Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Arizona State Bar Association revision of the oath for attorneys

Caught up in the propaganda wave generated by the opponents of Proposition 102 in Arizona, the Marriage Amendment, there have been a number of inflammatory and inaccurate news stories concerning action to be taken by the Arizona State Bar Association.

Although the news accounts concerning the Arizona State Bar Association's action to include a reference to sexual orientation in the oaths administered to all new entrants licensed to practice law in Arizona only recently made the national news, the reference to a concern with prejudice concerning sexual orientation was long ago included in the Arizona Rules of Professional Responsibility. The provision included with Ethical Rule 8.4 was passed by the Arizona Supreme Court effective back on December 1, 2002. The ER 8.4 in full states:

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

(d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice;

(e) state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or

(f) knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable Code of Judicial Conduct or other law.

(g) file a notice of change of judge under Rule 10.2, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, for an improper purpose, such as obtaining a trial delay or other circumstances enumerated in Rule 10.2(b).

The only reference to sexual orientation is found in the related comment. The comment in question states, in part:
A lawyer who in the course of representing a client, knowingly manifests by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, violates paragraph (d) when such actions are prejudicial to the administration of justice. This does not preclude legitimate advocacy when race, sex, religion, national original, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, or other similar factors, are issues in the proceeding. A trial judge's finding that peremptory challenges were exercised on a discriminatory basis does not alone establish a violation of this rule.
According to the Web site of the Arizona State Bar Association, there are no specific ethical opinions issued by the State Bar with reference to that particular provision. This means that since 2002, no one has requested a formal opinion from the State Bar concerning this particular provision. There was some limited discussion in the media back in 2002. See Arizona Supreme Court Requires Lawyers to be GLBT Friendly dated July 4, 2002.

The current controversy arose as a result of a request by the Supreme Court of Arizona to the State Bar to review and recommend revisions to the Oath of Office for State Bar members reported in the August 22, 2008 minutes of the meeting of the State Bar Board of Governors. Those minutes state:

Ed Novak introduced a proposed revision to the Oath of Office for State Bar members that he wrote and that the members of Scope & Ops have worked on. Amelia Craig Cramer circulated a redlined version showing changes from the existing Oath to the proposed revision. President Novak stated that at the Court’s last meeting it was suggested that the Oath be reviewed and possibly updated. The first draft was in the Board materials and members of the Board were urged to review and consider it,as well as the slightly-revised redlined version. Further discussion of the proposal will continue at the September meeting of the Board. When the proposal is more defined, member’s comments and suggestions will be sought.

In the September 26, 2008 Minutes of the Board of Governors it stated:

President Novak stated a recommendation was received to review and update the Oath. Amelia Craig Cramer circulated a redlined version showing changes from the existing Oath to the proposed revision. The Board is asked to review the Oath and direct any comment to President Novak or Amelia Craig Cramer. Further discussion was tabled to the next meeting. The proposed changes will be voted on at the November Board meeting, and members will be able to comment prior to the Board submitting the proposed changes to the Supreme Court.

The subject was not discussed in the October meeting. Minutes for the November meeting are yet to be published on line.

Apparently, the State Bar gave its recommendations and in response, the Arizona legal community began its response to the recommended wording of the change. See December 12, 2008 letter to Edward F. Novak, Arizona State Bar President. This issue began to get greater coverage as a result of blog stories after the letter was made public. The story began to be generally repeated in the pro-gay blogs. It appears that the story has yet to hit the general media.

The status of the proposal is presently unknown. There are apparently no official statements from the State Bar. We will have to wait for further developments. However, I am aware of several attorneys who are planning to write opposing the change to the Oath of Admission.

Facebook -- an excuse for trivial communication

Social networking is a buzz term of the Web 2.0 world composed of older teens, twenty and thirty-somethings and a few older people thrown together in a sound bite world lacking any true discourse or substance. It is significant that the metaphor used is "writing on the wall." One of the prominent forums for this new form of personal graffiti is Facebook. Some of the participants can claim thousands of "friends" who are mostly people they would never greet or even recognize if met in person. How much real content can you get from a comment written on a wall? I get more social interaction than this from waving at people in traffic on the freeway.

