Lobbying by Lenders Worsened Subprime Mess

Glenn Simpson reports in today’s Journal on how lenders lobbied against state anti-predatory lending laws, with the result of worsening the subprime crisis. While the federal government was asleep at the wheel, or worse, worshiping the “miracle of instant credit,” states were trying to protect their residents from being harangued by jackals promoting risky or questionable lending plans. $20M in donations, however, made it possible to roll back protections:

During the housing boom, the subprime industry succeeded at more than just writing mortgages. It also shot down efforts by some states to curtail risky lending to borrowers with spotty credit.

Ameriquest Mortgage Co., until recently one of the nation’s largest subprime lenders, was at the center of those battles. Working with a husband-and-wife team of Washington lobbyists, it handed out more than $20 million in political donations and played a big role in persuading legislators in New Jersey and Georgia to relax tough new laws. Those victories, in turn, helped blunt efforts by other states to crack down on reckless lending, critics of the industry contend.


Federal lawmakers didn’t pose much of a threat to the subprime industry in recent years. Members of Congress received at least $645,000 in donations from Ameriquest and large sums from other big subprime lenders, Federal Election Commission records indicate. They debated new oversight of the industry, but took no action.

The states were a different matter. “What seemed to be developing in the states was that there was going to be a wave of legislation,” Mr. Andrews, the lobbyist, said in an interview.

In 2001, Georgia passed the Fair Lending Act. Among other things, it required lenders to be able to prove that a refinancing of any home loan less than five years old would provide a “tangible net benefit” to the borrower. Ameriquest began lobbying the state legislature to remove that provision, arguing the standard was too vague. Other lenders also complained about the law, as did Fannie Mae, the giant buyer of mortgages.

“Ameriquest was very, very engaged,” recalls Georgia state Sen. Vincent Fort, who authored the law. Mr. Fort says that Adam Bass, a lawyer for Ameriquest, lobbied him directly. The state senator says he accused Mr. Bass of victimizing poor minorities, which angered Mr. Bass. A spokesman for Ameriquest, speaking on Mr. Bass’s behalf, says the meeting “was a very candid conversation about complex policy issues.”


The subprime industry mounted a campaign against the Fair Lending Act. Within months, the Georgia Senate voted 29-26 in favor of a new law that eliminated for nearly all loans the tangible-net-benefit requirement opposed by the industry. The state House passed the law, 148-25.

Still Alive!

All, I’m sorry for being AWOL on the Denialism Blog. I’ve just returned from a longish trip with Dr. Girlfriend to Guatemala, where we visited Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, Antigua, and Tikal. I’ll blog soon with some of the outrageous woo we encountered in San Marcos. But for now, enjoy the view from our place on Lake Atitlan!


Values Voters and Neo Nazis

I see that I’m in good company in my curiosity about why Ron Paul enjoys so much crank magnetism. And his crank magnetism and appeal to racist groups can’t be denied. Here for instance, is Ron Paul posing with Don Black, culled from the neo-nazi Stormfront website:


Now, I think its unlikely Ron Paul knew who this was when he posed for this shot, but between this and their endorsement of Paul on Stormfront radio, I think it’s pretty well confirmed who their candidate is. Also note, this picture was taken at the “Values Voters Presidential Debate” just as a reminder of who “Values Voters” debates appeal to.

One of my commenters, quoting Digby, made the point that Ron Paul support isn’t so much a political position as a sign of disaffection. Based on the wide political spectrum of cranks that seem to think this anti-government radical is their guy (including the poorly-named Reason magazine as PZ points out) I think Digby’s assessment is the correct one. Cranks recognize one of their own.

I’m not actually concerned about Ron Paul’s candidacy, I believe his appeal is overblown as any real exposure to his beliefs will turn off the 95% who realize such a fervently anti-government radical libertarian would be the worst candidate one could conceivably elect. He scores easy points at these debates mocking the rather pathetic Republican presidential field and appealing to the people’s populist sentiments, but underneath this facade is a crank, and crank candidates rarely poll higher than about 5-10% (and I include Nader in this category – deal with it). So while it’s been fun mocking this also-ran all week, I don’t think we’ll be seeing much more of this guy after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Good News: The New York Times Hires Bill Kristol!

Bill Kristol will soon have a weekly column in the New York Times. I have to admit, I’m really excited.

You see, Bill Kristol, or as we like to call him Krissandra has a nearly supernatural ability to be wrong. While some might think that the NYT has lost all credibility by hiring someone as unrepentantly incorrect as Kristol, I think they’re providing a valuable service.

After all, if we see what Bill Kristol has to say, we always will know that we should do the opposite. He’s not a worthless idiot, he’s actually a very useful one, simply because he’s so consistently incorrect.

