Thursday, January 31, 2008

the stupid economy

Despite the refusal of de facto President George W. Bush to utter the word "recession" at his State of the Union address, the economy is tanking. The Fed doesn't go slashing interest rates the way it has - twice in just over a week - for nothing you know.

So what to do? William Gross and Michelle Singletary both make the case against tax rebates. Singletary on the practical grounds that it's a bad example (the government will have to BORROW to do so) and in any case many people won't spend it but will save it, minimizing the boost to consumption. And Gross, the founder of PIMCO, the biggest bond mutual fund out there, thinks it won't be effective either. Instead he wants something to help people pay their mortgages. Which, incidentally, will help banks and others who hold bonds based on mortgages... and will of course help those who earn enough to afford a mortgage in the first place.

Sure makes you glad Bush didn't dump our Social Security money into the stock market, doesn't it?


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

the second republican race is under way

McCain beat Romney and Giuliani in Florida and he looks like the front-runner. So now, the second Republican presidential contest is under way.

The contest for 2012.

John McCain would be 76 years and 5 months old in January 2012, should he defeat Clinton or Obama this November. And I've got to tell you, McCain doesn't look all that healthy at 71, as he is now. It is entirely likely that in the fall campaign, Clinton or Obama would seek to use McCain's age against him. And it isn't implausible that McCain would, if elected, not be seeking re-election in 2012.

First, he might die. People aged 72-76 do that, you know, at a higher rate than somebody in their late 40s or early 60s. Second, he might be old and frail enough at 76 not to seek reelection.

And so more than ever, the Republican VICE-presidential choice becomes important. This person will be the anti-Cheney. This will be a Republican candidate with his or her eye on the main prize - the Presidency (in name; Cheney has a pretty good share of it in fact).

McCain is still not entirely distrusted by the troglodyte conservative wing of the GOP. It's entirely possible he will, despite his overhyped reputation as a straight-talking maverick, select somebody from one of the wings of the party that despise him, and that he has often criticized himself. The Grover Norquist/Club for Growth types who want repeated tax cuts for the wealthy, or the Pat Robertson/Gary Bauer godboys who want to continue in their quest to create a capital-C Christian, Domininionist America.

So let's just wait and see that Mr Straight Talk comes up with. Because it isn't so much McCain I fear and loath, as it is the company he keeps. Republicans.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

where's the beef?

Enjoy that burger. Meat will become more rare, and I don't mean how it's cooked. Why? As Mark Bittman writes, "Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally, like oil, meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible."

The toll includes rivers of pigshit in places like Iowa and North Carolina that make the neighbors (human, plant, animal) sick and contaminate the water, and the destruction of rain forests in the Amazon and Central America to accommodate the burger-on-the-hoof herd also known as cattle.

It's also bad from a climate change perspective, destroying carbon-absorbing forests and increasing the numbers of methane-belching animals. And you have to ship that meat from the former rain forest to the consumers in the US and elsewhere, using a lot of carbon fuels. And you have to plant a lot of grain for those animals, grain that competes for land with other human foods AND with the land needed to plant grain and sugar for (grossly inefficient, but that's another story) biofuels that are supposed to help somehow on climate change.

As Bittman writes, meat won't disappear from our tables. But you may not be eating as many 20-ounce steaks at the local bistro as before.


consistently deceitful to the end

So de facto President George W. Bush has delivered his last State of the Union. That's assuming of course he and Dick Cheney don't declare a state of emergency late this year and suspend the elections like some Latin American tinpot dictator. But Bush seemed to act like it was his last one, so either he does plan to leave next January or Cheney hasn't briefed him on the plan.

Anyway, I couldn't watch. Too much exposure to Bush is bad for my mental and physical health. But it was good to see that he is sticking to his deceitful practices here seven years after being selected by his fathers' friends on the Supreme Court.

The best example was Baby Bush saying, "Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated."