I cannot claim to be a long time participant in this particular social phenomenon, but I am certain that increased familiarity will not disclose any deeper significance to the superficiality. I have yet to determine how my world is enriched by knowing that someone is tired or fixed dinner or that some one gave a gift of a coconut tree or a cow. It is certain that there is no clear writing or understandable communication going on in this venue.

Aside from the brief novelty of recognizing old friends and relatives, the content seems to have less substance than chewing gum. Taking a quiz on "How Hick Are You?" is like reading the throw away weekly magazines in the Sunday newspapers, without having to make the effort to bring the paper in from the front porch. Finding out that someone you hardly know is a fan of some prominent person, is like watching the gossip columns. At one level, attending wedding receptions and funerals, in person, serve a function of binding people together in a common social network. But what is utility of have hundreds of people, who you do not know and who you never see, attend a virtual wedding reception? What kind of social bond comes from clicking on a "I want to join" link?

I guess it is too much to expect that a generation who's deepest thoughts consists of "Cool" and "Hey, Dude" could compose anything that approached real discussion or discourse. Historians have found a rich source for analysis in personal letters. What kind of historical significance will this ephemeral note taking have in the future? How do we get some kind of perspective on the thoughts of a generation, when those thoughts are confined to comments like "Hope,you're OK" and "What cuties!" Not to mention the fact that someone found a seven letter word in Scramble?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The holidization of Christmas

This morning I was listening to National Public Radio, as usual, not that I particularly agree with NPR, but the Phoenix market doesn't have any other news station that isn't ranting or swearing on the radio. I heard one commentator refer to "Holiday Music." It struck me that, as a nation, we are moving so far into political correctness and fear of offense, that we can no longer refer to Christmas.

I realized that I had received a pile of cards from businesses at work and almost without exception they were styled as "Holiday Greetings," there was not one Christmas card in the bunch. There is a long standing and not so subtle movement away from traditional Christian values and observance of the birth of Christ towards a generic, non-specific reference to "this special holiday season," carefully avoiding any reference to the birth of the Savior or his mission on earth.

This isn't just an issue with Santa Claus or reindeer, this is a concerted effort by the media and others to eliminate any religious references at all. Listen to the music offered on one of the so-called holiday stations, you get silver bells, winter wonderland and one after another of generic non-Christmas songs. Christmas carols have almost disappeared or become so "modernized" as to be indistinguishable from the current blah blah noise of popular music.

The biggest national concern this "Holiday Season" is not whether we can return to an observance of Christ and his teachings, but whether the merchants are going to have a good sale year or not.

I call upon all those who are Christians to focus more on the Lord Jesus Christ and his ministry here on earth. Remember his life and teachings as well as his birth in a humble stable and let's wish everyone a Merry Christmas and not just a happy holiday.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reflections on gas prices and the universe in general

On December 22, 2008, crude oil closed at $39.62 a barrel. Almost uniformly the falling price was blamed on the decreasing demand for oil due to the "worsening global economic climate." See MSNNBC. When oil was over $130 a barrel, the price rise was blamed on increasing demand for oil. You can see the statistics from the Energy Information Administration. (The U.S. Government keeps track of almost everything). The high point in the price of oil occurred from 2005 to 2008. In three years the price of oil went from where it is now, to over $130. In actuality, the price of oil has not dropped, it has simply returned to its historic cost range of only about three years ago.

Now, if the price of oil was somehow linked to demand, as all of the news reports would have us believe, then there should have been a spike in the demand at about the same time the price went up. However, travel was down in January of 2005 over January of 2004. From 2005 to 2006 miles traveled in the U.S. went up only 3.8%. However, cumulative travel decreased .7% from 2006 to 2007. By 2008, cumulative travel had again decreased, this time by 1.7%.

