he thought.

He answers here, and it's a fascinating read. Not only does Pedro answer the question, but he charts the entire evolution and devolution of today's campus radical. I badly want you to read the whole thing, but I also don't want to spoil the thread of his explication by excerpting it. Searching for a teaser quote, I finally yanked this out:
I think it's telling that many of the sullen psychotics at Kos and DU are actually pretty old, like in their 50s and 60s -- even though at first glance the complexity and quality of their ideas would make you think they were 16-year-olds angry about being grounded on a Friday night.
Earlier Sigmund, Carl and Alfred had made some very interesting connections related to the issue. He linked to a post by Dr. Sanity on multiculturalism. You really have to read that one in conjunction with Pedro's post. They flesh each other out. Shrinkwrapped has two stunning posts up that just must be read and cannot be chopped into bits here without utter distortion. Go read The Story of Gudrun Part 1 and Part 2.

Then read the On The Couch: Ali Etarez. It's sad that, for the most part, we cannot get articles like this in the print media. Bloggers are rising to fill the gap.

Abdul Rahman And Scalia

Abdul Rahman is in Italy, according to Berlusconi. This is just in time, because there was talk in Afghanistan's parliament of forbidding him to leave the country.

Sometimes, religion is not at all about hypocrisy. Sometimes people are willing to die for what they believe. Quite a few in DU don't like the story of Abdul Rahman. They prefer to brood about Scalia's evil and his evil gestures. They do not listen to those DU'rs who explain that the "outa-here" chin flick is not the one-finger salute (it was widely reported that Scalia used that gesture). From the linked thread:

14. exactly. and its not obscene
Sorry to rain on folks' parade, but anyone who regards this as an obscene gesture is overly sensitive or misinformed. I've talked to Italian friends and searched all over and can't find any indication that this is an obscene gesture (while I can find, pre-dating the current hoopla, a number of descriptions of the gesture that are consistent with view that it means, I'm not interested.

I know why folks would want to make this into a bigger deal than it is, but its really a waste of time. ...
30. It may or may not be obscene, but what's REALLY obscene ...is a Supreme Court Justice writing screechy, wingnuttish LTEs.

That's pretty disgusting.
26. To the heart of the matter- It Is NOT obscene but it is totally inappropriate public behavior for a SCOTUS judge.

He wouldn't use that gesture to anyone he respected. And since he has no real respect for anyone including himself....

The only thing these assholes regard highly is money and power.

Well, here's part of what Scalia wrote in
his letter to the editor:

Your reporter, an up-and-coming “gotcha” star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people who objected to my taking part in such public religious ceremonies as the Red Mass I had just attended. I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said “That’s Sicilian,” and explained its meaning - which was that I could not care less.

Why should Scalia respect those who think he should not be allowed to attend church in public? Is that respectable? He probably wasn't using that gesture to the reporter - he responded to the people who objected to Scalia openly attending mass. (Not that I don't think the reporter deserved it. It was a prime example of a "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" question.) Why does the other DU poster think that Scalia should not have the right to respond to multiple news reports telling a lie? Another member of the bar posts to this thread and says that Scalia should be removed from office for bad behavior.

Here's a quote from one of the original articles giving Scalia's response:

It’s none of their business,” continued Scalia, who was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s Catholic Lawyers’ Guild luncheon. “This is my spiritual life. I shall lead it the way I like.”

Note that many DU'rs have tried to set the record straight, and some of those who did seemed to dislike Scalia personally. That's a mark of integrity. DU is not a one-note forum and the argument between the classic liberals and the "progressives" rages on continually. I'm starting to hate the word "progressive".

There were so many quarrels about this that they are now shunted into a smaller forum. Here's a post in that forum starting with a poster who was shocked to find Miami train passengers reading their Bibles.

Five Bird Flu Human Cases In Egypt Now

Of the five human cases known in Egypt, two died. WHO update. The first case was symptomatic on March 12th. The fifth was hospitalized March 25th. NAMRU-3 has been doing confirmation testing, and the Egyptian authorities appear to be encouraging sick people to get immediate treatment. There are outbreaks in poultry in many areas of the country and poultry has been kept in close proximity to humans there. Israel keeps culling.

On the brighter side, the WHO staffers mostly left Azerbaijan (where seven cases in humans were confirmed). They say they believe the outbreak there is under control, and they believe that some of the cases occurred when people plucked feathers from dead birds who had presumably died of or contacted the virus. Fomite transmission might be the main route of human infection.

Turkey's situation appears to be largely controlled. Another man is supposed to have died in Baghdad from H5N1 and the virus has been found in poultry in Baghdad.

India keeps culling, but now the labs are saying they aren't getting good samples for testing and they can't handle the volume of samples they're getting regardless.

An interesting article reporting on a Chinese scientist's viewpoint:
A recent rise in the number of human cases of avian influenza reported in cities is a dangerous sign of things to come, said Zhong Nanshan, president of the Chinese Medical Association, Tuesday in Beijing.

In Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, the main source of the virus is spreading through dead poultry, said Zhong at an international conference.

However, in China, some 16 human cases of bird flu were not caused by direct contact with ill or dead poultry, he noted.

Is it sub-clinical infections that are resulting in infection? China has been vaccinating poultry, so that might be the case. If so, we in the west should think carefully about the implications. Do we really want people exposed to birds that are capable of transmitting the infection but show no signs of illness? According to Zhong, there have been eleven human fatalities in China caused by H5N1. Most people think there are far more cases that have not been reported, but recent studies say that does not seem to be true. However there are several distinct strains of highly pathogenic H5N1 circulating in birds, and this ignores the evidence in Turkey, where mild sub-clinical cases were detected. The more of it there is the more it mutates.

Swab-testing seems to be far less effective in detecting H5N1 than regular flu strains, so it is very possible that many cases aren't being detected. Antibodies from blood tests can be detected, but usually it takes a while for them to develop. Several studies have been released surveying populations

Indonesia seems to be in a peck of trouble, but they have not been actively culling. Like Egypt, they have a population intermixed with birds.

It does seem that if a population has been alerted and then changes its ways, it is possible to control human exposures until and unless the virus goes human-to-human. That is not very helpful for very poor rural populations dependent on local chicken flocks for protein who find it difficult to change their ways without starving, but it is good news for developed countries in which exposures can be controlled. I think there are going to be an awful lot of hungry people in the world before this is all over. Unfortunately the countries that are the poorest seem to have the most uncontrollable risks.