That's all well and good. But 1) in January 2001 (when Bush took over in the White House) and even in March 2003 (invasion of Iraq) Al-Qaeda had NO PRESENCE IN IRAQ. Pardon the capitals but you have to speak up nowadays to get a word of truth in edgewise. And 2) In September and October 2001 Bush pledged to get Bin Laden "dead or alive" and gave up the chance to do so to pursue the Republican project in Iraq, unprovoked and against the misgivings of people like Brent Scowcroft.

Here's the transcript. I'm sure you can find more lies, evasions, and half-truths prettily easily. I would read it but my doctor is ordering me to remain calm.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

risky business

Occasionally, I'm forced to admit to agreeing with somebody like Robert Novak. This is one occasion:

But this is no laughing matter for Democrats. The Clintons are making a risky gamble that black voters will not be offended by Clinton attacking Obama for legally representing a Chicago slumlord or for clearly identifying him as the black candidate for president. They are betting that African Americans will forget the slurs of January and loyally troop to the polls in November.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

it's fun disliking the redskins

I'm no Washington Redskins fan. I can't stand the constant hype about them in the DC area - it turned me off of them a long time ago, especially when they were winning Super Bowls.

So I must say thanks to Daniel Snyder. He makes it fun and satisfying to root against the Redskins.

First, he's a spoiled rich brat. Yeah, sure I'm jealous - I wish I had the cash to own an NFL team. But he's not just rich he's spoiled. Remember - he even illegally had trees in a national park cut down near his mansion so he could have a view of the Potomac River.

And he has been a hilarious failure as an NFL owner. Year in and year out, the Redskins have the highest payroll in the league. And the return on that investment is usually something like a 7-9 record, punctuated by an occasional short stint in the playoffs.

No Redskins' hiring decision is handled remotely well. You remember how Marty Schottenheimer was treated after a successful season. Well Snyder's done it again, announcing BY PRESS RELEASE that Gregg Williams won't be a candidate to succeed St Joe - and hiring Williams' successor in secret. Completely classless. Completely guaranteed to increase alienation among the players and fans. Bound to make well qualified coaching candidates and players to think twice before accepting the big bucks that the Snyderskins offer.

Daniel Snyder is like George Steinbrenner was in the 1980s and early 1990s, running the Yankees into the ground and spending a lot of money to do it. Steinbrenner eventually was persuaded to let baseball professionals run the show and the Yankees had that streak of championships. Will Snyder wise up?

I sure hope not. This is fun.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

he's making it difficult to like her

Let me be clear - I will vote for any of the three remaining Democratic presidential candidates over any of the Republicans. But I must admit I share Colbert King's feelings that the Bill and Hillary vs Obama thing has been ugly. Frankly, he's making it difficult to like her.

She'll get my vote regardless, if she gets the nomination. So would Obama, although my preferred candidate is John "I can't get no press despite finishing ahead of Hillary in Iowa" Edwards. But they may be turning off some swing voters - and that would be unfortunate especially if the Republicans manage to nominate John McCain, their most electable contender remaining.

Friday, January 25, 2008

a deal you can't refuse

Interesting explanation from Steven Pearlstein about the dilemma facing some big finance companies. Seems they bought $66 billion in bonds from a company called ACA Financial Guaranty, a company that insures municipal bonds. But ACA, after going heavily into buying and repackaging loans (including mortgages) only has $425 million in capital - they can't even pay a penny on the dollar.

And then mortgages tanked and ACA is essentially insolvent. And the companies that rely on it can't afford to let it collapse so they get to invest even more money in it - a deal they can't refuse.

And such are the ways of high finance.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

another republican, another gap

Political junkies all know about the gap in the tapes of Nixon's phone calls. You call that a gap - HERE'S a real gap. The White House email system failed to save a single email on December 17, 20 or 21 of 2003 - the week Saddam Hussein was captured.

Those are just 3 of 473 days (that would be over 15 months) that the White House email system failed to store ANY emails for one or more White House offices. And THAT study was done in 2005!

Funny thing is, under Clinton (Bill), the White House had an adequate email storage system. The Bushies apparently got into it when their de facto Administration began. Partly no doubt because of the ABC syndrome (Anything But Clinton). And partly because they already had that expansive view of Presidential power where they are not responsible to anybody for anything, period.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

out of their depth, and why?

