Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Ethanol Fallacy

America needs smart alternative to oil, but the just-passed energy bill puts too much emphasis on the wrong alternative, Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief says
By James B. Meigs, Published in the February 2008 issue. Popular Mechanics

The idea is so appealing: We can reduce our dependence on oil—stop sending U.S. dollars to corrupt petro-dictators, stop spewing megatons of carbon into the atmosphere by replacing it with clean, home-grown, all-American corn. It sounds too good to be true. Sadly, it is. (To continue Reading: The Ethanol Fallacy… )

My Commentary
For those who are pleased that the recent energy bill mandates an increase in use of ethanol, I encourage you to read the above article. The recent energy bill passed by congress and which President Bush says he will sign is a bad bill for several reasons, the primary of which is the mandating of the use of Ethanol. I don’t expect President Bush do it, but this bill deserves to be vetoed and Congress needs to work on an energy bill that will actually accomplish something. This energy bill is similar to issuing bailing pails to passengers on the Titanic. The passengers can conclude that it is better than doing nothing and as they drown they can feel good about the management of the Titanic.

Instead of calling this an Energy Bill, it should be called the Farm Aid Bill part 2. Archer Daniels Midland will be the chief benefactor; not the environment. Instead of setting goals and relying on market forces, competition, and experimentation to find the best mix of alternative technologies and conservation strategies for achieving the objectives, the bill declares ethanol the winner. Government is not very good at picking technologies. The bill mandates the use of 15 billion gallons of ethanol by 2015, which is three times today’s production.

Corn based ethanol is not a solution. For one thing, it takes a lot of energy to produce a gallon of ethanol; the net energy production is almost nothing. The best estimate by those who do the math is that to produce 1.3 Btu of ethanol energy it takes 1 Btu. Others do the math differently and conclude there is a net loss of energy in producing ethanol.

Another thing wrong with relying on ethanol is that it is detrimental to the environment. It takes a lot of fertilizer, insecticide and land to produce corn. In 2007 more land was used in the production of corn than anytime since 1944, when the yield per acre was much less. To meet the goal of tripling of ethanol production, much more land will have to go into production. Almost all of the run-off from the land used in corn production ends up flowing into the Mississippi River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Already there is a 7900 square mile “dead zone” in the gulf caused by the depletion of oxygen, which is caused by the Nitrogen-based fertilizer run-off. In the dead zone, no fish, crabs, mussels or sea life live. With this bill we can watch the Gulf of Mexico become the Dead Sea. (Read more: Corn Boom Could Grow Dead Zone)

Much of the enthusiasm for ethanol in the US is a result of the success Brazil has had in weaning itself off oil and going almost wholly to ethanol. This however, has not been without environmental consequences. A lot of global-warming-emission- eating rain forests have had to be cut down to turn the land into sugar cane growing land. Nevertheless, on balance, Brazil's switch to ethanol may be net plus for the environment. One major difference between Brazilian ethanol and American ethanol however, is the Brazilian ethanol is made from sugar cane which is eight times as efficient as making ethanol from corn. (To read more: With Big Boost From Sugar Cane)

Despite the greater efficiency of Brazilian ethanol, against all logic the US maintains a 65-cent per gallon tariff on the importation of Brazilian ethanol. If we are serious about doing something about American global warming emissions, we should start by scrapping this ethanol energy bill, repeal the import tariff on foreign ethanol, then set limits on the amount of allowable global warming greenhouse emissions and enforce that limit by taxing carbon emissions or by the selling of pollutions rights. Then the government should get out of the way and let the market work.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Computerized Confusion

By Thomas Sowell
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

When I bought one of these small, cheap, old-fashioned cathode-ray TV sets on sale to watch while on my exercise machine, I had no idea how high-tech and computerized even these obsolete sets had become.

Nor was this a blessing. I could not even turn the set on and get a channel without reading a 60-page instruction book. If the truth be known, I could not do it even after trying to make some sense out of the instructions. (To continue: Computerized confusion)

My Comment: I could have written this! I share the frustration. I have a cheap, simple cell phone, yet it offers game options and text messaging and all kinds of things I don't have a clue how to use. When I first got it, I programmed some phone number for automatic dialing, but now I forgot how to do that and have not taken the time to relearn how to do it. My sister’s old phone number is in my cell phone; I don’t know how to delete it and add her new one.