This is an ill wind that blows absolutely no good to anyone. Most people are concerned about the possibility of H5N1 becoming easily transmittable to humans. I think it is a scourge even as an avian virus.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Plan Might Work, Stan

YARGB is a particularly good blog. About every week or so I wander in and roll around in it with deep pleasure. Among the prize tidbits this week was an amazed look at how the NY Times is willing to commit fiscal suicide in its drive to be the official channel of the "Evil Bush" segment of society. My guess is that as the numbers continue to collapse they will develop more and more righteous dedication to this goal. Will it end in a final pressroom meeting with Koolaid a la Jonestown in a fury of self-immolation for the cause? It is possible.

One of this week's offerings was a reference to this article in the WSJ Opinion Journal by Charles Murray about his suggestion to get past our fiscal crisis. It might seem somewhat radical, but something like this is what's going to happen if we decide to survive:
No serious student of entitlements thinks that we can let federal spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid rise from its current 9% of gross domestic product to the 28% of GDP that it will consume in 2050 if past growth rates continue. The problems facing transfer programs for the poor are less dramatic but, in the long term, no less daunting; the falling value of a strong back and the rising value of brains will eventually create a class society making a mockery of America's ideals unless we come up with something more creative than anything that the current welfare system has to offer.
We can scrap the structure of the welfare state.

Instead of sending taxes to Washington, straining them through bureaucracies and converting what remains into a muddle of services, subsidies, in-kind support and cash hedged with restrictions and exceptions, just collect the taxes, divide them up, and send the money back in cash grants to all American adults. Make the grant large enough so that the poor won't be poor, everyone will have enough for a comfortable retirement, and everyone will be able to afford health care. We're rich enough to do it.

Consider retirement. Let's say that we have a 21-year-old man before us who, for whatever reasons, will be unable to accumulate his own retirement fund. We accumulate it for him through a yearly contribution for 45 years until he retires at age 66. We can afford to contribute $2,000 a year and invest it in an index-based stock fund. What is the least he can expect to have when he retires? We are ridiculously conservative, so we first identify the worst compound average growth rate, using constant dollars, for any 45-year period in the history of the stock market (4.3% from 1887-1932). We then assume our 21-year-old will be the unluckiest investor in American history and get just a 4.0% average return. At the end of the 45-year period, he will have about $253,000, with which he could purchase an annuity worth about $20,500 a year.
Read the article. He has written a book, which seems worth reading. I particularly like his non-numerical reasoning as to how this might affect culture, because I do believe that human beings are better at dealing with human problems than the government.

A little while back Ilona of True Grit wrote a reply and rebuttal to one of my posts. Unfortunately her post got wacked by the internet gods, or I'd link to it. She disagreed with my contention that most of our economic problems were really quite soluble. I stand by it. Now Ilona is almost always brilliant and incisive (see this
If Islam is a religion one can only convert to not from, then in the long run it is a threat to every free person on the planet.
[edit - Ilona tells me the quote above is Mark Steyn's] and this for examples), but on these economic issues she has been flim-flammed.

What has happened is that our government has so mismanaged our fiscal policy that we have dug ourselves into a hole. We have a prosperous populace, a dynamic economy and a fiscal mess on our hands. This took some doing. Ironically we have created such a huge problem that it can be relatively easily solved.

If you don't believe me, go look at this US budget simulation, courtesy of Betsy Newmark. Leave everything "Hold Even" and just look at the spending distribution. Here's a shorter way to see (text version of GAO doc) what has happened to the budget. As you can see, from 1964 to 2004 defense expenditures have dropped from 46% to 20% of the budget as Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security have increased from 14% to 41% of the budget:
Defense: 46.0%;
Social Security: 14.0%;
Medicare & Medicaid: 0%;
Net interest: 7.0%;
All other spending: 33.0%.

Defense: 27.0%;
Social Security: 21.0%;
Medicare & Medicaid: 9.0%;
Net interest: 13.0%;
All other spending: 30.0%.

Defense: 20.0%;
Social Security: 22.0%;
Medicare & Medicaid: 19.0%;
Net interest: 7.0%;
All other spending: 32.0%.
That's a lot of money. If we weren't playing shell games with it on the federal level, we could stop stripping capital from the lower class, which is what we have done. The productivity gains alone would be huge over two decades. The thing is, when you've been very, very stupid you get dramatic returns from suddenly starting to be only pretty stupid. The amazing thing is that you will never, ever see an honest discussion about the federal budget in a newspaper, and that is because it has numbers in it (anathema to the Columbia School of Journalism) and the facts do not support the public storyline. What we are doing is stunningly inefficient.

For slightly more detail, go to the historical review of the budget through 2007 and extended to 2011. It's a zippy little 329 page pdf document that everyone should read before voting in the 2006 elections. Start with page 58. In 2006 spending on human resources is estimated to be 1,707,209 million dollars. That is about 63% of the total budget and about $5,700 for every person (man, woman & child) in the US. It includes SS, Medicare, Medicaid, income support payments, veterans benefits, etc. If you knocked out a lot of these programs and simply made direct payments to individuals you could solve a lot of this.

In 2011 that total is estimated to be 2,208,535 million dollars and about 68% of the total budget.

Go to page 83 (table 4.2) and look at the numbers from 1962 until today.
In 1962
Defense/homeland security spending was 47.4 % of the budget,
Health and Human Services was 3.3%, and
Soc. Security was 13.4%.

The estimates for 2006 are
Defense/homeland security at 21.4%,
Health and Human Services at 23.7% and
Social Security at 21.9%.

Another way to look at this is by percent of GDP (the total size of the economy). In 1962 Defense was 13.2% of GDP and Human Resources was 3.4%. In 2006 the estimate is Defense at 4.1% and Human Resources at 13.1%.

George Bush is a great president. He's one of the very few political persons trying to tell the public the truth, which is that this dance is ending in about a decade. It doesn't matter how much Teddy Kennedy screams. We can either choose to study the Koran in a very reverent fashion, or we can reverse our fiscal course.

Free Speech Under Fire

In a comment to a post below Joseph Marshall wrote the following:

As to Bible reading on public transportation, I can tell you as a Buddhist that I do the Buddhist equivalent quite openly. I occasionally notice some hostility to this, but I know perfectly well that this is not my problem. Nor do I think it "persecution".

No, it definitely isn't Joseph's problem. It will amount to persecution if someone tries to stop him from doing this, and there are people who believe that he should be stopped. We don't need the outright approval of others to exercise our fundamental freedoms, but we do require them to leave us alone while we are exercising those freedoms. Joseph also wrote this:

Nor are you likely to convince me that the Democratic Underground is anything but a "fringe organization", though it is one that my good friends tend to fixate on a lot, to the detriment of perceiving the far greater variety of opinion among their political opponents that actually exists.