Norman Chad is dissing the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders' men's basketball team for being 0-20. Mean spirited? No, actually I think Chad has a point: he says their troubles are "self-inflicted" because they decided to go to the big time in college sports.

And it points out another problem - the idea of universities seeking exposure by playing big-time sports. At some point, this begins to put the cart before the horse. I mean, isn't NJIT's strength the fact that it offers a rigorous education for would-be engineers and the like? Would NJIT's ability to hang tough in a basketball game with Army or to actually win a game against the likes of Lehigh or Texas Pan-American make any difference in that?

Reminds me of the quote from the president of the University of Oklahoma, who once famously said "We want to build a university our football team can be proud of."

Athletics are great for a school. But not everybody needs to be Division One. I went to tons of basketball games at lower division schools and the atmosphere was great. It didn't matter that it wasn't North Carolina or UCLA or Indiana on the court.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

watch out for freedom's watch

The Post is calling Freedom's Watch the "conservative answer to MoveOn."

Well, keep an eye on Freedom's Watch. And don't expect them to be like MoveOn. Expect them to be much much worse - Expect them to be vicious. Expect them to be willing to stoop to personal attacks. Expect racial stereotyping. Expect them to cry "class warfare" whenever anybody wants to give the poor a break or to deny another tax-cut to the wealthy. Expect them to be well-funded and to operate in crucial states at not just the presidential level, but at Chris Van Hollen fears, at the level of individual congressional races.

Why do I expect this sort of behavior? Because this is nothing more than another branch of the right-wing noise machine. Why should it act any differently than Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest?

They will make MoveOn look like the League of Women Voters.


Friday, January 18, 2008

romney's divine intervention

The hell with the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Or that he is a blatant flip-flopper who has gone from "more liberal than Ted Kennedy" to "more conservative than Ronald Reagan."

What's really a concern is what he imagines is a good economic policy.

Eugene Robinson comes up with a great phrase in describing Romney's idea that spending billions for research into energy will create new technologies that will make a bunch of new jobs and all. As Robinson said, asked about the economy, "Romney went all deus ex machina".

I like that phrase - Mitt "deus ex machina" Romney. Hoping for a miracle to make such an economic policy feasible. Similarly, he said in the interview in question that in order to raise money for these billions of dollars of energy research, he'd cut federal job training programs.

Oh, that'll help.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

the new celebrity

Meet Mark Malkoff. He lives in an Ikea store - temporarily, at least. He went to 171 Starbucks in 24 hours.

He is - the new celebrity. Hasn't really done anything remarkable, but he's savvy and packages what he has done, uses the web to get his face and name out there.

But at least he hasn't drowned any babies or stolen an election.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


If it weren't so sad and slightly scary, this would be funny. Seems that the Department of Justice last October took TPM Muckraker off of its press releases email list.

Yes, the United States Department of Justice, in its glorious Republican pettiness, cut off TPM Muckraker. I'm sure that had nothing to do with the massive amounts of reporting TPM Muckraker has done on the various inter-related scandals roiling Justice.

The reason that Justice's press room gave TPM? "... we have a lot of requests to be put on our media lists and we simply are not able to put everyone on the list."

Wow, I wonder what email software Justice is using?

Not getting DOJ emails because there isn't enough room to add them (to add them back on, that is - TPM was getting these releases). What a marvelous excuse, so elegantly Bush-Cheney-Rovian.

Does this reflect incompetence - i.e., showing that somebody in DOJ doesn't understand how the Internets work? Frankly, I doubt it. Policymakers don't handle this sort of request, and the people that do the actual mailing know how to use Windows.

Maybe it was an excuse derived from laziness - the political type at Justice who finally got the question simply couldn't make the effort to think of a better line?

More likely, it was sheer contempt - "Justice sneers at Talking Points Memo muckrakers and we won't even BOTHER to come up with a meaningful excuse to drop you from our mailings."

And no matter the reason, it is incredibly petty. But more seriously, it reflects the monarchical attitude the de facto Bush Administration demonstrations at every step - "who are YOU to question the King?" In GOP-land, journalists only exist to promulgate the Administration's press releases and to savage political opponents (thanks to Fox News' influence, even allegedly neutral media shows a marked right-wing bias).