There is no spike in miles traveled in the U.S. There was no increase in demand, in fact, demand was flat. The rapid increase in oil prices had absolutely nothing to do with increased demand in the U.S.

It is incredible that the American public has been so easily fooled by the government and the media. What then caused the tremendous increase in oil prices?

Greed and speculation. If you want to see where the money went read, Exxon's Profits: Measuring a Record Windfall. If Exxon Mobil were a country, its 2007 profit would exceed the gross domestic product of nearly two thirds of the 183 nations in the World Bank's economic rankings.

Oil prices aren't truly down, they have only returned to levels not seen since the huge speculative oil bubble.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Another controversy over the Marriage Amendment

Just when you think that you have heard all the arguments, the Arizona State Bar Association is proposing to add a reference to sexual orientation as part of the oath taken by attorneys upon admittance to the Bar Association. Membership in the Bar Association is mandatory on all attorneys in the State of Arizona in order to appear and represent clients in court. A recent article explains the issues:

Bar might add sexual orientation to state oath

I will have a lot of comments on this topic. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Christmas Card to Everyone

We wish you the most joyous Christmas and a happy New Year.

This is my Christmas card to everyone this year:

Joy to Everyone This Christmas

Please feel free to share this wonderful message with everyone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Who is the victim in sub-prime mortgage failures?

The media repeatedly portrays homeowners unable to make their mortgage payments as victims of the unscrupulous sub-prime mortgage lenders. Wait a minute. Who is the victim here? It is certainly a tragedy that a family, living in a house for years, through job loss or medical crisis, can no longer make mortgage payments and loses their home. It is entirely a different story when someone purchases an expensive home or condo for no money down (or worse, cash back) and then fails to make even one mortgage payment. How is this person who fails to make payments on a home that they cannot possibly afford, considered a victim?

Originally, media reports, (See this story on National Public Radio, for example) characterized the borrowers as people who refinanced or purchased adjustable rate mortgages, without realizing the risk that interest rates would go up. Many of these people had lived in their homes for years. However, it now turns out that the victim examples have taken a change, (See Business Week, FHA-Backed Loans: The New Subprime). The media admits that borrowers now include those, like an unemployed student, living on an educational grant from the Cayman Islands, who purchased a $318,000 home with a $2,600 a month payment. The grant was for one year and she had no prospects of paying the mortgage. In another example, the purchasers, a husband and wife, together made $52,000 and purchased a $316,375 home with payments equalling 58% of their gross income. They got thousands of dollars in a cash back arrangement. Are we to consider these people to be victims? I hardly think so. As the Business Week story claims, if true, these loans are still being made by lenders whose default rate is as high as 9.2% of their outstanding loans. Because of the so-called cash incentives, buyers are defaulting before even on payment is made.

We used to say that it took two to tango, well, it takes buyers who are dishonest enough to take out a mortgage that they have no possible intention of paying, to make the crisis as bad as it is today. I recently did a survey of local real estate conditions. What I found was interesting but not surprising. In many new home neighborhoods, mostly in prestigious locations, I found a very high percentage of short sale and foreclosure homes, sometimes as many as five or six on the same street and block. However, in more stable neighborhoods, where families had purchased the homes over the past few years, I could find very few, if any, distressed properties. It is apparent that much of problem stems from people attempting to take advantage of the system and move into homes that they cannot realistically afford. Just because we have a mortgage system that allows them to do this, does not excuse individual responsibility.

Let's not consider all of those losing their homes in this subprime crisis to be victims, some of the buyers had no reasonable expectation of maintaining their purchases and took advantage of a system that doesn't work to get some free housing. We need to get back to basic honesty and integrity before the housing crisis will abate.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas should be a Holy Day not a holiday

This last September I was once again surprised to see all the Christmas decorations for sale show up at my local Costco. I guess I am wondering why they bother to take them down at all. In reading the economic reports, retailers expect to make from 1/3 to 1/2 of their annual income during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In a small measure of retaliation, we decided not to spend hardly anything on our Christmas this year. Instead, we decided to focus our attention on the spirit and meaning of Christmas.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly called Mormons, I believe that Christmas celebrates the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our loving Father in Heaven sent His Son, Jesus Christ into the world. Yes, Mormons are Christians. He was born as a babe in Bethlehem of Judea, lived, died and on the third day, was resurrected so that everyone, good and bad, alike will also receive the gift of resurrection. He also atoned for the sins of all mankind on condition of individual repentance. This same Jesus Christ, healed the sick, raised the dead and showed us all the way to return to live with our families eternally.