DU is not a fringe organization. There are people with various views on it (some of them quite fringey) and hot debates often ensue. The religious/anti-religious battle comes up often, and so does the argument about free speech. The debates on DU are naturally more from the left of the political spectrum, but they cover the same topics that our whole society argues about.

The DU-ish consensus about some speech being inappropriate is quite mainstream. Anyone who thinks it is should read
FIRE's website for a month. Their blog The Torch is very good also. Freedom of speech and association is absolutely under fire in this country.

Take, for example, the
professor who was forced to take down an exhibit of the Danish cartoons. At the University of Southern Florida, calling someone in student government a "jerk and a fool" can get you hauled up on harassment charges. The University of Wisconsin EC was finally forced to back down on its prohibition of an RA from holding a Bible study group in his own room or anywhere in his own dorm. Private political beliefs shouldn't be used to debar someone from a state-supported education program - but this has become more the rule than the exception in education schools. Debra Saunders nailed it in this column (PDF - A MUST READ) from 2000 about a requirement for every new course on a campus.

Here's my point in a nutshell, from
a column in the Michigan Daily by Donn A. Fresard:

This is the sort of well-intentioned, but deeply illiberal thinking that brought us campus speech codes in the late 1980s, when a student on this campus faced a disciplinary hearing for saying he considered homosexuality a curable disease. It's the same attitude that led Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences to depose Lawrence Summers after he hypothesized - at an academic conference, of all places - that genetic differences could account for gender inequality in certain fields. The mentality that an important truth can be unquestionable, and that those who think otherwise should be punished.

It's also strikingly similar to the reasoning that has recently led Muslim extremists to riot, burn and kill in response to an act of blasphemy.

One of the pillars of liberal society is that people are free to openly believe in or criticize any religion without fear of reprisal.

A tyranny is a tyranny, and whether instituted based on good intentions from the right or the left will end the same way. More about the ACLU later, which has its own debates going on.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Political Crash-O-Matic

Merced, California. This is really sad:
The good times have already ended here, in the same way slamming into a wall reduces your speed. A house will fetch 20% less today than it did last summer, brokers say, assuming it finds a buyer at all.
At the sales office of Shadow Creek, whose prices range up to $523,000, signs on the front door and walls proclaimed: "Ask us how to save $40,000 off a new home!!!"

"If you want to ask for more, just do it," the saleswoman advised. She said a $60,000 break would probably be fine.

Over at Summer Creek, the saleswoman offered a $75,000 discount, subject to a few restrictions, like using a preferred lender. There was also a $3,000 referral fee available — talk a friend into buying there, and the money's yours.
This is a very good time to be a renter in Merced. A new $450,000 house, owned by an investor waiting to flip it — or sell for a quick profit — can be had for less than $1,000 a month. That's a silver lining for locals who missed out on the boom.
Fewer than 3% of Merced families can afford a house, according to the National Assn. of Home Builders' latest survey.
So no jobs, nobody who can buy, and the RE brokers are at the car dealers looking for work. A new UC campus is going up in the town, but that's not going to help for a while. There is no worse thing you can do to destroy the value of the house you bought last year for $300,000 than to rent it to four students for $1000 a month. Last year this was one of the hottest housing markets in the nation.

There are some RE/property management firms on the west coast who will tell you privately that many of the tenants at properties they manage have stopped paying their rent every month - but they don't get evicted. Some money coming in when the owner is leveraged down to his boxers is better than nothing. It's sort of a unilateral rental agreement renegotiation.

The Fed wants to change the rules on ALL (Loan Loss Reserves). Why didn't they do that two years ago? In far too many places in the nation, the bad money has chased out the good. The Fed bears some responsibility for this, and everything they are doing now is going to make things worse instead of better. What happened is that the pool of Fool Buyers ran out. You don't want to accentuate that by yanking the credit line tighter for people who actually want to buy a house and live in it....

Is it me, or has our government been snoozing? It's not just this. I think the average American is kind of fed up. If it's not bridges to nowhere in Alaska, watching the average homeowner in NOLA get worked over, rioting illegal immigrants - sooner or later the truth that our government is not working particularly well really sinks in. I think the average person is just fed up. Fed up. Has had it. Oraculations. Mover Mike. How many people is Ron Paul really speaking for?

My real worry is that the federal government is such a huge behemoth that I think it will be almost impossible to turn its course. You can't elect a president to do that. They have relatively little power in most areas. Sometimes that is good, but I get the sense the government is increasingly far away and moving further from the reality that people are experiencing on the ground. The whole enterprise seems more and more like the attitude of the NY Times - just ignore the bleeding and it will go away. But it won't. How many of us are sitting with raised eyebrows watching video or reading stories like this? The mood of the country is implacable, but not hysterical. We're all just sleeping on it.

In the end, this is a democracy. No matter how many learned articles are written by psychology professors at Berkeley, no matter how many times Harvard manages to explain that the Jews are the problem - people are going to make up their minds based on what they see around them. We know a threat when we see it. Jimmie's right - nothing has changed since this was written. People are just in the mood to see clearly; Charles Napier is probably a better spokesman for rank-and-file American of today than almost anyone in Congress today:
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.
See, I think the voting public has a pretty clear idea of just how Charlie Sheen and Fantasia are related. Add to that Teddy, and the Enron cookers of the books. All the Code Pink bimbos and Harvard tweepers don't even matter any more. The population of the US doesn't get in a serious mood very often, but when it does it cannot be moved by words or propaganda. Can mindsets like this ever form a core around which the will of a people can coalesce? Hat tip Beth of MVRWC.

I think most of our old arguments and coalitions are dead men walking. They will fall of their own weight with no intervention needed. We are in way more than a real estate crash. That will correct itself (and quicker and better if the Fed keeps its dilatory paws out of this porridge.) The political crash coming is going to change the American landscape immensely. I cannot believe that the American public is going to keep taking "no" for an answer to its requests for a reasonable government. Unlike the French we don't riot, so this has been largely invisible. But it's going to well up in some fashion or another.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Three Lost Arguments: Two -Sharia And The Left

In San Francisco, the love that dare not say its name seems to be the love of God? SFGate:
More than 25,000 evangelical Christian youth landed Friday in San Francisco for a two-day rally at AT&T Park against "the virtue terrorism" of popular culture, and they were greeted by an official city condemnation and a clutch of protesters who said their event amounted to a "fascist mega-pep rally."

...Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who told counterprotesters at City Hall on Friday that while such fundamentalists may be small in number, "they're loud, they're obnoxious, they're disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco."
"There is a real intolerancy to homosexuality in a lot of these organizations," said Peter Cobb, an organizer with Not In Our Name.

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the "act of provocation" by what it termed an "anti-gay," "anti-choice" organization that aimed to "negatively influence the politics of America's most tolerant and progressive city."
It makes you think that the ultimate act of rebellion in Berkeley might be going to your temple or church. Dr. Sanity looked at the whiny-brats-grow-up-to-be-Republican story last week. She comments that Michele Malkin has information saying that the kids studied were the children of Berkeley faculty. Seriously - doesn't this type of thing cast some light on that study? Maybe the finding should have been that whiny kids grow up to rebel against their parents?

Dr. Sanity has been hitting hard about the faith elements in la-la leftism (really Marxism) this week and writing about Sharia in the same vein. She quotes Andrew Bostom on Sharia and apostacy, who quotes Ibn Warraq:
Doubt is a very good passageway, but a very bad place to stop in. However, apostasy is a matter of treason and ideological treachery, which originates from hostility and hypocrisy. The destiny of a person who has an inborn handicap is different from the destiny of one whose hand should be cut off due to the development of a dangerous and infectious disease. The apostasy of a Muslim individual whose parents have also been Muslim is a very infectious, dangerous and incurable disease that appears in the body of an ummah (people) and threatens peoples lives, and that is why this rotten limb should be severed.
Well - actually Ibn Warraq's philosophy might be more tolerant than la-la leftism, because Ibn Warraq recognizes the health of doubt and religious questioning, as long as it doesn't take you out of Islam. Now consider this. The SF type of leftism has developed its own ideology in which it is very healthy for a person to develop a lesbian or homosexual identity, but terribly unhealthy to seek to go back the other way.

That seems worrisome to me. Since I have personally known several people who apparently were heterosexuals for quite a while, switched to same-sex, and now say they switched back, I suspect anyone who gets didactic about other people's sexual orientations. I know one avowed lesbian who fell in love with a man. She says she's still a lesbian but she's marrying him anyway. That does seem odd to me, but she is a very functional and loving person who is clearly able to make her own choices and to be responsible for them, so my bet is that it will work out fine.

I think you have to let people work this sort of thing out for themselves, and a decent respect for people requires leaving them alone to live their own lives as best they can. If their behavior is reckless or becomes a wall against meaningful human interaction, they may well need some sort of pyschological treatment or, alternatively, to get some stability and breathing-room through grace. But trying to make a political movement out of individual conflicts is ridiculous; the worst "pro-gay" activists have pushed themselves into an ideological pass in which they are now denying the role of individual instead of accentuating it. (See Shrinkwrapped's post here "This represents the logic of thought control; not only must you not "change your mind" about Islam if you are a Muslim, but you must not think poorly of Islam is you are a non-Muslim. This is totalitarianism and is the greatest danger facing the West today." Also see his post about Basic Trust: "Along with Basic Trust, a child's mind develops in close contact with their parents' minds and it is a late developmental milestone for a child to recognize that not everyone's mind works just like theirs does. People who develop Narcissistic characters never fully grasp this idea on an emotional rather than intellectual level.")

Earlier Shrinkwrapped referred to a post by Dr. Helen in which she commented about the movement against psychological treatment for people who wanted to adopt a same-sex orientation. Both the comments and the post are interesting reading. Also see this blog entitled "Ex-Gay Watch" for more perspective.

What tends to get lost in the minds of the extremists is the reality that everyone is not like themselves. Over and over again, people who have battled through their own conflicts want to push their own solutions upon everyone, in utter defiance of reality and any logical conclusions that could be drawn from a detached observation of reality. In the end, pushing their own solutions negates the power of their own arguments. It's a strong argument that some people seem to be born with a sole sexual inclination toward their own sex and will be disfunctional if forced to try to act as if that weren't so. It's a weak argument to say that those who seem to have both inclinations or conflicted inclinations are only acting healthily when they express the inclination towards their own sex.

Now back to Shrinkwrapped on Basic Trust:
The authoritarian and totalitarian leaders of the Muslim world, in their evil cynicism, have created conditions in the Muslim world in which their mirror images, vicious Islamist Imams and terrorists, have thrived. The only reason countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan offer any help to us in the war on Islamic fascism is that the Jihadists made the mistake of biting the hands that feed them. The world of Islam has shown itself to be extremely reluctant to confront the bullies who control their public face; this is understandable to some degree, but the danger to them is increasing daily.

Americans tend to be extremely tolerant people. After 9/11, despite the propaganda from groups like CAIR, there were very few real acts of bigotry directed against Muslims in this country. The assumption Americans make is that others share certain basic values. We all agree to meet each other with open hands.
A series of events have been created and/or high-jacked by the worst in Islam, and the question now is whether or not this is the majority of Islam. Starting with the Iraqi insurgency that seemed to relish inhuman and inhumane behavior, many began to wonder if Iraq, and indeed if the entire Muslim world, was beyond Modernity. The Paris car-burning, the cartoon riots, the torture murder of a French Jew, Ilan Halimi, by Islamic barbarians, the destruction of the Golden Mosque; all these events have pushed more and more Americans to a tipping point.

Tipping points in complex, dynamically stable, but chaotic systems can never be predicted with a high degree of accuracy, but we are moving closer and closer to the tipping point, the point at which the zeitgeist will crystallize around the idea that the Muslim world is irredeemable.
The only thing I disagree with is SW's last statement. The Zeitgeist has crystallized around the idea that Islam as a power structure is irredeemable. The only reason we haven't recognized that yet is that our intellectual class (the professors, many of our lawyers and the press) have been strongly influenced by Marxism and recognize their ideological counterparts in the Ummah of Saudia Arabia and the Taliban. They sit in confused admiration of the fanaticism and willingness to destroy expressed by that ideology because they see their mirror image in it.

George Bush has irrevocably lost his argument that Islam is a religion of peace. Irrevocably. The only question left to the west on this issue is how we will deal with the reality that the Islam of today's Islamic world is not a religion of peace, but a religion of murder. This does not mean that the Islam of tomorrow's Islamic world necessarily must be that. There are plenty of historical counterparts (including the historical development of Marxism itself) to show that idealism can be healthy as idealism whereas it becomes lethal when it becomes a ruling ideology.

