Sunday, February 28, 2010

Al Gore could become world's first carbon billionaire
...Few people have been as vocal about the urgency of global warming and the need to reinvent the way the world produces and consumes energy as Mr Gore. And few have put as much money behind their advocacy and are as well positioned to profit from this green transformation, if and when it comes.

Critics, mostly on the political right and among global warming sceptics, say Mr. Gore is poised to become the world's first "carbon billionaire," profiteering from government policies he supports that would direct billions of dollars to the business ventures he has invested in.

Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, has claimed that Mr Gore stood to benefit personally from the energy and climate policies he was urging Congress to adopt. ...

Family questions SWAT drug search that led to dog’s death
A man arrested on suspicion of drug charges and child endangerment said he is concerned with the actions of police who shot two dogs they described as “aggressive” while serving a drug-related search warrant at his home earlier this month in southwest Columbia.

Police arrested Jonathan E. Whitworth, 25, of 1501 Kinloch Court on Feb. 11 on suspicion of possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana and second-degree child endangerment.

A police SWAT team entered Whitworth’s residence around 8:30 p.m. suspecting a large amount of marijuana at the location, police spokeswoman Officer Jessie Haden said. SWAT members encountered a pit bull upon entry, held back and then fatally shot the dog, which officers said was acting in an uncontrollably aggressive manner.

Whitworth was arrested, and his wife and 7-year-old son were present during the SWAT raid, Haden said. A second dog, which Whitworth’s attorney Jeff Hilbrenner described as a corgi, also was shot but was not killed.

“The family is concerned with what happened,” Hilbrenner said. “We don’t feel like what happened in the home was appropriate. The priority right now for us is the misdemeanor charges.”

Police discovered a grinder, a pipe and a small amount of marijuana, Haden said. Because the SWAT team acts on the most updated information available, the team wanted to enter the house before marijuana believed to be at the location could be distributed, she said....

Youth leader’s porn arrest shocks pastor
OCEAN SPRINGS — The pastor of Grace Independent Baptist Church said he was shocked to learn of the arrest of one of their youth volunteers this week on multiple counts of possession of child pornography.

The Rev. Paul Perkins said he informed his church congregation of the arrest of member Stephen Brown, 37, not long after authorities picked him up Tuesday at his Ocean Springs home....

Saturday, February 27, 2010

University ‘tried to mislead MPs on climate change e-mails’
The university at the centre of the climate change row over stolen e-mails has been accused of making a misleading statement to Parliament.

The University of East Anglia wrote this week to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee giving the impression that it had been exonerated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). However, the university failed to disclose that the ICO had expressed serious concerns that one of its professors had proposed deleting information to avoid complying with the Freedom of Information Act.

Professor Phil Jones, director of the university’s Climatic Research Unit, has stepped down while an inquiry takes place into allegations that he manipulated data to avoid scrutiny of his claims that manmade emissions were causing global warming. Professor Edward Acton, the university’s vice-chancellor, published a statement he sent to the committee before giving evidence to MPs at a public hearing on Monday. He said a letter from the ICO “indicated that no breach of the law has been established [and] that the evidence the ICO had in mind about whether there was a breach was no more than prima facie”.

But the ICO’s letter said: “The prima facie evidence from the published e-mails indicate an attempt to defeat disclosure by deleting information. It is hard to imagine more cogent prima facie evidence.”

Insiders, Outsiders and Unemployment
From today's NYTimes:

The Obama administration is planning to use the government’s enormous buying power to prod private companies to improve wages and benefits for millions of workers, according to White House officials and several interest groups briefed on the plan....

Because nearly one in four workers is employed by companies that have contracts with the federal government, administration officials see the plan as a way to shape social policy and lift more families into the middle class.

At a time of 10% unemployment when real wages need to fall this is bad business cycle policy. I am more worried, however, about the long term consequences of creating a dual labor market in which insiders with government or government-connected jobs are highly paid and secure while outsiders face high unemployment rates, low wages and part-time work without a career path....

UK government asked UEA to create climate ‘headline’
...So the real reason they are creating a new 'socio-economic' indicator of climate change is because they want a 'headline' in an upcoming DEFRA publication....

...The UEA was asked by the UK's government agency DEFRA to create a 'headline' socio-economic indicator of climate impacts. This does not seem like un-biased science to me. They are specifically looking for a socio-economic indicator, presumably one which the level of 'public resonance' is already high and doesn't need to be 'hyped up'....

Public servants wallow at our expense
...However, although it took a silly, superannuated Conservative to remind us of all this, what is truly despicable is that Labour is no better. Since 1997 new Labour ducks have taken easily to the waters of state-subsidised privilege, as of right; they are just as keen on paddling round designer duck houses and rabble-excluding moats as any Tory booby. “The many, not the few” — that’s what they claim to stand for.

In fact they’re quite content to let the many do the standing while they themselves sit without a hint of self-reproach in the quiet comfort of first class, both literally and metaphorically. They are not even embarrassed by the phrase.

We have a government — and, more widely than that, a centre-left establishment in the public services — that gives every impression of being obsessed with inequality. We are lectured constantly by new Labour about the evils of social exclusion, the lasting damage done by real inequality, the social malaise that follows social injustice, and the central importance of imposing equality by law — complete with an ambitious Equality Bill. The Conservatives do not disassociate themselves from this rhetoric — quite the reverse. ...

...What’s really going on, I think, is that the nature of class war has changed. The old virus has mutated. The old social and political divisions have given way to two new classes — rather as on the trains. Those in economy are most of us, paying for the comforts of those in first class. And those in first class are the new political class — all those who owe their advancement and their security and their pensions and their privileges not to their backgrounds or their talents, or even necessarily their political parties, but to the state and our taxes. ..

CNN Poll: Majority says government a threat to citizens' rights
Washington (CNN) – A majority of Americans think the federal government poses a threat to rights of Americans, according to a new national poll.

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government's become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. Forty-four percent of those polled disagree.

The survey indicates a partisan divide on the question: only 37 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents and nearly 7 in 10 Republicans say the federal government poses a threat to the rights of Americans....

Patriot Act Update
It looks as though we’ll be getting a straight one-year reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, without even the minimal added safeguards for privacy and civil liberties that had been proposed in the Senate’s watered down bill. This is disappointing, but was also eminently predictable: Between health care and the economy, it was clear Congress wasn’t going to make time for any real debate on substantive reform of surveillance law. ...

For liberals, the filibuster is now the enemy
Today's health policy "summit" comes at a moment when, as happens with metronomic regularity, Washington is reverberating with lamentations about government being "broken." Such talk occurs only when the left's agenda is stalled. Do you remember mournful editorials and somber seminars about "dysfunctional" government when liberals defeated George W. Bush's Social Security reforms?

The summit's predictable failure will be a pretext for trying to ram health legislation through the Senate by misusing "reconciliation," which prevents filibusters. If the Senate parliamentarian rules, as he should, that most of the legislation is ineligible for enactment under reconciliation, the vice president, as Senate president, can overrule the parliamentarian. This has not happened since 1975, but liberals say desperate times require desperate measures.

Today's desperation? Democracy's majoritarian ethic is, liberals say, being violated by the filibuster that prevents their enacting health legislation opposed by an American majority. ...

Stafford Hospital caused ‘unimaginable suffering’
Patients were routinely neglected or left “sobbing and humiliated” by staff at an NHS trust where at least 400 deaths have been linked to appalling care.

An independent inquiry found that managers at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust stopped providing safe care because they were preoccupied with government targets and cutting costs.

The inquiry report, published yesterday by Robert Francis, QC, included proposals for tough new regulations that could lead to managers at failing NHS trusts being struck off.

Staff shortages at Stafford Hospital meant that patients went unwashed for weeks, were left without food or drink and were even unable to get to the lavatory. Some lay in soiled sheets that relatives had to take home to wash, others developed infections or had falls, occasionally fatal. Many staff did their best but the attitude of some nurses “left a lot to be desired”. ...

Al Gore a lightning rod at Apple shareholder meeting
CUPERTINO, Calif.--The presence of one of the world's pre-eminent environmentalists at Apple's shareholder meeting Thursday was the subject of much of the morning's pointed discussion.