I know that God lives and is a kind an loving Father in Heaven. I know that his Son Jesus Christ, the babe of Bethlehem lived and died that we may live.

If you follow His example as closely as possible, you will not only find joy in your life, but you will someday return to live with Him and your Father in Heaven. Specifically, you are to:

Let's all keep the true Spirit of Christmas, that through our faith in Jesus Christ, we may all keep his commandments and fully live the plan of happiness in this life and the next. It is my hope that all of us, can appreciate the real meaning of Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Consumer Price Index and some interesting observations

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics monitors almost every aspect of American life. One of the more commonly cited is the Consumer Price Index. Almost everyone hears about it going up and very infrequently, going down. But the changes in the CPI never seem to match my impression of reality. For example, this last month gasoline prices dropped over a $1.00 a gallon, about a 33% decrease, however, the CPI on went down about 1%. I began to wonder why.

The base years for the CPI is 1982 to 1984. These years are arbitrarily set at 100. For all of the years before 1984, the CPI is less than 100. It was an average of 9.9 in 1913. If I read this right, from 1913 to 1984, prices went up 1000%. Click on this to see the chart. You math guys out there can correct me if I am wrong. In October of 2008, the CPI stood at 216.573. The highest its been is 219.964 in July of 2008. Other than observing that none of the possible savings accounts I know about will pay interest any where near the increase of 4.1% in 2007, I began to wonder what these figures really said.

There is a chart of all of the components of the CPI and the relative weight given to each component. Click on this to see the chart. I note that gasoline, a relatively large component of my personal expenditures is only 5.215 % of the CPI.

These are the larger percentage categories:

Food and Beverages 14.914%
Housing 42.427 %
Apparel 3.731 %
Transportation 17.688 %
Medical care 6.231 %
Recreation 5.647 %
Education and Communication 6.086 %
Other goods and services (primarily personal care and tobacco) 3.277 %

In examining my own budget these figures are no where near what I personally spend in those categories as a percentage of my gross income. In my case, the number one expenditure is taxes, which are not even mentioned. Another significantly missing item is donations to charities. Now, I understand that the CPI is supposed to measure the overall price of goods and services but in every individual case, it is unlikely that anyone actually spends money in the percentages listed. For example I don't smoke so my expenditures for tobacco are 0 % of my income.

The effect of personal spending habits is that your own personal CPI might be a lot higher or a lot lower than the national averages, depending on your spending habits. For example, if you don't own a car and don't drive, an increase in gasoline only indirectly affects your budget. Since food away from home is 6.173 % of the CPI, you can change the way the CPI affects you personally by merely eating out either more or less often. You can take out 1.811 % of the CPI by not smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages. The CPI is supposed to be designed to exclude investment items, so you can really change the way it affects your personal budget by investing in a home or whatever. Also, the CPI is not designed to reflect changes in purchasing habits due to changes in price. So if you buy hamburger instead of steak, you just get hamburger, you don't change the CPI.

Although the BLS denies that the CPI changes due to politics, it is interesting the rates of inflation are often recalculated after elections, just as the unemployment figures rose for the months before the recent national election when they were recalculated after the election. Politics may not affect the numbers but politics certainly influence the percentage components and the method and timing of the calculations.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Comments on General Motors and Chrysler

In a radical departure from my previous posts, considering the dramatic economic events, I decided I just had to comment on some of the other things going on in the world.