It's more than possible that this process of reform is taking place in today's Islamic world. It's more than possible that George Bush has not lost his argument about freedom being an innate desire of the human heart. It's more than possible that the freedom the west offers to Muslims in its midst to be Muslims, as long as they don't try to insist that everyone else must do the same, is fuelling the outright terror of the jihadists. They are terrified of democracy. They are terrified of individual people making decisions as to the direction of their nations. They see the establishment of Muslim democracies as the deathblow to the establishment of the Ummah they desire to establish.

Perhaps they're right. They are, after all, in a position to know their own thinking. If they are, the very last thing the west should do within its own nations is to adopt an appeasionist stance towards Muslims. It should adopt a policy of equality and neutrality. This will result to increase the fury of the Islamic-fascist-terrorists, and it will result in the individual Muslim rejecting the dialectic of bombs, which lacks the power to convince and can only terrorize. Our foreign policy should be a reflection of our internal policy. We should set forth objective standards and apply them equally to all nations, and forever and absolutely rearticulate our principles about human rights.

See Sigmund, Carl and Alfred's series of excellent posts from last week. SC&A begins with Why I Hate Islam:
My friend is a proud Arab and Muslim- and has lived a life that can only be described as decent, honorable and upright. I would, at a moments notice, trust my friend with my child's life.

What passes for current Arab and Islamic culture has tainted and tarred my friend with a stain that cannot be gotten rid of in this generation- and I am outraged by that truth. In fact, my colleague notes that as long as political and religious leaders keep focusing on the past, nothing will change.

My friend's dreams do not include a new Caliphate. He dreams of new schools and job creation. There are dreams of universities and democracies, debates and free expression for all. The promised water is an illusion, another desert mirage. The region and people are so thirsty for the waters that will never come.
SC&A continues with a post responding to critics of the above post:
One of the more interesting emails was from a reader who took exception to the gist of our remarks, and noted that only through extended and sensitive dialogue can the west come to terms with Islam. We "need to understand the needs of the Islamic community," our correspondent said.

That is absurd. The 'needs' of the Islamic community must fulfilled from within. It is not up to western society to accommodate Islam. In fact, it is Islam that must learn to accommodate the realities of an ever progressive and modern western society. If there are elements of western society that make some Muslims uncomfortable, those Muslims can choose no to participate in those elements or activities. Hasidic Jews, the Amish, Hindus and Buddhists have managed to integrate into western societies and cultures while maintaining their identity. Why should Muslms be afforded special status?
It's more than managing to integrate. The US has been a refuge for many members of those groups. In his next post SC&A gives voice to a Muslim blogger who writes about the west's call for a reformed Islam:
I believe that there are many in the West capable of recognizing beauty — and they have recognized the beauty that Islam was in the hands of Rumi, and also have recognized the potential of that beauty in Islam today, in Muslims today. This is another way of saying that I believe there are many in the West who are driven by the humanity of the Muslim, who faces daily in Iraq, in Punjab, in subversive mosques in Europe, the inhumanity of a utilitarian death theology.

Yes, I know that there was a time when the West went to ‘civilize’ and ended up conquering; when it went to ‘keep the dominoes upright’ and ended up slaughtering; when it went to ‘trade’ and ended up colonizing; when it went to ‘liberate’ and left civil war behind. Yet, in spite of this I believe that there are Westerners who are impelled solely by the humanity of the Muslim, because when the West conquered there were Westerners who spoke against it; when the West went to Vietnam there were Westerners who spoke against it; when the West colonized there were Westerners who were anti-colonial. Even still, all Westerners cannot be held accountable for the sins of their leaders. Muslims can, and do, ask that others forgive what Muslim leaders do in the name of God. Why cannot the West be forgiven for how its leaders have manipulated humanism? I forgive.
I forgive, he writes. I believe that many of you are motivated by recognition of our humanity, he writes. This is the voice of reformist Islam and the true Islam. I'll close with The Anchoress, who leads me to the third lost argument:
The “clash of civilizations” is real. I think there is something to be said for viewing the vast majority of Muslims sympathetically, although I don’t know if I would concede that they are “slaves” so much as simply disenfranchised and bereft of opportunity. In too many cases they are kept out of the 21st century marketplace of both ideas and goods, which leaves their culture somewhat stagnated and economically impovished - precisely the problem which visionary President Bush is trying to remedy in order to bridge the growing chasm between Islam and the West, which some will not understand, no matter how many times you (or in this case, Neo-neocon) explain(s) it to them.

America is looking at the gap squarely and expending political capital and human life and human energy to try to make what is apparently an unstoppable trend into something with which both Islam and the West can live. A very tall order. We don’t even know if it is do-able. But no one else is willing to even try…not complacent Europe, not status quo, conciliatory Democrats, and try we must! Those of us who support the vision are doing so based almost wholly on the belief that all human beings desire liberty. I believe they do.
They do. Human beings long for liberty and life, and slapping a name on any individual cannot deprive that individual of a right to life because of what they believe, how they pray or how they aspire. The kernel of human freedom in the west is contained in the proposition that human beings should not be killed except in self-defense, and the recognition that killing someone because they make a contrary argument to yours is not self-defense. And this we do believe.

The sickness of totalitarian Islam is contained in the need to destroy Abdul Rahman because of his prayers. There are plenty of disfunctions and conflicts in the west, but only our very, very worst would recommend the death of "wrong-thinkers". Even our fanatics largely believe that "by their fruits ye shall know them".is The pain that the west is inflicting upon Muslims is the expression of what we see in many of the Islamic cultures, not our attempt to overwhelm them or control them. But totalitarianism is not a necessary component of a religion that contains as one of its fundamental tenets the assertion that God sent a true prophet to each people, and that each people has chosen to ignore the word of God. That is hardly a debatable proposition for any person of faith. There room for reform within Islam. We cannot do it for them. We can only offer the same response and the same safe harbor that we have offered to the Amish, and the Buddhists and the Hindus.

Finally, to those who say that Abdul Rahman's sentence is proof that we have done an evil thing in Afghanistan: Get real. The Taliban was forbidding women to receive medical care or to work outside the home. They required widowed women to starve inside their houses rather than leave the house to work. That is the literal and absolute truth. One of the last acts of the Taliban was to shut down a program offering bakery jobs to women in a segregated atmosphere so that they could feed their children. Now they are voting.We have not made things worse. We have made them better. That is the standard by which such interventions must be judged. The end result is not known yet. That is the result of their freedom, as it is with us.

Case Against Abdul Rahman Dismissed?