As expected, Apple's attitude on environmental and sustainability issues was one of the main concerns of the stockholders present Thursday, followed closely by the company's immense pile of cash. But early harsh comments about former Vice President Al Gore's record set the tone.

Gore was seated in the first row, along with his six fellow board members, in Apple's Town Hall auditorium as several stockholders took turns either bashing or praising his high-profile views on climate change.

At the first opportunity for audience participation just several minutes into the proceeding, a longtime and well-known Apple shareholder--some would say gadfly--who introduced himself as Shelton Ehrlich, stood at the microphone and urged against Gore's re-election to the board. Gore "has become a laughingstock. The glaciers have not melted," Ehrlich said, referring to Gore's views on global warming. "If his advice he gives to Apple is as faulty as his views on the environment then he doesn't need to be re-elected." ...

Local pastor arrested, charged with indecency with a child
PALESTINE — A 74-year-old Palestine man who has preached at churches in Anderson County for more than three decades has been arrested and charged with indecency with a child.

Hezekiah Stallworth, 74, of Palestine was arrested around 1 p.m. Friday at the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office after he had come in for an interview, according to Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor.

Stallworth was charged with indecency with a child by sexual contact, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, according to the sheriff.

Stallworth has served as a pastor at both Oak Grove Baptist Church in Elkhart and Beulah Baptist Church just south of Palestine, according to the sheriff.

“He preaches regularly at both of those churches,” Taylor said Friday....

Ron Hart: Toyota tangled in Washington show trial
...It has been a tough year for Prius owners all the way around. The car they overpaid $15,000 for has been recalled, it runs so quietly that it tends to run over people who do not hear it coming, and it turns out there is no global warming.

Toyota has also recalled that sanctimonious, smug look Prius drivers wear when they talk about how they are saving the earth, one trip to yoga class at a time! On the bright side, liberals are now victims, and they love that about as much.

In fact, this problem with electronic braking came about because of federal pressure through CAFE standards, forcing manufacturers to make lighter cars. As they often do, politicians point their fingers at Big Bad Business. Now a memo has come to light showing that Toyota cut a deal with its Washington regulators on the braking issue last year. As is often the case when politicians point fingers, at least three fingers are pointing right back at them....

...The stark reality is that the industries we have had the most difficulty with – banking, insurance, airlines, mortgage lending, and now car companies – are the most regulated. Less regulated businesses that are more sensitive to market demands, like Wal-Mart, Coke, Google, Caterpillar and Home Depot, are doing fine...

Gov't Must Not Escape Blame In Whodunits
...The one agency of government that is widely blamed is the Federal Reserve system — which still keeps the heat away from elected politicians. Nor is the Fed completely blameless. It kept interest rates extremely low for years. That undoubtedly contributed to an increased demand for housing, since lower interest rates mean lower monthly mortgage payments.

But an increased demand for housing does not automatically mean higher housing prices. In places where supply is free to rise to meet demand, such as Manhattan in the 1950s or Las Vegas in the 1980s, increased demand simply led to more housing units being built, without an increase in real prices — that is, money prices adjusted for inflation.

What led to a boom in housing prices was increased demand in places where supply was artificially restricted. Coastal California was the largest of these places where severe legal restrictions on building houses led to skyrocketing housing prices.

Just between 2000 and 2005, for example, home prices more than doubled in Los Angeles and San Diego, in response to rising demand in places where supply was not allowed to rise to meet it.

At the height of the housing boom in 2005, the 10 areas with the biggest home-price increases over the previous five years were all in California. That year, the average home price in California was more than half a million dollars, even though the average size of the homes sold was just 1,600 square feet....

...Other enclaves, here and there, with severe housing restrictions also had rapidly rising housing prices to levels far above the national average....

The Recession's Fat Cats: Public Employees
Last week, the Huffington Post (here) was all over this new study showing that low-income workers got hit more severely during the recession than high-income workers (low-income workers suffer an over 30 percent unemployment rate, workers making about $138,000, only a 3.2 percent.)

The data in this study, which turned out to be quite misleading, certainly makes for nice populist headlines. But it is hiding the true debate that we should be having. And that’s not that low-skill workers are vulnerable to recession (duh) but that public-sector employees still have jobs and private employees don’t....

...In the course of a year, government employment has decreased by 296,000 jobs to 4.3% unemployment; during the same period, employment in the private, non-agricultural, sector has decreased by 2.3 million jobs to 11.1%. (And if you look at not seasonally adjusted unemployment data, the lose of private jobs reached 3.1 million and the lose of public jobs is roughly 70,000. That’s quite a gap.)

From January 2009 to January 2010, plummeting employment has been concentrated in the private sector. During the time period examined, employment in the private sector decreased by 3.5% while employment within government decreased by 0.5%. ...

...By the way, public-sector employees are also the ones benefiting from the stimulus funding, not the private-sector employees. The job-creation data reveals that most of the jobs were “created or saved” in the public sector. Based on data from, we find that of the 640,000 jobs the administration claims to have created with stimulus funds, only some 140,765 of them were private jobs....

UN Eco-Commissars on Bali – Again
...The UN Environment Program, which is based in Nairobi, is convening a set of meetings this week – not in Nairobi, or New York, but at the same Bali beach resort (and convention center) where they sacrificed all that time for the greater good in 2007. Never mind the UN’s continuing campaign — in the face of its crumbling “climate science” — to restrict and control carbon emissions. Yet again, we are asked to believe the UN deserves special exemptions from its own preachings. Its conferees are jetting to Bali for the greater good of all the little folk, whose job is merely to pay the bills for such pleasures, and live with any resulting rationing and regulation. ...

Class Warfare's Next Target: 401(k) Savings
You did the responsible thing. You saved in your IRA or 401(k) to support your retirement, when you could have spent that money on another vacation, or an upscale car, or fancier clothes and jewelry. But now Washington is developing plans for your retirement savings.

BusinessWeek reports that the Treasury and Labor departments are asking for public comment on "the conversion of 401(k) savings and Individual Retirement Accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams."

In plain English, the idea is for the government to take your retirement savings in return for a promise to pay you some monthly benefit in your retirement years.

They will tell you that you are "investing" your money in U.S. Treasury bonds. But they will use your money immediately to pay for their unprecedented trillion-dollar budget deficits, leaving nothing to back up their political promises, just as they have raided the Social Security trust funds.

This "conversion" may start out as an optional choice, though you are already free to buy Treasury bonds whenever you want. But as Karl Denninger of the Market Ticker Web site reports: "'Choices' have a funny way of turning into mandates, and this looks to me like a raw admission that Treasury knows it will not be able to sell its debt in the open market — so they will effectively tax you by forcing your 'retirement' money to buy them."...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

ObamaCare at Ramming Speed
A mere three days before President Obama's supposedly bipartisan health-care summit, the White House yesterday released a new blueprint that Democrats say they will ram through Congress with or without Republican support. So after election defeats in Virginia, New Jersey and even Massachusetts, and amid overwhelming public opposition, Democrats have decided to give the voters what they don't want anyway.

Ah, the glory of "progressive" governance and democratic consent....

...Insurance premiums are rising too fast; therefore, premium increases should be illegal. Q.E.D. The result of this rate-setting board will be less competition in the individual market, as insurers flee expensive states or regions, or even a cascade of bankruptcies if premiums are frozen and the cost of the care they are expected to cover continues to rise. For all the Dickensian outrage about profiteering by WellPoint and other companies, insurance is a low-margin business even for health care, and at least 85 cents of the average premium dollar, usually more, is devoted to actual health services. ...

...The larger political message of this new proposal is that Mr. Obama and Democrats have no intention of compromising on an incremental reform, or of listening to Republican, or any other, ideas on health care. They want what they want, and they're going to play by Chicago Rules and try to dragoon it into law on a narrow partisan vote via Congressional rules that have never been used for such a major change in national policy. If you want to know why Democratic Washington is "ungovernable," this is it.

Climategate: Seven Hard Questions from the Case Study of the Fall of Enron (will the AAAS panel consider them?)
...Here are some themes from Enron to consider applying.

1) Slippery slopes where small deviations from best practices escalated into problems that were not anticipated at the beginning of the process.

2) A lack of midcourse correction when developing problems were not properly addressed.