Can someone explain to me why the neo-nazis love Ron Paul

I’m so confused. I’ve got Ed telling us that the neo-nazis are claiming them as one of his own, which I would usually dismiss since they’re usually just lying about everything. But then I see Ron Paul supporters blame a Jewish Cabal for the allegations? That, and David Duke coming to his defense? I prefer my brother’s explanation better, that Ron Paul is really the Drizzle.

I don’t have time to piece this together, I’ve got to drive down to C-ville today. I want a full report on what the hell is going on with all these cranks by the time I get there.

Obesity Crankery in the Washington Post

Why the Washington Post decided to devote space to libertarian crankery from the Pacific Research Institute, I’ll never know, but today’s op-ed from Sally Pipes on the evils of governmental interference in diet is a bit much.

The way I see it, obesity cranks recycle 3 arguments over and over. It usually goes: (1) BMIs don’t fit everyone (2) the stupid government has arbitrarily changed the definition of overweight to make more people fat and (3) exercise is all that matters anyway and overweight doesn’t hurt you.

First, we have BMI’s are inaccurate:

The standard metric for this measurement is a person’s body-mass index, or BMI — the ratio of one’s height to one’s weight. But at best, BMI is a rough tool that does not take into account an individual’s body type. A six-foot-two athlete who weighs 210 pounds would be classified as “obese” according to BMI charts — despite his 32-inch waistline, 17-inch biceps and his less than 6 percent actual body fat.

If you believe the BMI tables, most of the best players in the NBA and NFL are “overweight,” including superstar athletes Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady.

Many Hollywood heartthrobs also qualify as fatties — Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Tom Cruise and George Clooney, to name a few.

Once you read this you know you’re going to see the standard idiotic attacks on science from someone defending the food industry or obesity itself. Why is BMI used? It is a indirect measure of adiposity. It is not perfect, and sadly, there is no perfect way to measure and track total body fat easily. BMI is an approximation, but on average a pretty good one.

Now, the obesity cranks love to throw out this red herring, usually it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, but whatever. Is anyone really confused by this? Certainly I doubt that professional athletes and body builders are losing sleep because their BMIs aren’t ideal. BMI is an indicator for the average schmo and not professional athletes and body builders. No one is confused about this, and if anything it hurts their case as it suggests overweight statistics are being brought down by healthy athletic people. No one thinks the BMI is perfect, but until we develop a better indirect measure of adiposity that can be easily tracked in individuals (or an easy direct measure) we shouldn’t let the perfect ruin the good.

Next, this endless refrain from people who are full of it:

What’s more, the acceptable BMI continues to be ratcheted downward — transforming those who were considered perfectly healthy yesterday into “overweight” and “obese” today.

Before 1998, a “healthy” BMI was anything less than 27. Then, suddenly, the government changed the “healthy” number to anything less than 25. Overnight, more than 25 million people who were previously considered to be a healthy or normal weight were reclassified as overweight. Looked at another way, the government artificially manufactured an obesity crisis by moving the BMI goal posts.

The Govmint! The Govmint! It’s a conspiracy! For one her first statement is completely incorrect. Obesity has always been > 30, and still the number of obese has been increasing based on this threshold. Therefore it would be very difficult to manufacture an obesity crisis by keeping the BMI threshold for obesity the same!

Further, the “government” said anything less than 27 was healthy? Whom do you mean? The NIH? Or the CDC? Which “government” are you talking about? One group of government researchers convinced the government researchers in the CDC in 1998 to stop using 27 as a measurement of overweight so they would fit with everyone else who had always used 25. It’s no great conspiracy, they were sick of the definition being different across different evil government groups. Further this only changed the definition of overweight from the CDC, not obesity nor the definition for overweight being > 25 that many other gov’mint researchers had used for a long time.

Now, the third nonsense argument – that exercise is all that matters and overweight isn’t that bad – I’m not even going to go into extensively as I’ve harped on it so much already. Remember, it’s about primary vs. secondary prevention. Overweight and obesity get you by giving you diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. These conditions, however, can be largely controlled with drugs which will largely abrogate overweight/obesity’s effects on mortality. The goal though is primary prevention – preventing the co-morbidities in the from occurring at all. This is superior to secondary prevention – prevention of increased mortality through pharmaceuticals. The irony is the cranks are using the success of medicine at preventing harm from obesity to criticize medicine for trying to keep us healthy in the first place!