Abdul Rahman is the Afghani who converted to Christianity years ago while working with an aide ministry helping Afghani refugees in Pakistan. When he returned to Afghanistan and tried to get his daughters back, his family reported him for being an apostate. He was arrested, a Bible was found in his possession, and he has maintained his willingness to die rather than to convert back.

CBC.ca is carrying an article reporting that the case against him was dismissed for lack of evidence. Since it's based on the report of an anonymous official it may not be true. Previously, an Afghani supreme court judge had been quoted being quite firm about the necessary outcome and maintaining that Afghani government officials had no right to interfere with the judiciary.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Playdoh & Guns

More about lost arguments later, but here's a couple of weird stories that made me think.

The first was Tommy's look at the proposal to extend mandatory public schooling to lower and lower ages. As always, he discusses the issue simply and clearly. I don't think public school should be made mandatory before six, because some kids aren't ready and because the state is not always capable of doing better for kids than their parents. Take, for example, this story about what happened in a nursery school program:
Parents in the Deer Lakes School District say ninth grade students who helped with a nursery school program made inappropriate figures with their play-doh.

Parents say some ninth graders assisting their children formed male body parts with the dough.
There are also other allegations that the teenagers were not treating the toddlers nicely.
The second was Broder's column, entitled "An End Run Around The Constitution", about a proposal for states with large electoral votes to band together and potentially change the way electoral votes are counted:
...the advocates propose that states with sufficient electoral votes -- 270 of the 538 -- to constitute an electoral majority enter into an interstate compact, pledging to give their votes to the candidate receiving the largest number of popular votes. That action could allow the legislatures of as few as 11 states to change the whole system of electing a president.
It is no accident that the Founders chose to elect the president by counting votes in the states, since they wanted to emphasize that this is a federal republic with sovereignty shared between the states and Washington. Past efforts to abolish the electoral college have foundered on the objections of small states, which worry that they would be ignored in the pursuit of giant voting blocs in big population centers. Have their claims no merit?
The FEC has page showing electoral votes by state. The eleven states that have enough votes to swing it include mine:
CA: 55, D
FL: 27, R-ish
IL: 21, R
NY: 31, D
OH: 20, R-ish
PA: 21, D
TX: 34, R
209, 7 states

GA: 15, R
MI: 17, D
NJ: 15, D
NC: 15, R-ish
62, 4 states = 271
This group is not exactly monolithic. So what is the advantage for any individual state in signing on to this proposition, I ask? If GA signed on, GA would be bound to vote the way the nation voted, which requires us to rely on each individual state's ability to count their votes accurately and promptly. Like, say, Florida. We in Georgia like to be able to know who we decided to vote for a day or two after the election, rather than waiting for two months while all the lawyers in the US have a party and figure out how Palm Beach County voted.

What this proposal really amounts to is a clever way to allow the Democratic party to fix the votes in their traditional city strongholds, thereby skewing the national total and picking up a few more presidencies over the next couple of decades. We in Georgia are not that dumb. You have to admire the pure chicanery of the Dem strategists though. They must have had a meeting and discussed the proposition "Why let those rural bastards vote at all?"

I really put all this up so I could point out that the south is rising again peacefully, and I really don't care if it is pushed into rising again in war. Not only are we gaining in electoral votes, we also have more guns and more people who can shoot accurately than the coastal nutcase states. The men of Douglas and Fitzgerald, GA could probably take LA in a day as long as they rolled in about 7 in the morning, because the Joel Steins would be hiding under their beds whimpering, the cops would be having breakfast, and the drug dealers would be sleeping off the night's business.

Whether Douglas would want to keep LA is another story.... The guys would probably just hang out in the strip joints for a few days and then decide to come home. That is the traditional way for rural Baptist Georgians to behave when they go to the big city. Given the STD stats for LA, I think the women of Georgia might assign the LA invasion to the Cajuns, who are more than capable of doing the job.

I don't think the Dems figured on the guns 'n ammo factor, so I would suggest that Democratic strategists not tinker with peace. If I, as a Georgian, have to rely on some local politician in Philly counting votes properly in order to get equal representation, I, as a Georgian, want my state politicians to have some say in how Philadelphia counts votes. And that means we need to invade PA, which would at least provide us some justification for all those gas guzzlers we're driving.

Anyway, you'll do better with our beneficient rule. So either way it works out. Just let us know.

Three Lost Arguments: Argument One

A burglar lost an argument with a church congregation in Florida. They'd been repeatedly robbed, so some men from the congregation hung out in the church overnight.When they heard someone breaking through the window, they whapped him with baseball bats, duct-taped him and called the cops.

Many DU members find this episode of "Muscular Christianity" beyond the pale, and they know who to blame for it - Republicans:
16. GROSS!!! They are supposed to be Christians?!?
How come they didn't OFFER HIM FOOD or at least try to save his soul?

They had a perfect opportunity to proselytize while helping someone, yet they CHOSE PREMEDITATED VIOLENCE!!!
67. Last time I checked assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping...
Are much more serious crimes than B & E.
I hope they are charged accordingly.
27. Looks like Abu Ghraib.
50. Even disregarding race, cameras would have worked as well as a good old Xtian beating. They didn't have to do it. They wanted to beat someone with bats.

IMO, the church has been stealing from the ignorant masses since the first Pope. A burglary here doesn't bother me any more than if he broke into RNC Headquarters. Whatever he would have taken had he succeeded was garnered by fraud in the first place.
33. The dangers of vigilante justice far outweigh any simple application of punishment administered by the members. That sets a precedent that has far reaching disastrous repercussions. If you don't understand, I'm sorry. I'm not going to write a dissertation on the subject for your enlightenment.
120. Good post. Further, had the burglars been armed, a massacre could have occurred, all for the price of a few objects and perhaps a sense of pride.

I have read all the posts in this thread. It alarms me to read the amount of anger that seems to be driving the posts. A lot of people are just looking for excuses to be brutal and a lot of people are living on constant fear that something is going to be taken from them.

Something has been taken from all of them. The Government of the U.S. has be captured by a band of thugs known as the Republican Party. Their right to vote in an honest election,to communicate without eavesdropping, to work at fair wages,to afford trans portion on other necessities and many more things have most definitely been "taken from them" by people infinitely more dangerous than the church burglars. I'd like to see their sense of territorial rights focused on the Bush administration with the same passion.
Others heartily support it:
8. I don't see the problem.
If no one else is going to deal with the problem you have to do it yourself. No one told that guy to break into the church. He was trespassing and is lucky they didn't just shoot him. I'm guessing no charges will be filed against them.
135. The church people could have installed a burglar alarm after the previous burglaries, or perhaps beefed up the window situation.
91. Fine, then lets just eliminate our right to protect our home, family and property. I'm sorry but what you're saying is total BS. Next time someone breaks into my home, I'll be sure to hand him all of my goods, feed him dinner and then thank him fully for his fucking visit.