3) Old fashioned deceit when the core mission/vision was threatened (for Enron it was ‘to become the world’s leading company’–for Jones et al., it was there is a big warming and a climate problem developing)

4) The (despised) short sellers busted the Enron mirage. Ken Lay at the last employee meeting even likened the short sellers to ‘terrorists” (this was just a few months after 9/11). Question: does mainstream climate science regard Internet ‘peer review’ of Jones et al. like the Enron faithful regarded the short sellers who first discovered the problems of Enron?

5) Enron suffered from the “smartest guys in the room” problem. Does Climategate reveal arrogance and a lack of humility among “mainstream” climate scientists?

6) Denial: we employees were almost all in denial when the problems at Enron first surfaced. Have you and others who are close to the scientists of Climategate been slow to recognize the problem? Has Nature and Science also been slow? If so, What does this say about human nature.

7) Taking responsibility. Skilling and Lay never did and, in fact, they joined together in a legal cartel where the unstated strategy was to not blame each other for anything and sink or swim together. Has this happened, or is it still happening, with Climategate if you believe that scientific protocol and/or legal rules were violated?...

Rob Bradley: Climategate from an Enron Perspective
...There was an extremely interesting blog post a few days ago by Rob Bradley, an old friend of North from Enron days – where North had been Bradley’s climate consultant – in which Bradley asked North very pointed questions in which he compared the present behavior of climate scientists to Climategate to their shared experience (as innocent parties not in the know) through the gradual revelation of Enron problems....

...Analogies are always treacherous, because, all too often, one gets drawn into debates about the analogy that are just as complex as the original issue. Or debates about the validity of the analogy. So one needs to take care in trying to go a bridge too far in this sort of comparison.

Nonetheless, as it happens, in the early days of Climate Audit, I posted on both Bre-X and Enron. Here are some relevant posts on Enron:

In the first post, I observed ironically that there was a “consensus” in 2000 that Enron was the best-managed company in the US, seizing that honor from GE. Money managers and analysts are not stupid people – the intriguing question for me was (and this sort of question interested me before I was interested in climate) is how could so many smart analysts get it wrong? And at what point did it change from “shame on you” to “shame on me” i.e. at what point could an alert analyst have spotted inconsistencies and problems? And what were early warning bells? ...

...The comparison with Enron may also be helpful in placing Climategate into context. Obviously, corruption at Enron did not prove that all business enterprises were corrupt. Conversely, no defence lawyer for Ken Lay or Jeffrey Skillings or Andrew Fastow would have stood before a court and argued that, because no one had showed that all business enterprises were corrupt, corruption at Enron didn’t “matter”. It did matter. Honest businessmen did not discourage an investigation of Enron or try to sweep it under the carpet. The best way to restore confidence in the rest of the system was to do a proper investigation of Enron. ..

Senate votes to extend USA Patriot Act for 1 year
WASHINGTON—The Senate voted Wednesday to extend for a year key provisions of the nation's counterterrorism surveillance law that are scheduled to expire at the end of the month. In agreeing to pass the bill, Senate Democrats retreated from adding new privacy protections to the USA Patriot Act.

The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote with no debate. It now goes to the House. ...

Police: pastor swindled nonprofit
A minister charged with qualifying people for cash assistance stole money for three years from a nonprofit organization, police say.

Thomas Croyle, 44, Carpenters Park Road, Davidsville, embezzled $18,615 from St. Francis Sharing and Caring Inc., a nonprofit organization located in Conemaugh Township, between May 2005 and June 2008, according to court documents....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Lies Politicians Tell

THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA: My relationship to ACORN is pretty straightforward. When... it's probably 13 years ago, when I was still practicing law, I represented ACORN. And my partner in that representation was the U.S. Justice Department, in having Illinois implement what was called the Motor Voter Law.


That sounds so straightforward: He's got nothing to do with them. It's no big deal. But I want you to know this wasn't an isolated incident. Here he is again, this time at a presidential debate:


OBAMA: It had nothing to do with us. We were not involved. The only involvement I've had with ACORN was I represented them alongside the U.S. Justice Department in making Illinois implement a Motor Voter Law.


OK — got it? Nothing to do with ACORN. Now, in the very same election campaign — in a video clip uncovered during a House investigation by Congressman Issa — here's what Obama said when being interviewed by ACORN, about a year before he was elected:


OBAMA: And I definitely welcome ACORN's input. You don't have to ask me about that, I'm going to call you, even if you, if you didn't ask me.

When I ran Project Vote, voter registration drive in Illinois, ACORN was smack dab in the middle of it.

Once I was elected, there wasn't a campaign that ACORN worked on down in Springfield that I wasn't right there with you.

Since I've been in the United States Senate, I've been always a partner with ACORN as well.

I've been fighting with ACORN, along side ACORN, on issues you care about, my entire career.


Media provides false "context" for Bush quote on bin Laden
During the October 13 presidential debate, President George W. Bush denied he'd ever said he wasn't worried about Osama bin Laden, as Senator John Kerry stated. In fact, Bush did say it, as a March 13, 2002, video clip, which was played repeatedly by cables and networks after the debate, demonstrates. But even with a video clip that starkly contradicted Bush's assertion, several pundits and reporters rushed in the hours after the debate to claim, falsely, that Bush's 2002 comments about bin Laden were being taken out of context.

From the October 13 debate:

KERRY: Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked, "Where is Osama bin Laden?" He said, "I don't know. I don't really think about him very much. I'm not that concerned."


BUSH: Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations.

But Bush wasn't telling the truth. From a March 13, 2002, press conference:

Q: But don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?

BUSH: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban. ...

Government Grab of Retirement Accounts a Matter of ‘Social Justice’
Uncle Sam wants your retirement money.

The Obama administration has just solicited public comment on their proposal to take money from Americans’ private 401(k) retirement accounts and convert it into government-backed annuities. In other words, they want to take your money now to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds, then pay you a monthly sum later after you’ve retired.

Although this proposal is being initially portrayed as a voluntary choice, Americans already have the ability to purchase Treasury bonds with their retirement money. Moreover, the Obama administration is considering making these annuities the default option. And as analyst Karl Denninger noted, “‘choices’ have a funny way of turning into mandates.” Nor is his concern unjustified.

In 2008, Professor Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School of Social Research testified before Congress proposing a similar scheme to convert private 401(k) accounts into government-run “guaranteed retirement accounts” that would pay a 3% return. And in 2008, the Argentinian government attempted to nationalize private retirement funds to help cover its runaway deficit....

Greece and the welfare state in ruins
...Every advanced society, including the United States, has a welfare state. Though details differ, their purposes are similar: to support the unemployed, poor, disabled and aged. All welfare states face similar problems: burgeoning costs as populations age; an over-reliance on debt financing; and pressures to reduce borrowing that create pressures to cut welfare spending. High debt and the welfare state are at odds. It's an open question whether the collision will cause social and economic turmoil.

Greece is the opening act in this drama; already, its budget problems have spawned street protests. By the numbers, Greece's plight is acute. In 2009, its government debt -- basically, the sum of past annual deficits -- was 113 percent of its economy (gross domestic product, or GDP). The budget deficit for 2009 was 12.7 percent of GDP. ...

...The threat to the euro bloc ultimately stems from an overcommitted welfare state. Greece's situation is so difficult because a low birth rate and rapidly graying population automatically increase old-age assistance even as the government tries to cut its spending. At issue is the viability of its present welfare state.

Almost every advanced country -- the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Belgium and others -- faces some combination of huge budget deficits, high debts, aging populations and political paralysis. It's an unstable mix. Present deficits may aid economic recovery, but the persistence of those deficits threatens long-term prosperity. The same unpleasant choices confronting Greece await most wealthy nations, even if they pretend otherwise.

New Climate Agency Head Tried to Suppress Data, Critics Charge
The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department's new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject....

...Karl, who has played a pivotal role in key climate decisions over the past decade, has kept a low profile as director of National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) since 1998, and he has led all of the NOAA climate services since 2009. His name surfaced numerous times in leaked "climate-gate" e-mails from the University of East Anglia, but there was little in the e-mails that tied him to playing politics with climate data. Mostly, the e-mails show he was in the center of the politics of climate change decisions...

...On the popular skeptic site "Watts Up With That," Anthony Watts called the site a "waste of more taxpayer money" and charged that it is nothing more than a "fast track press release service." He wrote that putting Karl in charge was an issue, because he had fabricated photos of "floods that didn't happen" in an earlier NOAA report.