A few months ago, my simple alarm clock died on me. I went to a store to buy another. All a wanted was a small clock that would wake me up in the morning. The one I got had to be set to synchronize with a satellite that ensured it kept perfect time within a minute fraction of a second. Also, the set option and on/off was complicated. I never could get it to work. I had to purchase another one and was fortunate to find one that was simple to operate but I had to make an extra trip and spend time shopping. There was opportunity cost.

Recently, I needed to change the out-going message on my answering machine. I had to spend an hour finding the product online and reading lengthy instructions. The clock on my coffee pot and my VCR are on permanent blink status. Supposedly, I can program my TV remote control to operate my TV, VCR, and DVD player. Don’t ask me how, however; I use three remotes.

I work in a small office, with limited tech support. We have a phone system with features that no one knows how to use. I don't know how to "park" my call on a busy line, but I know the phone system will do it. We got a new fax machine, and I had to spend 30 minutes figuring out how to make it print confirmations that a fax had been sent. We did get the machine to do that, but don't know how. Now it prints out a confirmation for every fax. Some times, we don't need printed confirmation, but neither I nor anyone else knows how to change that setting and do not have the time to learn.

I don't want to sound like an old man pining for the “good ole days”. I am reasonably intelligent. I am college educated. I am not fearful of technology. But why must everything be so complicated? Am I the only one who wants a simple bedside clock that you can set and that has an "on" and "off" button? Do manufactures think that complexity and more features always add value? I wonder if the market is working? I think I would pay more for simplicity.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Does a Candidate’s Religion Matter?

Are you ready for a Mormon President? Do you care if your President is a Catholic? Is a Bible-believing, fundamentalist the best person to be trusted with our future?

I think no one should automatically be denied consideration for the presidency because of his religious affiliation anymore than one should be denied consideration because of his race or sex. However, I do not think it is bigotry to want an understanding of how one’s religious views will influence the way he will govern.

I am not going to be too concerned about those candidates who practice religion-lite, such as most mainstream Protestants. I suspect most Methodist, Episcopalians, and Presbyterian are casual Christians and can adequately departmentalize their life to the point that their religious beliefs and practical issues of governance are not a problem. I also suspect that many Catholics, many Baptist, and many members of evangelical mega churches are “casual Catholics” or “casual Baptist” or whatever and they are considerably less doctrinaire than the leaders of their congregation. I suspect that most educated people think the Bible is allegorical and myths and not to be taken literally.

The Constitution prohibits a religious test to hold public office, but that does not mean the electorate cannot evaluate a candidate’s religious beliefs before electing him to the highest office in the land . I think we should have the right to know what the people who seek public office believe about faith and governance.

In the 1960 campaign for president, there was widespread fear that an American Catholic president would take direction from the Vatican. I do not find that fear to be pure bigotry. World history gives us adequate reason to be suspect of the roll of the Catholic Church and affairs of state.

Kennedy addressed the issue head-on. “Because I am a Catholic,” said Kennedy, “ and no Catholic has ever been elected President, it is apparently necessary for me to state once again-not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in. I believe in an America where separation of Church and State is absolute-where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should he be a Catholic, how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote”.

Apparently that was sufficient to overcome the concern of enough of the electorate to make a difference. I think it was not inappropriate that he be was made to address the issue.

On December 7 Romney made his JFK speech and he said: “When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.”

Should that settle it? Maybe. It seems that Romney is not just a casual Mormon but has served as a Mormon missionary and a lay minister. Apparently he takes his faith very seriously. Face it; Mormonism is a weird cult. Maybe all religions start out as weird cults and it is longevity that gives them respectability. Somehow however, the story of Moses receiving stone tablets with the Ten Commandments seems like a respectable myth, while the story of Joseph Smith and the golden tablets seems quite bizarre.

In 1827 Joseph Smith claimed that an angel appeared to him and revealed golden tablets upon which was written the Book of Mormon. Smith couldn't read the tablets however, until the angel also gave him some glasses that allowed him to interpret the text on the plate. The fascinating story includes “seer stones” and buried treasure and a mystical frog. The Book of Mormon is the story of the Lamanites who were supposedly an ancient Israelite people that were the ancestors of the American Indians.