This is Your Republican Party at work.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

it's an emergency

Contrary to de facto President George W. Bush's misconception, the emergency room isn't just the place of last resort for our uninsured - it is by design the place you go for urgent medical care, you know if you are having a heart attack or choking on a pretzel.

So it's disconcerting to see that the average waits in our emergency rooms are growing longer.

Half of heart attack patients wait 20 minutes to see a doctor. When you're heart's going haywire, that's a long time.

So what's the story? The Institute of Medicine says that our emergency medical care system is "overburdened, underfunded and highly fragmented."

Overburdened - that's in part because some people who don't have access to insurance go to the emergency room when whatever ails them gets too bad to ignore.

Underfunded - that's because it's not as profitable as boob jobs, laser surgery or lyposuction.

Our health care system needs work. We have great doctors and great hospitals, but a shitty way of actually paying for everything - and it shows in emergency care, too.


Monday, January 14, 2008

be proud to have enemies like these

John McCain, prematurely pronounced dead a while back, looks like he has a pretty good chance now of being the Republican nominee, assuming he can fend off god-boy Mike Huckabee, grinning skull nutjob Rudy Giuliani, silver medalist Mitt Romney, and the Reaganesquely lazy Fred Thompson.

But McCain has enemies within the Republican Party coalition, and some of them will try to do him in, in South Carolina, Michigan, and beyond.

The list identified as not liking old Straight Talking (sometimes, anyway) John include that odious maggot Grover Norquist, that supercilious god-boy Ralph Reed (both Grover and Ralph, by the way, good friends of Jack Abramoff), the National Right to Life Committee, the NRA (because McCain opposes home ownership of nuclear missiles, no doubt), the plutocratic Club for Growth which like Leona Helmsley believes that taxes are for the little people, and various anti-immigration groups because McCain is simply insufficiently bigoted for them.

Now, McCain should be proud to have them as enemies.

But that's not to say you should consider voting for McCain in November, should he get the nomination. Because McCain also has friends in the GOP. Like George W. Bush, whose disastrous Iraq project McCain supported.

And the fact is, I can name at least three people that ALL of the above McCain haters ALSO hate, that would be much better Presidents than McCain based just on policy and politics (and probably based on health and temperament too).

Their names are Clinton, Edwards, and Obama.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

i.d. theft and not being thrifty

An interesting column here by Nancy Trejos about how she was - nearly - the victim of identity theft. Somebody tried to use her debit card and other detailed personal information but didn't actually have the card, and an alert and suspicious store clerk alerted the bank before making a charge.

Worth reading, with some good advice from a helpful Arlington County, Virginia cop about how to minimize your exposure to ID theft - "Don't carry too many credit cards, debit cards or other information with personal information in my wallet. Don't use the debit card so much. If you need to use a debit card, have one with a small amount of money in the account to minimize how much of cash can be stolen. Use a marker to write a note on the back of your card asking that the merchant request an identification card. And think about asking your bank for a new card number every couple of years."

But another part of the story woke the snark in me. The police asked her where she may have used her debit card - maybe at a grocery store? But Trejos writes, "As a single, working woman, I don't cook. The last time I had been to a supermarket, frankly, was to buy bags of ice for a party."

I guess that just doesn't compute to me. I've always cooked - at least basic stuff, if not always gourmet four-course meals. It's enjoyable, it's usually healthier.

And it's way the hell cheaper than eating out three meals a day! A point that I would think might be important to a "personal-finance writer." Personal finances aren't just about mutual funds, mortgages and IRAs. SPENDING is an important element in personal finances, since money you don't spend lightly becomes available for important things like food and shelter and medical care...

And although of course we all like to eat out at least occasionally, it's frankly lame to never eat a meal at home - which is how I interpret Trejos' statement, since if she doesn't visit a supermarket she presumably doesn't even have bread and cereal and milk in the house, let alone anything complex like pasta and a jar of spaghetti sauce.