Top U.N. Climate Official Yvo de Boer Resigning
Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate change official, is resigning after nearly four years -- mere months before 193 nations are due to reconvene in Mexico for another attempt to reach a worldwide agreement on controlling greenhouse gases.

...De Boer's resignation comes in the wake of the continuing Climate-gate scandal -- a story that began with the leak of stolen e-mails from top climate scientists and led to revelations of sloppy science, efforts to suppress dissenting opinions and ultimately flaws in the U.N.'s top climate policy document. ...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Report Cited by Obama on Hospitals Is Criticized
For much of the past year, President Obama lavished praise on a few select hospitals like the Mayo Clinic for delivering high-quality care at low costs, but a pointed analysis published Wednesday in an influential medical journal suggests that the president’s praise may be unwarranted.

Mr. Obama received his information about the hospitals from a widely cited analysis called the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, produced by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. An article in The New Yorker magazine last year written by Dr. Atul Gawande that used the Dartmouth Atlas as its organizing principle became required reading in the White House last year.

But an analysis written in The New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Peter B. Bach, a physician and epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, suggests that much of the Dartmouth Atlas is flawed and that it should not be used to compare the relative efficiency of hospitals....

Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels
...Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings.

The study, published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience, one of the top journals in its field, confirmed the conclusions of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It used data over the last 22,000 years to predict that sea level would rise by between 7cm and 82cm by the end of the century.

At the time, Mark Siddall, from the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol, said the study "strengthens the confidence with which one may interpret the IPCC results". The IPCC said that sea level would probably rise by 18cm-59cm by 2100, though stressed this was based on incomplete information about ice sheet melting and that the true rise could be higher.

Many scientists criticised the IPCC approach as too conservative, and several papers since have suggested that sea level could rise more. Martin Vermeer of the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland and Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany published a study in December that projected a rise of 0.75m to 1.9m by 2100.

Siddall said that he did not know whether the retracted paper's estimate of sea level rise was an overestimate or an underestimate.

Announcing the formal retraction of the paper from the journal, Siddall said: "It's one of those things that happens. People make mistakes and mistakes happen in science." He said there were two separate technical mistakes in the paper, which were pointed out by other scientists after it was published. A formal retraction was required, rather than a correction, because the errors undermined the study's conclusion....

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Even More on The Coming War Over Public-Sector Pensions
...Hard-fact time: Taxpayers everywhere are shelling out many, many, many more real dollars per student for public education than they were 30 years ago (with no clear improvements in outcomes [see this and this]). Indeed, inflation-adjusted costs per pupil have gone up over 200 percent since 1970, while student achievement is flat (at best). Can you think of any other part of your life (especially one in the private sector) where you are paying twice as much for the same freaking outcome? Say what you will about rising medical costs, but the pills that cure our ills nowadays are so much better......

The Chemist's War
...Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people....

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why Are Liberals So Condescending?
...It's an odd time for liberals to feel smug. But even with Democratic fortunes on the wane, leading liberals insist that they have almost nothing to learn from conservatives. Many Democrats describe their troubles simply as a PR challenge, a combination of conservative misinformation--as when Obama charges that critics of health-care reform are peddling fake fears of a "Bolshevik plot"--and the country's failure to grasp great liberal accomplishments. "We were so busy just getting stuff done . . . that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are," the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a recent interview. The benighted public is either uncomprehending or deliberately misinformed (by conservatives)....

...It follows that the thinkers, politicians and citizens who advance conservative ideas must be dupes, quacks or hired guns selling stories they know to be a sham. In this spirit, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman regularly dismisses conservative arguments not simply as incorrect, but as lies. Writing last summer, Krugman pondered the duplicity he found evident in 35 years' worth of Wall Street Journal editorial writers: "What do these people really believe? I mean, they're not stupid--life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they're not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth. . . . The question is, what is that higher truth?"

In Krugman's world, there is no need to take seriously the arguments of "these people"--only to plumb the depths of their errors and imagine hidden motives.

But, if conservative leaders are crass manipulators, then the rank-and-file Americans who support them must be manipulated at best, or stupid at worst. This is the second variety of liberal condescension, exemplified in Thomas Frank's best-selling 2004 book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?" Frank argued that working-class voters were so distracted by issues such as abortion that they were induced into voting against their own economic interests. Then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, later chairman of the Democratic National Committee, echoed that theme in his 2004 presidential run, when he said Republicans had succeeded in getting Southern whites to focus on "guns, God and gays" instead of economic redistribution.

And speaking to a roomful of Democratic donors in 2008, then-presidential candidate Obama offered a similar (and infamous) analysis when he suggested that residents of Rust Belt towns "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations" about job losses. When his comments became public, Obama backed away from their tenor but insisted that "I said something that everybody knows is true."...

Only 21% Say U.S. Government Has Consent of the Governed
The founding document of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, states that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Today, however, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that the federal government enjoys the consent of the governed.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 61% disagree and say the government does not have the necessary consent. Eighteen percent (18%) of voters are not sure.

However, 63% of the Political Class think the government has the consent of the governed, but only six percent (6%) of those with Mainstream views agree.

Seventy-one percent (71%) of all voters now view the federal government as a special interest group, and 70% believe that the government and big business typically work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors. ...

HINKLE—Politics: Proles Have Gotten Under the Egalitarians’ Skin
...Progressivism purports to protect the toiling and exploited masses from the amoral rapacity of big banks, big insurance, big tobacco, and whatnot. It must be exceedingly frustrating to have the toiling and exploited masses turn against the policies you have designed for their own good.

But there is something else going on here, something Thomas Sowell put his finger on a decade and a half ago in The Vision of the Anointed. The progressive elite, he wrote, "do not simply happen to have a disdain for the public. Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others."

As The New York Times' David Brooks wrote earlier this year in a column condescending to the "Tea-Party Teens," the Obama administration "is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country's problems." Those problems are presumed to be primarily economic: investment bankers making too much money, insurance companies charging too much for coverage, and uninsured Americans' inability to afford medical care. Offended by such disparities of wealth and want, progressives have expended vast amounts of energy to produce greater equality.

Yet as J.R. Lucas wrote more than three decades ago, equality has more than one dimension, and efforts to tame economic inequalities can produce bureaucratic empires that crystallize "an inequality of power . . . more dangerous than the inequality of wealth to which objection was originally made." Members of Tea Party Nation may simply prefer to tolerate monetary inequalities rather than to hand more power over their lives to progressives who, while purporting to care about the great unwashed, sometimes treat them with casual contempt.

It is bad enough to have the proles reject the specific policy proposals of the good and the wise. But what may infuriate those liberals who have been castigating the idiocy of the angry mob even more is as follows. Their program is premised on believing a select group of superior people should be empowered to organize everyone else's affairs. The Tea Party proles who reject the interference, reject also the premise that the Obama administration and its progressive supporters constitute a superior class: America's would-be overseers really are no better than anyone else. For those who profess to care about equality, this must be terribly hard to hear....

Police push for warrantless searches of cell phones
...Attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco civil liberties group that's representing Taylor, have asked the court to suppress any evidence obtained from the search of his iPhone. They say the search was "unconstitutional" because it was done without a warrant--and they say it also may have violated a 1986 federal law designed to protect the privacy of e-mail messages.

Privacy advocates say that long-standing legal rules allowing police to search suspects during an arrest--including looking through their wallets and pockets--should not apply to smartphones because the amount of material they store is so much greater and the risks of intrusive searches are so much higher. A 32GB iPhone 3GS, for instance, can hold approximately 220,000 copies of the unabridged text of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

"Neither the search of (Taylor's) vehicle nor the search of his iPhone was justified by any exception to the warrant requirement," the EFF and its co-counsel, San Francisco attorney Randall Garteiser wrote in a brief filed earlier this month.

Sex photos drew federal lawsuit
Concerns about privacy are not merely hypothetical. In March 2008, Nathan Newhard was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in Culpeper, Va., and his cell phone was seized. In the pictures folder of the cell phone were multiple pictures of Newhard and his then-girlfriend, Jessie Casella, nude in sexually compromising positions.