Many of the practices and believes of the Mormons are as weird as the story of their founding; former polygamy, the former prohibition against Blacks being admit ed to the Priesthood, proxy baptism of the dead, secret rituals, secret underwear, and secret oaths. Would it be out of bounds to ask Romney what he believes about the story of Joseph Smith and the golden tablets? Would it be out of bounds to ask what secret oaths he may have taken? I don’t know that his answer would necessarily disqualify him form being President, but in an age we can ask, “briefs or boxers” we should be able to ask questions about ones religious believes.

It is not only Romney’s believes that I would like to know more about. If a Baptist minister seeks to be President, I want to know more about his believes also. Does he believe that God directs his actions? Has he ever done something because he had a strong impression that God told him to do. If God tells him to support a certain policy, who does he check with to make sure it is really God and not his own judgement. Is he “led by the Holy Spirit?” Being “led by the Holy Spirit" is a different concept than being guided by the values of your faith.

I would also want to know if he believes that the story of Adam and Eve, and the flood are historical events and if the world is only six thousand year old. If he does, I am not sure I would trust his judgement.

I don’t mind a President who reads the Bible and prays. I would not have been offended by George Washington at Valley Forge kneeling to ask God’s blessings. I think a little civic religion can be a good thing. However, if a candidate for President talks to God I want to know, does God talk back? If he does, that would concern me.

I would like to know if any of the candidates are fundamentalist Hal Lindsey-type Christians who read Revelations and believe the world will end with Armageddon and the return of Christ? If they do, do they think it will happen in their turn in office? If so, then they may not be too concerned about global warming, or a large national deficit, or other issues that need long-term consideration. Do they believe the Jews are God’s chosen people and we have a God-ordained mandate to always support Israel?

I think it is reasonable to want to know to what extend a Presidential candidate’s most profound beliefs, convictions, and values would govern their conduct in office. I would prefer my President to be guided by reason rather than faith. Inquiry into a candidates religious faith should not be considered bigotry or impolite. It should not be off limits.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Season Greetings for Both Liberals and Conservatives

For my liberal frineds:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our bestwishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the wintersolstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America isnecessarily greater than any other country nor the only America inthe Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms.This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a newwish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

For My Conservative Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(auther unknown, reposted from Defeat Liberals yahoo group)

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No Nativity Scene in US Congress

There will be no Nativity Scene in the Rotunda of the United States Congress this year! The Supreme Court has ruled that there cannot be a Nativity Scene in the United States Capitol this Christmas Season.This isn't for any religious reason; they simply have not been able to find three wise men and a virgin in the Nation's Capitol. There was no problem, however, finding enough asses to fill the stable.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Folks relying on payday loans for Christmas cash pay long after season ends

By JASMINE RIDLEY, Published: Tuesday, 12/18/07 , Tennessee Voices

When I think of Christmas, I think of joy and happiness, presents and food, family and fun. I love this family time and, like everyone, the presents.

But I come from a single-parent home where my mom works full time every day to provide the basics for my sister and me. I would be truly grateful if I got just one thing off my "wish list" for Christmas, and I know how hard my mom works and tries to save to make this possible.

Every year, kids like me and parents like my mom want Christmas to be a special time, but every year families in my east Nashville community fall prey to predatory lenders, like payday and title lenders, to make this happen. Many people who can't afford to buy Christmas presents frequent predatory lending establishments to get Christmas cash and end up having to pay for holiday debt long after the season is over. ( >To continue: Folks relying on...)

My Commentary
Jasmine Ridley, a junior at Maplewood High, has written a very good article on the topic of pay day lenders. I commend her. I hope this article reaches a lot of people and the adults in her community take heed. As long as the loan-sharks are legal, the only way to oppose them is by educating the public.

I routinely see low-income people who have taken out these loans with interest rates that may be as high as 390% interest. The payday lenders, pawn shops, check cashing businesses, title lenders, and income tax preparers who market "rapid refunds" prey on the poor. I have counted over twenty such establishments in the section of Nolensville Road between Glenrose Ave. and Grassmere, a distance of about two miles. This area of Nashville, known as Woodbine, is a predominantly working class white and Latino neighborhood. All of the low-income areas of town likewise have a large number of these businesses.