Don't fucking think so. Anyone breaking into my house is going to get shot at. It's my right to protect my family and property. The same as those people had the right to protect their church.
110. you say "otherwise it would be better, in my opinion"
obviously your opinion is not the law.
and, as so frequently, the "law" doesn't do squat, except release the offender for yet more criminal acts.

we are going to go through a transition in this country with regards to "criminals getting away with just about everything". we, as citizens, have some responsibility in letting it get this far.

when the initial act results in immediate justice, the number of initial acts will decrease.
there will be people hurt in this transition period, both criminals, AND those who are defending their own.

we can let an overloaded court system continue to fail, or we can let lawyers continue to get criminals released on technicalities. or, we ourselves, can do something about it.
as i said, some people will be hurt in the process, but in the end, fewer will be in danger.
too bad it is has sunk to this.
Remember, this is Democratic Underground. It's worth reading the whole thread. What's particularly noteworthy is the prole vs. elitist undercurrent. Does this look to you like la-la leftists are winning the day?

La La La! Impeachment.

As the Dems try to both cater to and suppress the impeachment frenzy among the lunatic segment of their base, I feel the need to turn my attention to something that matters. Because, you know, the very, very last thing the Democratic leadership wants to have happen is an impeachment trial, at which actual evidence would be presented to show that Iraq did have WMDS and the Iraqi intelligence service was in contact with terrorists. This would mess up the storyline badly. I bet some Republicans in the house are praying for it, though.

But enough of the political fun. Let me point you to a very good resource on housing statistics. Hanley Wood carries a constantly updated set of indicators for people in the housing industry. This is free! Bookmark it.

And one, just one stat you need to watch if you are in the market somehow is the purchase money applications survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association. This is the March 17th week's survey (released March 22nd):
The Market Composite Index — a measure of mortgage loan application volume was 565.0 – a decrease of 1.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from 574.4 one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, the Index decreased 1.6 percent compared with the previous week but was down 13.8 percent compared with the same week one year earlier.

The seasonally-adjusted Purchase Index decreased by 2.3 percent to 393.6 from 403.0 the previous week whereas the Refinance Index decreased by 0.6 percent to 1574.5 from 1583.6 one week earlier.
The previous week's was down 12.92% from a year earlier. These are leading indicators, whereas the sales report is a trailing indicator. A lot of "investors" operate on credit lines and don't get traditional mortgages, which is one reason the market was so surprised by the news that new-home sales in February had declined 10.5%. But it was not across the board:
By sector of the country, sales fell by the largest amount last month in the West, a drop of 29.4 percent. Sales were also down in the South, dropping 6.4 percent. Sales rose in the Northeast by 12.7 percent, and sales in the Midwest were up by 5.2 percent.

The slowdown in sales pushed the inventory of unsold homes up to a record of 548,000 at the end of February. At the February sales pace it would take 6.3 months to sell all of the homes on the market, up from 5.3 months in January.
Hint: The south and the west has many concentrated hotbed areas of speculation. Prices are dropping in the areas from which the speculators are fleeing. Some sellers of their own homes are getting wise and starting to drop their prices, which probably accounts for the 5.2 increase in existing home sales in February. Many of the hot markets have a glut of housing compared to the number of people who can afford to buy. Forget that 6.3 month ratio. In Naples, Florida, there's a 28-month supply.

Condo prices are going to plummet in some of these places. Take a gander at this photo from Washington DC (in some DC areas, 50% of the housing was owned by "investors"). This is good advice if you are going to get in trouble with payments you can't afford in the next few years. The Fed has spoken, and you are on your own. Remember, interest rates are still very low by historical terms, but with lending criteria tightening (to what they should have been all along), the pool of available buyers is shrinking regardless. I leave you with this nice summary of risk factors. Don't be a sucker.

Friday, March 24, 2006

It OUGHT To Be Funny

Democratic Underground gets very, very excited because the press is finally discussing the LIHOP and MIHOP theories of 9/11 (LIHOP = Bush Let It Happen On Purpose; MIHOP = Bush Made It Happen On Purpose.)

In the meantime, DU argues over the crucial question: will Bush be brought to trial for his crimes by the international community or by Americans?

Now - never, ever say I didn't give you anything. MOM will now forecast the future.... It's coming in now on the crystal ball.... ah, I see Helen Thomas asking questions to Bush-power:
Q: "What is your relationship with the group called Project for a New American Century, and why is it that your policies here and abroad match perfectly with their agenda, including using a terrorist attack on the United States to prompt a pre-emptive war in the middle east?"

Q: "Followup question, sir: If you know nothing about this radical organization, then how is it that VP Dick Cheney, your brother Jeb Bush, your Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, your friend Paul Wolfowitz, and other members of your administration and the Republican Party are the people responsible for founding this group, and how is it that your domestic and foriegn policy EXACTLY MATCHES the agenda of this radical group?"
Pedro's eyes widen and he explodes in response to a NY Times article on the new Democratic strategy. Run women for change. This cracks me up. Everyone knows that Hillary is in trouble, and now just any woman will get us vagina-people to vote for her? Pedro:
Don't you get it? It's about change. Change to what, you ask? Isn't "change" a neutral term? Hitler "changed" things in Germany; was that necessarily a good thing? Well...there the article doesn't really say. This is, of course, the NYT; you can't expect them to ask pertinent, important, significant questions like that!It's just change. Something different. Something new. Different from what we have now. Can't that be enough?
Does the Harvard Arts & Sciences faculty know about this article? It seems to be suggesting there's something inherently different about females and males, that female candidates, by virtue of their gender, stand for something completely different (though it's not within the concerns of the article to articulate what that something is).
I really do not feel that Pedro should be asking questions like that.

Update: This is hilarious. The translation from Russian is located at the FluClinic:
Deputy from LDPR Sergey Abel'tsev proposes to use for warning the spread of the bird influenza of force PVO - AIR DEFENSE, the agency reports RIA of the news. At the plenary meeting of the State Duma it gave the proposal to conduct on the migration lengths of migratory birds the scale studies of air defense systems and to destroy those infected by the bird influenza of birds on the approach to Russia.