Newhard and Casella--at that point no longer a couple--filed separate civil rights lawsuits against Sgt. Matt Borders, who they said alerted the rest of the police department on the radio "that the private pictures were available for their viewing and enjoyment." Newhard claimed that, as a result of the incident, he was nonrecommended for continued employment with the Culpeper school system, where he had worked before the arrest.

A federal judge in Virginia last year agreed that the police conduct was "irresponsible, unprofessional, and reprehensible" but said that Culpeper police officers could not be held legally responsible because they did not violate any clearly established constitutional rights. In addition, the court pointed out, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that "officers may retrieve text messages and other information from cell phones and pagers seized incident to an arrest" to preserve evidence. ...

School used student laptop webcams to spy on them at school and home
According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools' administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins's child was disciplined for "improper behavior in his home" and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines. ...

Single mother-of-six finds £2m mansion on the net... and then gets YOU to pay £7,000 a month rent
A single mother-of-six is getting more than £80,000 a year from the taxpayer to live in a £2million mansion in an exclusive London suburb.

Essma Marjam, 34, is given almost £7,000 a month in housing benefits to pay the rent on the five-bedroom villa just yards from Sir Paul McCartney's house and Lord's cricket ground.

She also receives an estimated £15,000 a year in other payouts, such as child benefit, to help look after her children, aged from five months to 14....

...Miss Marjam said: 'I moved here at the beginning of the month as I'm entitled to a five-bedroom house.

'I was in a three-bedroom council house but I needed a bigger place once my new baby came along. So the council agreed to pay the £1,600 a week to a private landlord as they didn't have any houses big enough.

'I'm separated from my husband. He's a solicitor in Derby, but I don't know if he's working at the moment. He doesn't pay anything towards the kids. Things are quite difficult between us.

'The house is lovely and very big, but I don't have enough furniture to fill it.' ...

Ex-youth pastor sentenced in child molestations
Saying a former Gainesville youth minister’s breach of trust will have a lifelong impact on two young men, a judge sentenced the convicted child molester to 18 years in prison Tuesday.

Phillip Glenn Terrell, 38, pleaded guilty Tuesday to molesting two teenage boys at the Emmanuel Baptist Church on Atlanta Highway in 2006....

Friday, February 19, 2010

Obama to Unveil Additional Homeowner Aid
...The program, which Mr. Obama will announce in Las Vegas, is for states where the average home value for all homeowners in the state has dropped more than 20% from its value at the height of the housing bubble. About a half-dozen states qualify, including Nevada, Florida, California and Michigan.

Mr. Obama is appearing in Nevada Friday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is fighting for re-election in November amid voter anger over the state's high unemployment and widespread housing woes....

A Perfect Storm of Ignorance
...The regulators seem to have been as ignorant of the implications of the relevant regulations as the bankers were. The SEC trusted the three rating agencies to continue their reliable performance even after its own 1975 ruling protected them from the market competition that had made their ratings reliable. Nearly everyone, from Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke on down, seemed to be ignorant of the various regulations that were pumping up house prices and pushing down lending standards. And the FDIC, the Fed, the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision, in promulgating one of those regulations, trusted the three rating companies when they decided that these companies' AA and AAA ratings would be the basis of the immense capital relief that the Recourse Rule conferred on investment-bank-issued mortgage-backed securities. Did the four regulatory bodies that issued the Recourse Rule know that the rating agencies on which they were placing such heavy reliance were an SEC-created oligopoly, with all that this implies? If you read the Recourse Rule, you will find that the answer is no. Like the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which later studied whether to extend this American innovation to the rest of the world in the form of Basel II (which it did, in 2006), the Recourse Rule wrongly says that the rating agencies are subject to "market discipline."

Those who play the blame game can find plenty of targets here: the bankers and the regulators were equally clueless. But should anyone be blamed for not recognizing the implications of regulations that they don't even know exist?

Omniscience cannot be expected of human beings. One really would have had to be a god to master the millions of pages in the Federal Register — not to mention the pages of the Register's state, local, and now international counterparts — so one could pick out the specific group of regulations, issued in different fields over the course of decades, that would end up conspiring to create the greatest banking crisis since the Great Depression. This storm may have been perfect, therefore, but it may not prove to be rare. New regulations are bound to interact unexpectedly with old ones if the regulators, being human, are ignorant of the old ones and of their effects.

This is already happening. The SEC's response to the crisis has not been to repeal its 1975 regulation, but to promise closer regulation of the rating agencies. And instead of repealing Basel I or Basel II, the BIS is busily working on Basel III, which will even more finely tune capital requirements and, of course, increase capital cushions. Yet despite the barriers to equity capital and loan-loss reserves created by the conjunction of the IRS and the Basel Accords, the aggregate capital cushion of all American banks at the start of 2008 stood at 13 percent — one-third higher than the American minimum, which in turn was one-fifth higher than the Basel minimum. Contrary to the regulators' assumption that bankers need regulators to protect them from their own recklessness, the financial crisis was not caused by too much bank leverage but by the form it took: mortgage-backed securities. And that was the direct result of the fine tuning done by the Recourse Rule and Basel II....

Yvo de Boer resigns as top UN climate official
Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate change official, says he will resign after nearly four years in the post.

His departure takes effect from 1 July, five months before 193 countries are due to reconvene in Mexico for another attempt at a global deal on climate.

Nations failed to reach a binding deal at the Copenhagen meeting in December. ...

...A different UN climate body - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which reviews climate science - has come under fire in recent months for a mistake on the melting of Himalayan glaciers and for referencing "grey literature" - a WWF report which had not been peer-reviewed.

The head of the IPCC, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, has rejected calls for his resignation.

In November, hundreds of e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, UK, appeared on the web.

CRU maintains one of the world's most important datasets on how global temperatures have changed. ...

Meade County pastor charged with sex abuse
BRANDENBERG, KY (WAVE) – A Kentuckiana pastor is charged with several counts of sex abuse. Kentucky State Police investigators say the victim, a young girl, filed a complaint against Pastor Marion Barnes on Monday.

Barnes, a pastor at Glad Tidings Christian Center in Brandenburg, is charged with a total of five counts of sexual abuse. According to KSP, the victim is a teenager who claims the abuse had gone on for some time....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One More Time: World War II Did Not Bring Us Out of the Depression
...As Bob Higgs has shown, in numerous scholarly as well as popular publications and interviews, the private sector of the economy continued to perform poorly throughout World War II and normal, civilian-oriented prosperity only resumed after the war, in 1946.

The misconception that World War II was a period of prosperity apparently comes from measurements such as the unemployment rate falling from an estimated range of somewhere between 9 and 15% in 1940, down to 1.2% in 1944. As Dr. Higgs points out, this is not surprising given that a total of 16 million people served in the military forces during the course of the war, and were thereby removed from the labor force. Meanwhile, industry shifted to producing vast amounts of materiel to be destroyed—planes, ships, guns, etc. If such production created prosperity, then building airplanes simply to crash them into the ocean would indeed be good economic policy. At the same time, consumer goods became largely unavailable and/or rationed, and standards of living remained quite low. Yet the attitude of “shared privation for the common good” in many ways made people feel no longer depressed despite the very real fact that the economy remained below pre-1929 levels of prosperity....

Preacher arrested for embezzlement
SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - A preacher and treasurer of a regional church association has been charged with stealing thousands from the group.

Officers with the Salisbury Police Department have charged 58-year-old Johnnie Jones with nine counts of embezzlement....

Counselor with Free Will Baptist Home for Children Charged with Sex Crimes Against Children
Clarendon County, SC (WLTX) -- Authorities say a 53-year-old pastor and former counselor for a Turbeville children's home was arrested Thursday and now faces charges of sexual abuse.

Officers with the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office say Arley Atchley of Sheminally Road in Pamplico was charged with two counts of second degree criminal sexual conduct.

Investigators said that Atchley committed sexual acts with a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old who lived at the Free Will Baptist Home for Children, where the 53-year-old suspect was once employed. ...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Continuing Climate Meltdown
It has been a bad—make that dreadful—few weeks for what used to be called the "settled science" of global warming, and especially for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is supposed to be its gold standard.

First it turns out that the Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon, notwithstanding dire U.N. predictions. Next came news that an IPCC claim that global warming could destroy 40% of the Amazon was based on a report by an environmental pressure group. Other IPCC sources of scholarly note have included a mountaineering magazine and a student paper.