I am not sure to what extend we should protect the poor from making unwise decision. To some extent, to protect them by removing the temptation of high-interest rate loans seems paternalistic and insulting. No one holds a gun to their head and makes them take out a 400% interest loan. After we ban high-interest rate loans should we next ban the sale of lottery tickets, beer and wine? Should we then ban the Rent-a-Centers? There is a limit to how much protection from themselves we can provide the weak. On the one hand, free people should be free to make stupid decisions. On the other hand, I feel we have an obligation to prevent the powerful from preying on the weak. While we can not stop all abuses or protect everyone from making stupid decisions, I do not think anyone should able to charge 400% interest.

I would wish that we could educate people to the point that they would choose not to be victims. I wish the poor would be insulted that they are being offered such loans and would refuse to be victims any longer. At my place of employment (Woodbine Community Organization) we try to educate the poor. In our Homebuyers Clubs, and Financial Fitness classes and in one-on-one counseling sessions we try to help people improve decision making and money management skills. By offering the free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services, we keep people from going to the tax preparers who will try to sell them a tax anticipation loan at rates of up to $360% interest.

I doubt anytime soon our state legislature will crack down on the predatory lenders victimizing the low-income. As for now, the immoral payday lenders and other predators are legal. We can only hope that voices like Jasmine's will reach enough people so that they will chose not to be victims.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Merry Christmas! But, Don't Tell Anyone

by Rita Etter

The View’s Barbara Walters is upset. Why? Well, it seems she received a Christmas Card from the President and First Lady that included a small passage from the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. To be fair, Barbara Walters is Jewish. However, a card from Elton John that included an angel, which is a religious symbol, was not seen as offensive to her.
The naysayers will spout the usual myth of “separation of church and state”, however, there is no other reason to send a Christmas card at this time of year except to celebrate Christmas. Barbara also questions the idea that Atheists and Agnostics may be receiving the Christmas Card as well and will be upset like Barbara. First of all why would an Atheist be upset receiving a card that mentions the name of someone that do not believe in anyway?
Perhaps if the mere mention of God is so offensive to Barbara, she should just tear the card up. I mean it is the season to be jolly.

My Commentary
The above is from Tennessean blogger Ritta Etter. I have lampooned the Christian Warrior "Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday" counters. However, there are some nuts on the other side who seem to enjoy getting offended if someone wishes them "Merry Christmas". Right on Rita! I can't say it better, except to add: Barbara Walters, Merry Christmas and if you don't love Jesus you can go to hell!

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Arctic summers ice-free 'by 2013'

By Jonathan Amos Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice.

Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years. Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss.

Summer melting this year reduced the ice cover to 4.13 million sq km, the smallest ever extent in modern times.

Remarkably, this stunning low point was not even incorporated into the model runs of Professor Maslowski and his team, which used data sets from 1979 to 2004 to constrain their future projections.

"Our projection of 2013 for the removal of ice in summer is not accounting for the last two minima, in 2005 and 2007," the researcher from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, explained to the BBC.

"So given that fact, you can argue that maybe our projection of 2013 is already too conservative." (read more: Artic Summers..)

My Commentary
Strike up the band for Nearer my God to Thee. We may be a lot closer to the point of no return on global warming than we thought; and the global warming deniers, keep denying and the light bulb changers, keep changing light bulbs.

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Farm bill keeping subsidies is OKd in Senate

Taxpayer groups, environmentalists and doctors have all pledged to try to change the legislation, for different reasons. Bush has threatened a veto.

By Nicole Gaouette , Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, December 15, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday approved a farm bill that would continue to funnel billions of dollars in subsidies to wealthy landowners and farmers who are earning record-breaking prices for their crops, rebuffing a concerted campaign by some senators to shift money to conservation, nutrition and deficit reduction.The bill has drawn a veto threat from President Bush, who has criticized the subsidy payments and the creation of a $5-billion permanent disaster fund.The White House has an unlikely set of allies in taxpayer groups, environmentalists, physicians and rural community advocates who tried vigorously to change the bill's priorities. They pledged to continue lobbying as the House and Senate now try to reconcile the differences in their respective bills. (To continue: Farm Bill... )

My Commentary
This is a bad bill and President Bush should veto it. It continues to subsidize wealthy gentlemen farmers and produces an excess of crops we don't need and drives up food prices. See my previous analysis: We Should Not Subsidize Factory Farm.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Gore Blames US For Blocking Bali

BALI, Indonesia, Dec. 13, 2007

(AP) Former Vice President Al Gore said Thursday the United States is "principally responsible" for blocking progress at the U.N. climate conference in Bali.Gore urged delegates at the conference to take urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

"My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," said Gore, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to the danger of climate change.