Proclaiming its initiative Of abel'tsev it told before hand by the words: "it came time to shoot the guns on the sparrows". Deputy proposed to direct more than 4 billion rubles, isolated into the vaccination of birds from virus H5N1, into the Ministry of Defense for conducting the studies with the application of ammunition of volumetric explosion in order "to destroy infection in the airspace on the approaches to the Russian Federation".

Abel'tsev reminded one also that the main sanitary doctor RF of gennadi Onishchenko proposed "to shoot all crows". "LDPR proposes to solve problem by more radical method", said deputy. Let us recall that initiative "to shoot all birds" advanced not only Onishchenko, but also leader OF LDPR Vladimir Zhirinovsky. On 11 January at the first after vacations session of the Dumas he stated: "it is necessary to force government to end this overflight of birds, any overflights more, albeit there they will remain in the south, it is necessary to shoot out all birds, to place all our men, troops from Sochi to the Crimea and any migratory birds must remain at that place, where they are located".
The Russians are also using the army to try and scare migratory birds away from the Altai lakes. They are being hit hard.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Freddie Mac CFO Resigns

Don't be deluded by articles saying that RE is in for a "soft landing", or that housing sales are up. There's a long lag time between signing a contract and closing, so leading indicators like PMI and mortgage applications are more indicative. They aren't looking good. They don't look bad enough to justify the sales drop-off in hot markets, so that is coming because speculators are bailing.

Now comes the credit crunch. There is no way with the affordability stats I am looking at that housing could have been bid up as far as it has honestly. That means that mortgage-holders have not been properly qualified, which means that there is far more risk in mortgages than we know. So it is quite significant that Freddie Mac's CFO just resigned, and it's going to add to the generalized wariness in the RE financial markets:
Martin Baumann, the respected chief financial officer of Freddie Mac (FRE.N: Quote, Profile, Research), has resigned less than three years after taking the job at the second-largest U.S. mortgage funding company, which is still recovering from an accounting scandal.
"The timing of the departure is unusual, as is the fact that no successor is named and the search is just getting under way," said Ed Groshans, an analyst with Fox-Pitt, Kelton.

On March 10 Freddie Mac said it would delay until May the release of its quarterly and full-year financial results in order to implement an accounting change. It said it would hold a conference call with investors on March 30 to discuss this.
Fannie Mae is still messed up also. The Fed has been worried for years about potential risk to the Treasury from these mortgages. Freddie Mac went into the "exotic" market more strongly than Fannie Mae. I don't know what the real effects will be.

Look, a market that can even dream that this is worth 2 million is not even remotely rational. And this market is about to correct itself. There are going to be newly built ghost towns in a few places. Here's an erst-while broker who spent a long time blogging about the CA market and those "exotic" mortgages. It's extremely factual and extremely informative.

No one can know right now how bad this is going to be, but if you are exposed cut your exposure. You are exposed if you have less than 10% equity in your home in an average area, and if you have less than 30% equity in your home at today's evaluations in one of these "hot" markets. You are in a bad, bad way if you are exposed and have a loan that is going to reset within the next three years to a payment you are not sure you can afford. Do whatever you have to do now, because in six months you probably will have absolutely no leverage. Right now the weakness seems to have been induced by speculators selling. In six months what's really happening will have percolated through to the average homeowner, the banks will trying to cut their risks, and the sharks will be circulating.

One of the totally unpredictable factors about the coming recession is how many people are like me and Chief No-Nag. We cleared all our debt and are sitting on cash. Late this summer I will bail from most of the stocks, except for my Euro hedge, and then we will sit and watch for the opportunities that will be created as everything overcorrects. I have been watching the stock market, and I do not like the stocks that are rising. Dumb money seems to be moving from RE to stocks. I've got to tell you that I will not be finding good opportunities in these overbuilt and overvalued areas, but some money should be flowing back into the US market overall once things really do slump. Any time CA gets in trouble it hurts the entire US economy though, and SoCal is not looking good. But a lot of people did make money on this thing. If enough are sitting on it and move it back into the US economy in a sensible way, it will buffer the downturn.

From August of last year:
Fifty-three metropolitan areas representing 31% of the total U.S. housing market are considered extremely overvalued and confront a high risk of future price corrections, a study conducted by National City Corp. says. The study determines a market extremely overvalued if prices are 30% above where the study estimates they should be based on historic price data, area income, mortgage rates and population density.
See the whole chart. Or look at another chart with aggregated areas here.

1 Santa Barbara, Calif. 69%; 2 Salinas, Calif. 67%; 3 Naples, Fla. 62%; 4 Riverside, Calif. 60%
5 Merced, Calif. 59%; 6 Stockton, Calif. 58%; 7 Port St. Lucie, Fla. 58%; 8 Madera, Calif. 57%
9 Napa, Calif. 57%; 10 Medford, Ore. 55%; 11 Sacramento, Calif. 54%; 12 Modesto, Calif. 53%
13 San Diego, Calif. 53%; 14 Santa Rosa, Calif. 52%; 15 Chico, Calif. 52%; 16 Barnstable Town, Mass. 50%
17 San Luis Obispo, Calif. 49%; 18 Oxnard, Calif. 48%; 19 Fresno, Calif. 48%; 20 Los Angeles, Calif. 48%
21 Miami, Fla. 46%; 22 West Palm Beach, Fla. 46%; 23 Vallejo, Calif. 45%; 24 Ocean City, N.J. 45%
25 Bend, Ore. 45%; 26 Sarasota, Fla. 45%; 27 Redding, Calif. 44%; 28 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 43%
29 Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y. 42%; 30 Santa Ana, Calif. 41%; 31 Atlantic City, N.J. 41%;
32 Bakersfield, Calif. 40%; 33 Oakland, Calif. 39%; 34 Santa Cruz, Calif. 39%
35 Palm Bay, Fla. 38%; 36 Las Vegas, Nev. 38%; 37 Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 37%; 38 Vero Beach, Fla. 37%
39 San Jose, Calif. 36%; 40 Bellingham, Wash. 35%; 41 Panama City, Fla. 35%; 42 Calif.pe Coral, Fla. 35%
43 Providence, R.I. 34%; 44 Reno, Nev. 33%; 45 Kingston, N.Y. 32%; 46 Visalia, Calif. 32%
47 Deltona, Fla. 31%; 48 Boston, Mass. 31%; 49 Washington D.C. 31%; 50 Essex County, Mass. 30%
51 San Francisco, Calif. 30%; 52 Prescott, Ariz. 30%; 53 Duluth, Minn. 30%

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