Surely, Michelle Singletary would not approve with her emphasis on sane spending.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel, again

Virginia's state legislature is considering banning people from driving and text-messaging at the same time.

This falls into the category of, Do People Really Need to Be Told Not to Do Something This Frigging Stupid? Unfortunately, the answer is obviously Yes, because people DO text-message while operating large pieces of machinery moving at high speeds.

DWT (driving while text-messaging) is incredibly dangerous. Not just because it pulls your eyes off of the road and over to the cell phone, although that's obviously extremely dangerous. But also because it distracts you from the task at hand, which SHOULD be getting from point A to point B without killing yourself or anybody else.

Virginian legislators have also tried and failed to pass a ban on driving while talking on a cellphone. Please try again - DWC (driving while cellphonetalking) is a very bad thing to do. Other states have passed laws banning this. In fact, I'd like to see the federal government require such statutes if states want to keep highway funds coming in.

States ban drunk driving, not out of any prudery against tippling but out of recognition that driving while drunk endangers the driver, his passengers, people in other cars, pedestrians, and even people sitting in their living room on the street side of their house. Again, researchers have found that DWT and DWC is even MORE dangerous than DWI.

Virginia and other states, please keep up the effort to ban this behavior. And you out there, SHUT UP AND DRIVE. Let that terribly important text message about the new tennis racket you just bought wait for a few minutes. And if you simply MUST use any device other than the steering wheel, brakes, and gas pedal, then PULL THE HELL OVER.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

don't run, michael

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is being awful coy about whether or not he'll run a third party race for President.

Bloomberg isn't a bad guy, for a billionaire. But if he runs and draws enough votes from Clinton or Obama to hand the vote to McCain or Giuliani or Romney or Huckabee or whoever, I shall be quite put out.

Ron Paul, however, SHOULD run. Let him draw some of the loonie libertarian vote from whoever gets the GOP slot.

Monday, January 07, 2008

accurate voting machines are important, eh?

Computer voting machines - a bad, bad thing. Believe the computer experts, who almost to a man oppose entrusting our elections to such devices. This New York Times magazine article goes into the gory details.

Recall the 18,000 undervotes (13%) in the Congressional race in Sarasota in 2006 (the "recount" in a close race WASN'T a recount because there were no paper ballots - it was just a case of hitting "print" again). The computer crashes in Cuyahoga county in Ohio. These things aren't reliable and I haven't even touched on the prospect for malicious interference, intentionally hacking the computers to change the vote.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

romney on the comeback! (maybe not)

We can report that Mitt "Helmet Hair" Romney has swept two-thirds of the delegates in the second contest in the Republican presidential nomination marathon.

No, you didn't sleep thru the weekend and wake up to learn that Romney swept the board in New Hampshire. He won some actual delegates in Wyoming, which unbeknownst to nearly everybody, held a caucus on Saturday.

Romney actually bothered to visit Wyoming four times. McCain, Giuliani, and Huckabee never visited, since the state violated GOP rules by moving its caucus ahead of New Hampshire's primary.

So ... this doesn't exactly represent a major shift in the attitudes of Republican voters. You will still have to pay attention to New Hampshire.


Saturday, January 05, 2008


I had to laugh. This depiction of the Green Zone in Baghdad describes how the once-hot social scene with young conservative true believers dancing in the clubs and all that has now become a rather somber quiet place, full of sober professionals who recognize the problem the Republican Project in Iraq faces. Less dancing, you can't leave the Green Zone without an armed escort - not a fun place.

But the article includes a wonderful example of optimism. The new US embassy there, that was supposed to be finished months (and billions of dollars ago) is quite state of the art. It even includes a day care center for children of American employees.

I don't know about you, but it doesn't look to me like Iraq will be the kind of place people will want to take their children to...

Friday, January 04, 2008

more republicans, more scandal

The muckrakers at Talking Points Memo have done a nice compilation of members of the de facto Bush Administration that have been tainted by scandal. It's quite long.

And it's just Republicans in the Administration. It doesn't even touch on GOP guys in the Congress or in the Alabama governor's office, etc.