Since the climategate email story broke in November, the standard defense is that while the scandal may have revealed some all-too-human behavior by a handful of leading climatologists, it made no difference to the underlying science. We think the science is still disputable. But there's no doubt that climategate has spurred at least some reporters to scrutinize the IPCC's headline-grabbing claims in a way they had rarely done previously. ...

What union bosses think
Oops. An Albany cop-union boss just let the protect-and-serve mask slip.

Albany Police Officers Union President Chris Mesley says that, regardless of the faltering economy, a no-raise new contract is unacceptable.

And to hell with the public.

"I'm not running a popularity contest here," Mesley said. "If I'm the bad guy to the average citizen . . . and their taxes have go up to cover my raise, I'm very sorry about that, but I have to look out for myself and my membership."

Mesley added: "As the president of the local, I will not accept 'zeroes.' If that means . . . ticking off some taxpayers, then so be it." ...

Now IPCC hurricane data is questioned
More trouble looms for the IPCC. The body may need to revise statements made in its Fourth Assessment Report on hurricanes and global warming. A statistical analysis of the raw data shows that the claims that global hurricane activity has increased cannot be supported.

Les Hatton once fixed weather models at the Met Office. Having studied Maths at Cambridge, he completed his PhD as metereologist: his PhD was the study of tornadoes and waterspouts. He's a fellow of the Royal Meterological Society, currently teaches at the University of Kingston, and is well known in the software engineering community - his studies include critical systems analysis....

...The IPCC's WG1 paper states: "There are also suggestions of increased intense tropical cyclone activity in some other regions where concerns over data quality are greater." Hatton points out the data quality is similar in each area.

The IPCC continues: "It is more likely than not (> 50%) that there has been some human contribution to the increases in hurricane intensity." But, as Hatton points out, that conclusion comes from computer climate models, not from the observational data, which show no increase.

"The IPCC goes on to make statements that would never pass peer review," Hatton told us. A more scientifically useful conclusion would have been to ask why there was a disparity. "This differential behaviour to me is very interesting. If it's due to increased warming in one place, and decreased warming in the other - then that's interesting to me."

Hatton has thirty years of experience of getting scientific papers published, but describes this one, available on his personal website, as "unpublishable"....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Q&A: Professor Phil Jones
A - Do you agree that according to the global temperature record used by the IPCC, the rates of global warming from 1860-1880, 1910-1940 and 1975-1998 were identical?

...So, in answer to the question, the warming rates for all 4 periods are similar and not statistically significantly different from each other....

B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. ...

N - When scientists say "the debate on climate change is over", what exactly do they mean - and what don't they mean?

It would be supposition on my behalf to know whether all scientists who say the debate is over are saying that for the same reason. I don't believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. ...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

British Council gets in on the climate act
Last December, our television screens were filled with scenes of young demonstrators from all over the world parading through the streets of Copenhagen to call for action to halt global warming. Few people will have been aware, though, that they were being funded with the aid of millions of pounds from British taxpayers. What makes this even more curious is that the money was provided by a body set up to promote British culture internationally.

Last Sunday, when I reported on some of the ways in which an array of British ministries have poured hundreds of millions of pounds into projects related to climate change, I overlooked one branch of government which has been as active in the cause of saving the planet as any – the British Council, created more than 70 years ago to stage lectures on Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and to spread the use of the English language.

In recent years, however, on the initiative of Lord Kinnock when he was its chairman, the British Council has been hijacked to promote the need for action on climate change. In answer to a Freedom of Information request, we can now see some of the curious ways in which the British Council has been spending our money.

More than £3.5 million has gone on recruiting a worldwide network of young "climate activists" in over 70 countries to engage in climate change propaganda – what Marxists used to call agitprop – and to pressure their politicians to join the worldwide struggle. ...

Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995
...Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.

And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.

The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made...

World may not be warming, say scientists
...However, new research, including work by British scientists, is casting doubt on such claims. Some even suggest the world may not be warming much at all.

“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

Christy has published research papers looking at these effects in three different regions: east Africa, and the American states of California and Alabama.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”

The IPCC faces similar criticisms from Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph, Canada, who was invited by the panel to review its last report.

The experience turned him into a strong critic and he has since published a research paper questioning its methods.

“We concluded, with overwhelming statistical significance, that the IPCC’s climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialisation and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias,” he said. ...

...Terry Mills, professor of applied statistics and econometrics at Loughborough University, looked at the same data as the IPCC. He found that the warming trend it reported over the past 30 years or so was just as likely to be due to random fluctuations as to the impacts of greenhouse gases. Mills’s findings are to be published in Climatic Change, an environmental journal.

“The earth has gone through warming spells like these at least twice before in the last 1,000 years,” he said. ...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Adviser to Detained Americans in Haiti Is Investigated
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The police in El Salvador have begun an investigation into whether a man suspected of leading a trafficking ring involving Central American and Caribbean women and girls is also a legal adviser to the Americans charged with trying to take 33 children out of Haiti without permission....

...Mr. Puello said he did not even have a passport. When Mr. Callejas was shown a photograph taken in Haiti of Mr. Puello, Mr. Callejas said he thought it showed the man he was seeking. He said he would try to arrest Mr. Puello on suspicion of luring women into prostitution and taking explicit photographs of them that were then posted on Internet sites. “It’s him, the same beard and face,” Mr. Callejas said in an interview on Thursday. “It has to be him.”

Judge Saint-Vil also said he thought that the photo of the trafficking suspect in a Salvadoran police file appeared to be the same man he had met in court. He said he intended to begin his own investigation into whether a trafficking suspect had been working with the Americans detained in Haiti....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Former Lutheran pastor admits child porn
Andrew Spallek, the former pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Black Jack, pleaded guilty to a federal child pornography possession charge Wednesday and admitted possessing 13 images of children engaged in sex acts.

Spallek, 49, of Florissant, resigned as pastor on Sept. 23, citing “personal reasons.” He was indicted the next day in U.S. District Court in St. Louis on two child porn charges....

The Federal Government Is Bribing States to Create More Welfare Dependency?!?
If you want to get depressed or angry, the New York Times has an article celebrating the effort by politicians at all levels of government to lure more people into the food stamp program. New York City is running ads in foreign languagues asking people to stick their snouts in the public trough. The City is even signing up prisoners when they get out of jail. The state of New York, meanwhile, actually set up quotas for enrolling new recipients. And on the federal level, there apparently is a program that gives states “bonuses” for putting more people on the dole. No wonder one out of every eight Americans is receiving food stamps....

Read his lips: Obama backs off on middle class tax hike ban
The White House brushed off questions about President Obama's new, "agnostic" stance on middle class tax increases, signaling a potential reversal on a key campaign promise.

"The president is just not going to get in the game of prejudging the outcome of a commission that, one hasn't been set up and hasn't met," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Obama is hoping for Republican support on a bipartisan commission to draft revenue generators and spending cuts.

But after repeatedly pledging not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year, Obama told Bloomberg he is now "agnostic" on such a plan.

"The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table," Obama said. "So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions."

Asked how Obama's new agnosticism squares with his previous opposition to tax increases for the middle class, Gibbs said Obama "is not a member of this commission."...

...But politicians are uncommonly superstitious about raising taxes after promising not to. Former President George H.W. Bush famously lost his campaign for a second term after breaking his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge.

Obama has been no less emphatic, telling a joint session of Congress and the nation last year that "If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime."

The statement echoed a frequent pledge from the campaign trail, where Obama vowed to resist a middle class tax increase: "Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes," he told a New Hampshire audience in 2008...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Housing in the New Millennium: A Home Without Equity is Just a Rental with Debt
This report assesses the prospects of the U.S. housing/mortgage sector over the next several years. Based on our analysis, we believe there are elements in place for the housing sector to continue to experience growth well above GDP. However, we believe there are risks that can materially distort the growth prospects of the sector. Specifically, it appears that a large portion of the housing sector's growth in the 1990's came from the easing of the credit underwriting process. Such easing includes:

* The drastic reduction of minimum down payment levels from 20% to 0%
* A focused effort to target the "low income" borrower
* The reduction in private mortgage insurance requirements on high loan to value mortgages
* The increasing use of software to streamline the origination process and modify/recast delinquent loans in order to keep them classified as "current"
* Changes in the appraisal process which has led to widespread overappraisal/over-valuation problems

If these trends remain in place, it is likely that the home purchase boom of the past decade will continue unabated. Despite the increasingly more difficult economic environment, it may be possible for lenders to further ease credit standards and more fully exploit less penetrated markets. Recently targeted populations that have historically been denied homeownership opportunities have offered the mortgage industry novel hurdles to overcome. Industry participants in combination with eased regulatory standards and the support of the GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises) have overcome many of them.