The United States has opposed including in a final conference document a suggestion that industrialized countries reduce emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020. Earlier Thursday, European nations threatened to boycott U.S.-led climate talks next month unless Washington accepts a range of numbers for negotiating deep reductions of global-warming emissions. (To continue: Gore Blames ... )

My Commentary

I applaud Al Gore for his continued leadership role on this important issue. It is shame and disgrace that the U. S. is not stepping up to the plate. As the the leader of the free world and militarily and economically the most powerful nation on earth, we should be leading on this issue rather than being chief obstructionist. If the U.S. would lead, the world would follow. Yet if we do not get on board, the rest of the world can not solve the problem without us.

If the majority of the scientific community are to be believed, we have only a few short years to do something about global warming or the process may be irreversible. Some experts say that we only have seven years to stop the growth and began a decrease in green house gas emission or we will have passed the tipping point.

The United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the only major industrial country to have rejected Kyoto. The Kyoto agreement expires in 2012 and it has failed to meet it's goals. With U. S. leadership, a workable international treaty could cap emissions and establish a mechanism for international sharing of technology and trading of greenhouse credits. If the developed world was united in solving this problem, then China, India and the evolving industrial states could be persuaded to join the world community in this effort. Without U.S. participation, the effort to solve this problem is doomed.

The U. S. lead the world to victory in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. We have lead the world in humanitarian endeavors. We have been the inspiration and model for the world in advancing human freedom and dignity. I am embarrassed they we are now AWOL on what may be the worlds greatest challenge.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

More of The War on Christmas

Dear Christian Warriors,

As a public service I am passing alone these Action Alert from the American Family Association. After promising they would honor Christmas, Kohl's has printed four of 18 planned fliers and the fliers use the word "holiday" 62 times and ZERO uses of "Christmas." Also, Gap continues to censor Christmas and at Pet Smart, Christmas does not exist. It is a shame you have to get your cat a "holiday" scratching post instead of a "Christmas" scratching post. Maybe your cat will not know the difference? Ask yourself, where would Jesus shop? To see these action alerts click: American Family Association.

Can you believe it? I just observed that in Nashville, our Parks Department is having a "Holiday Art Exhibit & Sale" and a "Holiday Recorder Concert," instead of a "Christmas" art sale or "Christmas" recorder concert. To see if for yourself, click here: Metro Parks Cultural Arts.

I don't know who the composer of this poem is, but I picked it up off of one of the Yahoo groups to which I belong. I am sure many Christian Warriors will appreciate it and be inspired by it. Maybe it will help get you in the Christmas spirit.

Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
The "politically correct police" had taken away,
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing,
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a "Holiday".
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty.
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate "Winter Break" under your "Dream Tree"
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holiday!

Keep up the good fight, Christian Warriors. Remember, we cannot let the secularist and the politically correct change our shopping season from the Christmas shopping season to the Holiday shopping season. I know you Christian Warriors could be ringing bells for the Salvation Army instead of keeping tabs on "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holiday", or you could be down at the Rescue Mission helping the homeless, but somebody had to do the important stuff. Right? So, keep the faith. And, you can respond to your critics with the words of one of my favorite country artist, Billy Joe Shaver, who so eloquently puts it, "If you don't love Jesus, you can go to hell!"

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, (or Happy Holidays)
Rod Williams

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Al Gore’s Nobel Lecture Calls Carbon Tax the “Most Important” Solution to Global Warming.

On Monday in ceremonies in Oslo Norway Al Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in raising awareness of global warming. For those who will not read the 2800-word acceptance speech in its entirety, the essence of his speech is that the threat of global warming “is real, rising, imminent, and universal”. And that, “it is the 11th hour”. The penalties for ignoring the challenge of doing something about global warming “are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable.”

He says, “We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer.”

He says, “The way ahead is difficult.” He calls on the nations of the world to move rapidly to approve a new treaty to limit greenhouse emissions and calls for a moratorium on the construction of new coal burning facilities.

He says, “Most important of all we need to put a price on carbon – with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis”.