You'll have to go to TPM to read the whole thing, but just for kicks, here are the names. Read them, imagine what they may have done, and read the TPM article for the full scoop.

Eric G. Andell; Claude Allen; Lester Crawford; Brian Doyle; Steven Griles; John Korsmo; Scooter Libby; David Safavian; Robert Stein; Roger Stillwell; Philip Cooney; George Deutsch; Michael Elston; Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo; Alberto Gonzales; Monica Goodling; Michelle Larson Korsmo; Howard "Cookie" Krongard; Julie Macdonald; Paul McNulty; Richard Perle; Susan Ralston; Janet Rehnquist (yes, she IS the daughter of William Rehnquist); James Roche; Kyle Sampson; Joseph Schmitz ; Bradley Schlozman; Thomas Scully; David Smith: John Tanner; Sara Taylor; Ken Tomlinson; Carl Truscott; Paul Wolfowitz; Stuart Bowen; Lurita Doan; Alfonso Jackson.

This is your Republican Party. Don't be surprised.

i am not a crook!

I'm a pretty law-abiding guy. I pay my taxes. I obey the speed limits (within the 5 mph margin of error we always hope traffic cops will grant us). I don't torture animals, I've never kidnapped an ex-lover, my high school episodes of vandalism were limited to toilet papering houses and throwing an occasional egg, and (although I fully support the right to do so) I don't even smoke pot or take any recreational drugs except for alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine.

I am also supportive in general of intellectual property rights. I understand why the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) went after the guys who ran Napster.

But now the RIAA calls ME a criminal, and to paraphrase the eminently twisted philosopher Dee Snider, I'm not gonna take it. At least, I won't take it quietly.

What have I done to offend the RIAA? I have, gasp, actually taken CDs that I purchased and copied them onto my computer. I have NOT made them available on-line. I do not file share.

I have downloaded about four albums in my entire life -- all ones made available for free legal download by the groups. Hell, when Radiohead released their latest album and said "name your price," I put $10 on the digital barrelhead when I could have downloaded it legally for free. I buy CDs. I buy a lot of them. Dozens in a year.

So I resent being told that making a copy for personal use is criminal activity. Why do I copy them? So I can listen to them while I'm surfing the web, blogging, playing games, whatever on my PC, which is located in a different room from my stereo. Yeah, I could just stick the CD into the drive and play it, but having it on the hard drive frees up the CD-drive for a computer game. Importantly, it also allows us all to make a copy of a song from a CD that we can load on our MP3 players.

How is this different from copying a vinyl album onto a cassette so you could listen to it on your car stereo or on your Sony Walkman? Yes, I understand that if it's on the computer it could be swapped on-line. And I don't really care if RIAA goes after people doing that. But it is absurd to argue against the long-established practice of copying something you purchased legally to listen to on a different format.

I do not cheer when I see news like this - album sales in 2007 declined 9.5%. I LIKE music, I like buying CDs rather than (legally) downloading individual songs because I prefer listening to music in album-sized chunks. And I know that many many artists, producers, etc do not approve of the RIAA's single-minded and counter-productive campaign to make criminals out of their customers in such a way.

But it doesn't win the RIAA support among those of us who understand their concerns when they make such absurd logical and legal overreaches in their flailing, desperate attempts to adapt to a new media.


d'oh, sleeping again

Sleeping guards at nuclear power plants? Not the image you like even if you think the terrorist threat is exaggerated...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

aiding and abetting identity theft

There are organizations out there that have personal data on you on their computer networks and feel no compunction about making it available to anybody who's curious, without asking about their intentions.

There are organizations out there that have personal data on you on their computer networks and don't feel the need to protect it adequately.

Somebody should tell the government, right? Well unfortunately both the willing provider and the lax protector are government agencies.

I'm afraid I don't have any good solution to this. It's unlikely you can stop dealing with government agencies (federal, state and local), whether to get a drivers license, file tax forms, or buy or sell a house.

But you can try contacting politicians at all levels to let them know you don't appreciate your personal data being made widely available on-line (which is, if they hadn't noticed, totally different than being available to anybody who wanted to come downtown to the courthouse to look thru the paper records) to people who don't need it.