If there is an economic disruption that causes a marked rise in unemployment, the negative impact on the housing market could be quite large. These impacts come in several forms. They include a reduction in the demand for homeownership, a decline in real estate prices and increased foreclosure expenses....

A Perfect Storm of Ignorance
You are familiar by now with the role of the Federal Reserve in stimulating the housing boom; the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in encouraging low-equity mortgages; and the role of the Community Reinvestment Act in mandating loans to "subprime" borrowers, meaning those who were poor credit risks. So you may think that the government caused the financial crisis. But you don't know the half of it. And neither does the government.

A full understanding of the crisis has to explain not just the housing and subprime bubbles, but why, when they popped, it should have had such disastrous worldwide effects on the financial system. The problem was that commercial banks had made a huge overinvestment in mortgage-backed bonds sold by investment banks such as Lehman Brothers.

Commercial banks are familiar to everyone with a checking or savings account. They accept our deposits, against which they issue commercial loans and mortgages. In 1933, the United States created the FDIC to insure commercial banks' depositors. The aim was to discourage bank runs by depositors who worried that if their bank had made too many risky loans, their accounts, too, might be at risk.

The question of whether deposit insurance was necessary is worth asking, and I will ask it later on. But for now, the key fact is that once deposit insurance took effect, the FDIC feared that it had created what economists call a "moral hazard": bankers, now insulated from bank runs, might be encouraged to make riskier loans than before. The moral-hazard theory took hold not only in the United States but in all of the countries in which deposit insurance was instituted. And both here and abroad, the regulators' solution to this (real or imagined) problem was to institute bank-capital regulations. According to an array of scholars from around the world — Viral Acharya, Juliusz Jablecki, Wladimir Kraus, Mateusz Machaj, and Matthew Richardson — these regulations helped turn an American housing crisis into the world's worst recession in 70 years....

Five Decades of Failure Are Enough
With trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, policymakers need to scour the federal budget for departments to cut and eliminate. They should start with ones that are not just wasteful, but actively damaging to the economy. Top of the list would be the $60 billion Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD's negative impact on the economy is far larger than its multibillion-dollar budget.

HUD's policies played a key role in causing the housing boom and bust and then the recession in its wake. Weak lending standards on HUD-insured mortgage loans helped fuel risky non-prime lending. HUD also put pressure on banks and the failed housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make risky loans to underqualified borrowers. Thanks to those policies, Fannie and Freddie went bankrupt and already have received $112 billion in taxpayer bailouts.

Steady increases in home-buying subsidies in recent decades were motivated by political attempts to curry favor with special interests such as the Realtor and homebuilder lobbies. Politicians justify the subsidies on their claimed civic virtues. But, as we've seen in the wake of the housing bubble's bursting, there's nothing virtuous about putting people into homes they can't afford.

Since the financial crash, the politics of housing subsidies seem to have become even worse. The housing lobby groups continue pushing to expand federal intervention in housing markets, and politicians keep increasing subsides through the Federal Housing Administration and the Government National Mortgage Association, which insure and guarantee more than $700 billion in mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.

HUD's FHA has expanded so much that it is facing the possibility of an expensive taxpayer bailout because of rising defaults on mortgages it insures. As for Ginnie Mae, its portfolio has exploded, and there are growing concerns it could be the next Fannie or Freddie....

Fannie and Freddie: Budget Busters
It's looking increasingly like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are going to cost the US government much more than AIG. In its latest long-term budget outlook released in late January, the CBO projected that the AIG bailout would ultimately cost the Treasury $9 billion dollars. Indeed, the entire private financial industry bailout is ultimately expected to cost less than $30 billion; of the $99 billion that the CBO expects we will ultimately lose on TARP, half of the loss comes not from helping the "banksters", but from the Obama administration's decision to bail out the automakers. A further $20 billion will be spent on the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, aka the administration's mortgage modification plan.

By contrast, the nationalization of the Government Sponsored Entities is expected to cost the Federal government $64 billion between 2011 and 2020, on top of the $110 billion we've already spent. Fannie and Freddie have long defended themselves on the grounds that their underwriting standards weren't nearly as bad as those in the private sector. But they've certainly been better at socializing their losses; firms that controlled maybe half of the mortgage market will end up costing the taxpayer four times as much as the other troubled financial institutions....

Spain shoots the messenger
JUST when Greece looked like taking the prize for conspiracy theories (see previous posts), members of the Spanish government have cast caution to the winds and declared their economy is the victim of a still vaster plot that goes beyond profiteering and a desire to destroy the euro (the charges levelled in Greece). No, according to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the prime minister, and José Blanco, his transport minister, the conspiracy goes beyond financial speculators to take in opinion-writers from the foreign press, whose goal is to derail European attempts to regulate financial institutions and markets more tightly.

Mr Blanco told Cadena Ser radio that attacks on Spain were attacks on the euro, and were "rather dirty dealings" on the part of speculators, who:

"now that they see we are emerging from the crisis, do not want to see better regulation of their activities, [but] want to be free to carry on pursuing their own interests... None of what is happening, including editorials in some foreign media with their apocalyptic commentaries, is happening by chance, or innocently. It is the result of certain special interests."

Here is Mr Zapatero:

"There is an attack underway by speculators against the euro, against tougher financial regulation of the financial system and of the markets"....

Hansen colleague rejected IPCC AR4 ES as having “no scientific merit”, but what does IPCC do?
...Remember, this guy is mainstream, not a sceptic, and you may need to remind yourself of that fact several times as you read through his comment on the executive summary of the chapter:

There is no scientific merit to be found in the Executive Summary. The presentation sounds like something put together by Greenpeace activists and their legal department. The points being made are made arbitrarily with legal sounding caveats without having established any foundation or basis in fact. The Executive Summary seems to be a political statement that is only designed to annoy greenhouse skeptics. Wasn’t the IPCC Assessment Report intended to be a scientific document that would merit solid backing from the climate science community – instead of forcing many climate scientists into having to agree with greenhouse skeptic criticisms that this is indeed a report with a clear and obvious political agenda. Attribution can not happen until understanding has been clearly demonstrated. Once the facts of climate change have been established and understood, attribution will become self-evident to all. The Executive Summary as it stands is beyond redemption and should simply be deleted....

Inside the Climate Bunker
...But even as his credentials and honors stacked up -- from the government of France anointing him an "Officier de la legion d'honneur" to GQ India naming him 2009's "Global Indian of the Year" (FP even named him a "top global thinker" last year) -- Pachauri couldn't quite discipline his tongue. Or perhaps he didn't care what impression his verbal zingers left. In 2008, he told the Chicago Tribune: "I tell people I was born a Hindu who believes in reincarnation. It will take me the next six lives to neutralize my carbon footprint. There's no way I can do it in one lifetime."

But he attracted the most attention for barbs directed at his critics, calling those who've questioned IPCC reports "flat-earthers" -- "they are indulging in is skulduggery of the worst kind," he told the Financial Times -- and generally bristling at the prospect of unwanted scrutiny, without providing clear answers to valid questions about his stewardship. ("My conscience is clear," he announced to the New York Times this week.) But while Pachauri's larger-than-life persona and propensity for conducting himself as though beyond reproach catches attention, these characteristics don't in and of themselves defame the organization he heads -- as much as global-warming deniers are happy to seize upon any opportunity to poke holes in climate science in general.

There is, however, at least one item in the recent round of Pachauri-bashing that does the U.N. panel no credit: a glaring error in an IPCC report about the date by which Himalayan glaciers are likely to have disappeared entirely. The underlying technical report of the panel's 2007 climate assessment erroneously stated that by 2035 the glaciers would be gone entirely, when scientific consensus places the date much later (studies cited by the BBC project a date closer to 2350 -- more than 300 years later).