Those who are in denial about global warming, those who want to solve the problem of global warming by changing light bulbs, and those who are in denial about the importance of economic principles in resolving this crisis will not be happy. Sometimes the truth is inconvenient.

(To read the speech: Nobel Lecture)

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Mortgage 'freeze' buys time for some

Many wait too long for adjustable rate help
Staff Writer
The Tennessean
Published: Thursday, 12/06/07

A mortgage freeze to be unveiled by President Bush today may provide only limited relief to thousands of financially strapped homeowners, and may not be enough to cure the foreclosure crisis, advisers who work with troubled borrowers in Middle Tennessee said.

The Bush administration's plan, which would freeze the interest rates on many adjustable-rate mortgages at their lower introductory levels, excludes many who need help the most, including those in foreclosure and those already behind on adjustable-rate monthly payments, officials from several Nashville-area housing organizations said.

The plan, which has the support of major banks, relies on borrowers and lenders to come together to revise terms of loans before adjustable loans accelerate — sometimes to double-digit rates.

Many first-time Middle Tennessee homebuyers in danger of foreclosure don't realize how bad their situations are until they are too far behind on payments, loan counselors said. "They're trying to figure this out themselves … and when (a solution) doesn't occur, that's when they come forward," said Rosalind Robinson, president and founder of Residential Resources Inc., an east Nashville housing counselor. "For this to work, they're going to need to set aside those emotions."

Delaying higher adjustable-rate payments won't always solve the underlying cause — a propensity of homeowners to buy a home they cannot afford, some advisers said. "The mistake that they made is they were able to buy a $120,000 house, but they fell in love with a $180,000 house," said Rod Williams, director of housing services for Woodbine Community Organization, which offers financial counseling. (To read all: Mortgage 'freeze')

My Commentary
This recent announcement of a mortgage rate freeze is a positive development but will probably help few people. What we know about it at this time is that people must apply for the mortgage rate freeze before their adjustable rate mortgage resets and they must not have been late on any house payments. If they qualify, they may have their introductory rate frozen for up to five years. Unless there is a big advertising campaign most people won't even know of the program until after their mortgage resets and they have trouble making their higher house payment. This program will help only a few people, just as will the recently announced FHA Secure program.

I do not advocate a general bail out of homeowners or mortgage companies. The people who took out bad loans and the mortgage companies that made bad loans should surfer the consequences. Small steps to slow the defaults are all we should be doing. For the people who got in a house with no money down and got a teaser rate, if they lose their home, while it is emotionally devastating, in reality they are not really losing anything since they have no equity in the house. For two years they got to live in a house they could not afford. We should not feel too sorry for them. While we need to try to mitigate the effect of the mortgage crisis, we should not reward bad decisions.

However, we should not just ignore this mortgage default crisis either. It could affect the general economy. Also, even if your home is not at risk, you can be harmed by this foreclosure problem. If three houses are foreclosed on your street, the property values could drop. If the houses set empty and get vandalized, prices can drop more. For some people who were going to downsize when they retired and a lot of their wealth was in their home, they will find they are less wealthy than they thought. Also, if a lot of home prices drop, local government will reap less tax revenue from property taxes. There is a public purpose in slowing the rate of default.

A response to the crisis that would help more than anything is additional funding of housing counseling. People do not know their options, and they do not know how to present their case to the mortgage company. Unfortunately, the people at the mortgage company are often uninformed about their own options. When it is a win/win and the mortgage company can me made to understand this, many times the home can be saved or at least foreclosure avoided. About 90% of the people I counsel avoid foreclosure. To avoid the foreclosure however, someone has to know what is doable and how to propose it.

Another thing that would help mitigate the mortgage default crisis is a rescue lending pool. As part of a comprehensive loan modification or forbearance plan, the pool could loan the homeowner additional funds to bring the payment current or to make a couple house payments. Sometimes if a homeowner can be helped with only a couple house payments they could save the home. The pool should be very limited however, and funded by the lending industry. If structured correctly, this could be a plus for all concerned. Stopping a foreclosure is not only helpful to the homeowner, but the lender as well. Government leadership could establish the mechanism to establish the rescue lending pool and convince the industry that this was in the industry’s best interest. The funding pool should be used sparingly and only when part of a plan that will avoid a foreclosure. We have to accept that some of the defaults should occur, but those that can be saved by a three hour counseling session or an infusion of a small loan should be saved.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Saving the Planet!

"Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental." Dave Forman, Founder of Earth First!

"Tell a child on the eighth day that we are not lighting the last candle as a sacrifice for the environment" 'Green Hanukkia' campaign sparks ire December 4, 2007

"I live in North Carolina. I'll probably never eat a tangerine again," Elizabeth Edwards , McClellanville, North Carolina, July 24, 2007

"If you want to save the planet, I want you to start jumping up and down!" Madonna, live from Live Earth. July 7, 2007

"I propose a limitation be put on how many sqares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting.I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required." Sheryl Crow,

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O Frabjous Day! Nuke Iran? World War III? Oops, Nevermind….

By Don Williams

Add another reason to be grateful in the post-911, post-Thanksgiving world. Turns out our intelligence regarding Iran was wrong and—guess what—Iran has no nuclear weapons program to speak of. Said program was suspended in 2003, according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate. That’s the estimate provided by all the nation’s intelligence agencies combined. (Read about it here in the New York Times.) Yes, it’s scandalous, stupid, inexcusable and… heavenly to learn that the Bush administration would change course and ease up on the saber-rattling. (To Continue: O Frabjous Day!)

My Commentary

Hallelujah! I have been fearful that any day we may wake up to news that the U. S. has bombed Iran. I could hardly believe the report yesterday when the National Intelligence Council announced that Iran had essentially discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In a recent post on this blog I had expressed my distrust of the Bush Administration but also worried that their is always the possibility that Bush could be right. (See Bush Might be Right)

In this article my liberal brother, the award-winning columnist Don Williams rejoices in this development and speculates on its meaning. While I may express myself in a slightly different tone of voice, I think he is essentially correct is his assessment and I share his relief and joy at this turn of events.

Don speculates on why this development occurred and I find his speculations plausible. I would like to add one more: Maybe the loyal and professional people in the intelligence community who were manipulated into cooking the intelligence books to take us to war in Iraq, refused to let it happen again and decided to cut the President off at the pass by giving an honest assessment before it was too late.

This event does not mean that Iran is still not a renegade country and a potential future nuclear threat, but any rationale for a war with Iran has been removed and the next President can deal with Iran. We can sleep easier tonight.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Study: Immigrants don't raise U.S. crime rate

Eunice Moscoso
Arizona Daily Star

"The misperception that immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, are responsible for higher crime rates is deeply rooted in American public opinion and is sustained by media anecdotes and popular myth," said Ruben G. Rumbaut, a sociology professor at the University of California-Irvine. "This perception is not supported empirically. In fact, it is refuted by the preponderance of scientific evidence."

The incarceration rate of U.S.- born men 18 to 39 years old in 2000 was 3.5 percent — five times higher than the incarceration rate of their immigrant counterparts, the study found.
The report — which analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, police records and other sources — also shows that a large increase in illegal immigrants has not resulted in a rise in crime. Since 1994, violent crime in the United States has declined 34 percent, and property crime has fallen 26 percent. At the same time, the illegal immigrant population has doubled to around 12 million.

The study also details a "paradox of assimilation" in which second- and third-generation immigrants have higher crime rates than those who first come to the United States.
For example, foreign-born Mexican men had an incarceration rate of 0.7 percent in 2000, more than eight times lower than the 5.9 percent rate of U.S.-born males of Mexican descent. To continue: Study..)

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Urban Legends

New immigrants may be the best thing that ever happened to American cities, but don't wait for the leading presidential candidates to tell you that.
By Christopher Dickey
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 4:28 PM ET Nov 28, 2007

The "Safest City" awards published a few days ago by Congressional Quarterly back up this kind of thinking. Among the top 10 with populations over 500,000, four are in Texas: Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and the border town of El Paso, which is the second-safest big city in the country. Two are in California: San Jose and San Diego, which, again, is right across the line from Mexico. The safest city of all is Honolulu, with its very diverse population, while New York City ranks fourth. (New York City also looks as if it will have fewer murders this year than at any time since reliable statistics became available, in 1963.) "I would say, if you want to be safe, move to an immigrant city," Robert J. Sampson, chairman of the sociology department at Harvard University, told me on the phone this afternoon. (To continue: Urban Legends)

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