Instead I’ll just jump to a paragraph I found so cranky, I almost plotzed:

While we may not always like the choices others might make, it is essential that we all have the freedom to choose for ourselves. Once we accept the idea that the Nanny State should step in when it’s “for our own good,” we’ve taken a very big step down the road to something like the scene painted in George Orwell’s “1984” — when citizens wake each day to mandatory exercise classes on the Telescreen.

Holy persecution batman, I think we have ourselves a crank! That was pretty fast – usually I have to read more than one article from someone before they so perfectly fulfill the crank criteria. Pipes, however, has managed in record speed. Considering this is coming from the libertarians I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But damn! That was some high-speed crankery.

What is most tragic about this article, however, is that she takes a study with an important holiday message about obesity, and only mentions it in passing, rather than describing its very relevant message to all of you eaters out there. She mentions in her first sentence, “it should come as no surprise that the average American gains about one pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to the National Institutes of Health. That pound a year really adds up over the decades.”

It really does add up, because the study showed that not only do you gain a pound a year over the holidays (and about 10% of people gain 5 pounds!), you don’t lose that weight throughout the year. The result is that for many people weight gain occurs in discrete steps of over-consumption rather than steady accumulation. It used to be the harvest feast was followed by a winter lull in food availability – no more. You get stuck with that extra turkey for life. There’s a holiday message of joy, and a suggestion for a New Year resolution. Aim low, and try to get rid of those pounds you just added. In the long run, it might make a big difference. Primary prevention people. Get on it!

Merry X-Mas

I had an interesting X-mas week, hanging out with the parents, seeing patients at my mom’s general practice and a very different set of patients in clinical studies at the NIH with my father. That, studying, and fulfilling the role of the good son by fixing every piece of technology in the parents’ house has been keeping me busy.

And then there was the fun of helping deliver my mom’s portuguese water dogs. This further reinforced my feeling that the human reproduction could be improved after watching this dog deliver puppy after puppy about twenty minutes apart with, on average, about 5 contractions each time. Watching the dog eat the placentas was pretty revolting though, at least that’s not a common part of our birthing process (before it’s mentioned Tom Cruise was joking people).

The puppies are cute – although difficult to differentiate considering they’re all little black creatures.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some interesting news to report. In denialism news the LA Times reports on fluoridation difficulties. Another article in a growing list suggesting the entire Sheen family should probably be disowned if you want your movement to maintain credibility.

Then there is the wonderful profile of a troll in the WSJ. The best part? The complete lack of insight. They talk to this guy, who’s really nothing more than a screaming asshole, and as many bloggers have long suspected, trolls really just have no idea just how pathetic they are. Kind of sad. In this case its someone who endlessly harasses political blogs with information attacking the blog’s candidate. This quote is classic:

Mr. O’Neill, who goes by the handle “thepoliticalguy,” doesn’t let the comments get him down. “If they think I’m a troll, then so be it,” he says, before immediately rejecting this premise. “It’s wrong! It’s wrong! Where’s the freedom of ideas?” He pounds the table. “If you’re on a site and you’re just agreeing with each other all day, where’s the argument?”

I think it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what argument is, or where certain arguments are appropriate. In this case, O’Neill might as well be showing up at a cat fancier forum to post articles on why dogs are superior. There’s a time and a place for such things, but it’s inappropriate in that location, and being an obnoxious pill isn’t argument, it’s clearly just antagonism. Anyway, a fun little article appealing to any blogger who has had their blog infested by this type of person.

On a more serious note, a guy waterboards himself and describes it for us. To the twits who say this isn’t torture, Scylla would beg to differ. Not that we didn’t know this already, as anyone familiar with the three approved tortures of the Spanish Inquisition understood there exists a five century precedent for calling this torture.

Finally, I’d like to point out the nice positive attention ScienceDebate2008 has been getting from the New York Times. Although, I think Tierney’s idea of a pop quiz is exactly what we don’t want, I appreciate that the debate is continuing to get exposure.

I hope everyone is having a nice break/holidays.

Sitemeter and Privacy

Dan Solove brings up some privacy issues with using sitemeter on blogs:

But Site Meter also lists the IP address of each visitor, something that the public really doesn’t need to see. An IP address is a unique numerical identifier that is assigned to every computer connected to the Web. It doesn’t reveal your name, but it can be used to trace back to the specific computer you used or be linked to your account with an ISP. In other words, your IP address can be used to find out who you are.

So all this made me realize that we do have some data about you and we need to construct a privacy policy. Regarding Site Meter, bloggers who use the premium Site Meter service (which we use) display full IP addresses in their public stats. Those who use the free version of Site Meter have the IP addresses partially blocked out in their public stats. Site Meter has an option to conceal all the stats, but it doesn’t allow for only concealing or partially blocking IP addresses. The choices are to publicly display everything or conceal nearly everything.