The 2035 date was an alarming, attention-grabbing finding -- and many journalists, including Stephan Faris last year in Foreign Policy, cited it as evidence that global warming is an urgent crisis. But, after the Indian government released its own report with conflicting glacier-melt data last fall, glacier scientists went back to the IPCC report and began to raise questions about the 2035 date. The chatter among experts was picked up in Science magazine last year, before spilling into the mainstream media, which has already been primed by the "Climategate" saga and a disappointing outcome in Copenhagen to turn climate-science disputes into heightened political narratives. (The initial error may have come because the IPCC cited a decade-old interview in The New Scientist which quoted a scientist mentioning the date 2035, as opposed to sourcing peer-reviewed scientific literature.)

With all the attention, one might think the IPCC would by now have a precise and consistent explanation -- or point to an ongoing investigation -- for how this error crept in. Alas. ...

..."That statement [about Himalayan glacier melting by 2035] is in the literature that the report cites, but it's not a statement consistent with other scientific information available ... It should not have made it into final report."

In other words, an outlier source was picked up by the chapter's authors. But what of the vaunted review process? With all the input and reactions from some so many scientific experts, did no one flag that item as questionable?

"No ... In principle, [our process] should have turned over every rock and leaf in the forest."

Interestingly, the error did come to light last fall, nearly two years after the report's initial publication, when competing glacier-melt data was released by India's ministry of environment and forests. That discrepancy quickly focused the attention of international glaciologists on both sets of data, and questions about the particulars of IPCC glacier data soon surfaced. (This, of course, raises the question of whether the IPCC's process for soliciting peer comments is targeting the right people.) ...

Forced Unionization
Michelle Berry runs a day-care business out of her home in Flint, MI. She thought that she owned her own business, but Berry's been told she is now a government employee and union member. It's not voluntary. Suddenly, Berry and 40,000 other Michigan private day-care providers have learned that union dues are being taken out of the child-care subsidies the state sends them. The "union" is a creation of AFSCME, the government workers union, and the United Auto Workers.

This racket means big money to AFSCME, which runs the union, writes the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank....

...Patrick Wright, a lawyer for the Macknac Center, says the union was forced on the women after a certification election conducted by mail in which only 6,000 day-care providers out of 40,000 voted....

Rep. Murtha died after doctors accidentally cut intestines: report
Veteran congressman John Murtha (D-Penn) died from an infection after doctors accidentally cut into his intestine during routine surgery, Fox News confirmed on Monday.

The 77-year-old died at 1:18 p.m. on Monday with his family by his bedside at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Virginia.

He was first hospitalized with gallbladder problems in December and had scheduled surgery to remove his gallbladder on January 28 at the National Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md.

He went home, but was hospitalized again two days later when complications developed, ending up in intensive care at Virginia Hospital.

According to a source close to Murtha - confirming a report in Politico - doctors inadvertently cut his intestine during the surgery, causing an infection....

No Exit in Sight for U.S. As Fannie, Freddie Flail
MCLEAN, Va.—When Charles E. Haldeman Jr. became Freddie Mac's chief executive officer in August, the ailing housing-finance giant had already consumed $51 billion of government money to stay afloat. It's likely to need even more.

Freddie's federal overseers nevertheless have instructed Mr. Haldeman to focus on something that isn't likely to make the bleak balance sheet look any better: carrying out the Obama administration plan to allow defaulted borrowers to hang onto their homes....

...On Dec. 24, Treasury said there would be no limit to the taxpayer money it was willing to deploy over the next three years to keep the two companies afloat, doing away with the previous limit of $200 billion per company. So far, the government has handed the two companies a total of about $111 billion.

The government is willing to tolerate such open-ended exposure for two reasons. First, it sees the companies as essential cogs in the fragile housing market. Fannie and Freddie buy mortgages originated by others, holding some as investments and repackaging others for sale to investors as securities. Together with the Federal Housing Administration, they fund nine in 10 American mortgages. Worries about potential insolvency would cripple their ability to fund home loans, which would hamstring the market.

Second, the companies are a convenient tool for the administration to use in its campaign to clean up the housing mess.

"We're making decisions on [loan modifications] and other issues, without being guided solely by profitability, that no purely private bank ever could," Mr. Haldeman said in late January in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club....

Fannie, Freddie and You
...So whatever bad incentives the implicit federal guarantee creates have been offset by the fact that Fannie and Freddie were and are tightly regulated with regard to the risks they can take. You could say that the Fannie-Freddie experience shows that regulation works....

Why the Media Ignored a Scandal
...Maybe they admired Edwards' cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth. Maybe they saw no good in exposing Edwards' sordid acts. Maybe they looked down on the National Enquirer. Or maybe they were just biased. "In the case of John Edwards," said Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, "even though it was clearly out there -- everybody in America knew about this well before CNN and the New York Times and the Washington Post got into this game -- there was still a great reluctance."

Of course, in the end the story came out anyway -- but only after the sheer weight of Edwards' corruption made the facts impossible to ignore, even for sympathetic journalists.

Well, Naturally We're Liberal
...Rather, academe leans left because it takes a proportionally significant number of liberal-arts professors to hone the basic intellectual skills that we expect of college graduates: things like interpretive reading, cogent writing, critical thinking, and a sense of a shared historical tradition and the major issues currently confronting our society and world. If those abilities and insights aren't addressed by the liberal arts, then they certainly won't be in Introduction to Finance, Calculus II, or Biochemistry.

So the real question isn't why academe is so liberal, but rather, Why are instructors in the liberal arts so, well, liberal? I think there are three basic reasons, all of them what common sense might predict, all rather obvious, and none in need of fancy research involving such things as "occupational role modeling" and "vocational engendering."

First, as the Times article notes, virtually all instructors in the liberal arts are aware of the disparity between their level of education and their financial situation. There's no secret that the liberal arts are the lowest-compensated sector of academe, despite substantially more advanced study than business instructors and the equivalent of those in the natural sciences. Just as important, there are few opportunities for liberal-arts scholars to supplement their incomes by serving on government and corporate boards, filing patents and licenses, and, of course, obtaining generous research grants. You don't have to be a militant Marxist to recognize that people's political persuasions will align pretty well with their economic interests. It's real simple: Those who have less and want more will tend to support social changes that promise to accomplish that; those who are already economic winners will want to conserve their status.

I don't mean to suggest that issues of conscience beyond the confines of crass self-interest don't play an important role for many in the liberal arts, but their basic economic condition virtually assures that those in the liberal arts will be natural-born liberals. Who, after all, would want to preserve a situation in which others who are equivalently educated and experienced—doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, colleagues in other areas, and, yes, chief executives—receive vastly more compensation, sometimes by a factor of 10 or 100?...

...A second reason that liberal-arts professors tend to be politically liberal is that they have very likely studied large-scale historical processes and complex cultural dynamics. Conservatives, who tend to evoke the need to preserve traditional connections with the past, have nonetheless contributed least to any detailed or thoughtful study of history. Most (although, of course, by no means all) prominent historians of politics, literature, the arts, religion, and even economics have tended, as conservatives claim, to be liberally biased. Fair enough. But if you actually take the time to look at history and culture, certain conclusions about human nature, society, and economics tend to force themselves on you. History has a trajectory, driven in large part by the desires of underprivileged or oppressed groups to attain parity with the privileged or the oppressor....

...As President Obama recently put it, any open-minded review of history (and perhaps especially American history) teaches at least one clear lesson: There is a "right side of history," Obama said­—the side of those who would overcome prejudice, question unearned privilege, and resist oppression in favor of a more just condition.

If you don't study history, whether because it doesn't pad quarterly profits, isn't sufficiently scientific or objective, or threatens your own economic status, then you won't know any of that. ...

...It is because we liberal-arts professors have a personal stake in our relative economic status; we have carefully studied the actual dynamics of history and culture; and we have trained ourselves to think in complex, nuanced, and productive ways about the human condition that so many of us are liberals. Most of us agree with President Obama that there is a "right side of history," and we feel morally bound to be on it. Although we'd like to see some parity in compensation with our colleagues, we chose our fields with full awareness of the tradeoff. Part of our compensation lies in knowing that our studies can complement our standing on the "right side," rather than having our basic commitments dictated to us by the limitations of other, narrower professions....