Presently, the Congress of the United States is considering a bail-out of two of the major car manufacturers, General Motors and Chrysler. I was born on the General Motors side of town, which means me and my family buy General Motors products and disparage Ford and its products. If you aren't aware of this phenomenon, you probably don't read the white lettering on the back of the windows of pickup trucks. However, I am not a purist. We have owned American Motors cars, and a whole variety of foreign makes, including Mazdas, Toyotas and Hondas. Just like everyone else in America, we think Toyotas and Hondas are better made than any American model.

Even though the arguments in Washington center around billions of dollars in aid, I see the problem as being very simple. General Motors cannot make a car without bothersome defects that it refuses to fix in year after year. I purchased my first Chevrolet Suburban about thirty years ago. It was well known at the time, among the truck crowd, that the transmission would go out about 70,000 miles. Mine went out at 72,000 miles. I sold that Suburban when it had 115,000 miles when I thought that buying a newer model might help with all the small things going wrong, like rattles, loose door handles, generally small things that drive you crazy.

My next Suburban not only needed a transmission at about 70,000 miles, it added a whole list of additional buggy items. The worst was a hole in the frame around the passenger side wing window. We stuffed it with felt and didn't ever open the window. It was not something that could be fixed without redesigning the window. I found out by comparison with other owners, that all Suburbans of the same design had the same problem. Year after year, General Motors ignored the problem and kept making the same machine. When the model changed, we bought a Silverado truck.

Now about my truck. The front window has been fixed because it doesn't have the wing window anymore, but now the rear window, on the extended cab model, will not shut entirely causing exactly the same problem with wind noise and air blowing into the cab. I understand that this is a similar general problem. Also, as expected, my transmission failed at about 70,000 miles.

My Honda and my Toyota on the other hand run perfectly. I drove my Honda for over 135,000 miles and never had a major problem that couldn't be fixed. I now have a Toyota Prius and it runs perfectly and everything works. So I know it is possible to make a vehicle that doesn't have inherent obvious defects. It is highly unlikely that I will ever buy a GM or Chrysler product again.

Now, here is the lesson to be learned. You can't keep making cars with defects when other manufacturers are making defect free models and keep selling cars. No bail out will solve this problem. If America wants to compete, it has to compete.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Comments on No Mob Veto from the Deseret News

The Deseret News, the morning daily newspaper in Salt Lake City, Utah ran a longer story about the ad run in the Wall Street Journal by the organization calling itself, No Mob Veto. The article gives an interesting perspective into the opposition to the organization. Apparently, among the same-sex marriage proponents, it is improper for anyone to voice opposition to their cause. As the article quotes:

"The Human Rights Campaign, however, decried the ad, calling it "corporate hypocrisy." "Calls for tolerance of certain religious viewpoints rings hollow in a world where religion often stands by tolerating violence perpetrated on God's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children," said Rev. Erin Swenson, a Presbyterian minister who sits on the HRC's Religion Council."

I guess, from my viewpoint, I am unaware of any U.S. religious organizations that often stand by and tolerate violence. I am also afraid that I do not view the connection between voting for the Marriage Amendment and people who perpetrate violence against the Gay community. It seems to me that ignoring the majority vote of a state's voters and then actively and violently persecuting one religious organization would certainly contribute to feelings of antipathy towards the Gay community, in the very least. From the quote, it is also apparently justified to violently persecute The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the reason that some Gay individuals have been the victims of violence. It is also, from Mr. Swenson's statement, improper for religious organizations to try and defend themselves against the violence. I would strongly disagree with Mr. Swenson's comments.

Friday, December 5, 2008

No Mob Veto -- A new defense organization

I have received E-mails about a new religious defense organization called "No Mob Veto."

The Web site is http://www.nomobveto.org/

The organizers come from a variety of religious backgrounds and state that "despite our fundamental disagreements with one another, we announce today that we will stand shoulder to shoulder to defend any house of worship--Jewish, Christian, Hindu, whatever-- from violence, regardless of the cause that violence seeks to serve.

This is something you should definitely be aware of.