Dan then asks some questions:


1. Do you find our public visitor stats via Site Meter to be useful? If so, why?
2. Do you find it problematic for your IP addresses to be publicly displayed in Site Meter and other visitor tracking services?


3. Did you realize that when you visit our blog and others, that your IP address and other information are publicly available in our Site Meter logs?
4. Did you realize that when you make an anonymous comment on our blog, it is possible to link up your IP address with your comment via Site Meter stats?
5. Did you realize that when you make an anonymous comment on our blog, our blogging software records your IP address, which could be subpoenaed?


6. Should we continue on as usual (public Site Meter stats with full IP addresses)? Or should we block full IP addresses from public view?
7. If there’s a tradeoff between having public stats with full IP addresses and no public stats at all, which of these options would you prefer?
8. What should our policy be if we are requested by others or subpoenaed to provide identifying information (an IP address or email address) for an anonymous or pseudonymous commenter?

I would like to hear some answers to these as well, because at least for denialism blog, I would like people to feel comfortable leaving anonymous comments. I, unlike cranks who go insane over anonymity, am quite happy to have people protect their identity. I would rather have input (non-cranky input at least) from as many people as possible, and I understand that many people are not in positions where they would like their opinions tracked back to them for a variety of good reasons.

I will also make the following points in terms of our informal privacy policy.
1. I will never release email addresses or IP numbers for any reason.
2. Even if I remove sitemeter from the blog, I will still see IPs etc. based on MT’s comment system, and I will only use it when sockpuppetry or some other malfeasance is at issue.
3. I will never attempt to break someone’s anonymity using IP or private email address, except of course, in the case of sockpuppetry or other misbehavior in which someone is abusing comments in multiple names, assuming false identities, or generally causing confusion by misidentifying themselves.
4. If you do leave a link or enough information in the post or the name field for me to figure out who you are in a google search, you are fair game for identification.

I would encourage other sciencebloggers to discuss their privacy rules. I can’t recall a single instance of abuse by my sciblings (although I have seen some on other blogs like Huffpo) and for the most part this stuff is common sense. But people may feel more comfortable, and the conversations more open if they know we won’t actively try to “out” anyone just for pissing us off. In the meantime I’ve upped the privacy on sitemeter as well so people can’t view the IP reports (or anything else really, I wish it were more customizable).

If I find out about your study on Uncommon Descent first, it’s a bad sign

I want to point out two things about the anti-consensus report the anti-AGW denialists are spreading as if it is an actual scientific document. For one, if the first place I read about it is when it’s promoted on Uncommon Descent, you immediately lose about 99.9% of your credibility. I’d be a little embarassed if my staunchest allies were people who historically denied the link between cigarettes and cancer – like Milloy and Singer – or those who deny evolutionary science – like the cranks at UD. Maybe they need to stop, try developing some insight into why this is happening, and maybe realize the magnetism of other obvious cranks to their ideas is what is known as a bad sign.

But hey, that’s not reason in itself to reject this latest nonsense from Senator Inhofe out of hand. Nor is his recent announcement he’s proud to be referred to as a holocaust denier. The best reason to reject this nonsense immediately is that they couldn’t even break 400 signatures.

Hell, even the IDers can get 700 signatures of other cranks that deny evolution. The global warming denialists barely broke 400, and we’re supposed to be impressed?

The list and promoters in from the EPW link is a who’s who of climate crankery. Everyone from Lindzen, to Motl, to Singer, to the AEI is prominently cited. As usual, none of these people have any actual expertise in this field. They should start writing for JPANDS next to expand their portfolio of denier papers, and send their nonsense to Uncommon Descent’s list of scientists who deny evolution. I guarantee they’ll double their numbers within a week, if there isn’t already significant overlap.

* Update * Joseph Romm takes apart the report and the so-called scientists that super-crank Inhofe has gathered to pad his report. I salute his efforts, but like I say, all you had to do is look at the purveyors of the nonsense and save yourself some time.

Obesity Crankery Part II

Orac alerted me, based on my recent obesity writings, of a new crank obesity attack on science.

This latest is in the form of a rebuttal to Morgan Spurlock’s excellent film Supersize me. Comedian Tom Naughton, who has all the charisma of a wet sponge, is making his own documentary Fathead: You’ve been fed a load of bologna. Here’s the trailer:

Aside from the shoddy production, noncharismatic host, and general crankery, I guess it’s not so bad. But I am growing concerned about the continual assault on what little good nutritional data is out there, and the misleading tactics of those defending food that is responsible for obesity and poor cardiovascular health.
Continue reading “Obesity Crankery Part II”