August 31, 2005

Bob Taft Should Resign (Strike Two)

Filed under: General,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 5:31 pm

STRIKE ONE: The ethics convictions–Original Resignation Post from August 18.
________________________

From the Toledo Blade, regarding the state’s failed investments with Tom Noe (HT: the R-Rated Whistleblower, who wonders why we only see prominent information about this in a Toledo newspaper; bolds are mine):

COLUMBUS – At a 2004 roast of Tom Noe, Gov. Bob Taft talked about rare coins and giving money to the Toledo-area coin dealer, but he did not make a direct reference to the $50 million rare-coin investment that now, a year later, has enveloped his administration in scandal.

Mr. Noe’s penchant for fine wine was so well-known it was an opening joke in Mr. Taft’s roast of him, a speech delivered with razzes about golf, Mr. Noe’s waistline, his status as a college dropout, and his “100-room mansion in the Florida Keys.”

The August, 2004, speech includes oblique references to rare coins and money but not a direct reference to the state’s failed investments with Mr. Noe, something the governor insists he did not know about until it was reported in The Blade on April 3, 2005.

Legislators have said that if Mr. Taft – who was convicted earlier this month of ethics violations connected to the scandal – is not being truthful, they would call for his impeachment.

William Wilkinson, lawyer for Mr. Noe, said the governor knew about the coin investment from a May, 2001, conversation he had with Mr. Noe. Mr. Wilkinson allowed that Mr. Taft might have forgotten.

The lawyer said yesterday that the statements in the roast “were consistent with the proposition that he knew.”

“I think there is a limit to how much that is going on around you that you can be oblivious to,” he said.

So what did Bob Taft really know about Noe and when did he know it?

Answer: Obviously more than he claimed to know about Noe back on April 3.

Mr. Taft should resign. Not that I personally give a rip about timing, but Mr. Taft might consider that with all eyes focused on the hurricane damage, a resignation, while it certainly won’t be ignored, won’t get anywhere near the attention it would have two weeks ago, or probably two weeks from now.

If Mr. Taft won’t resign, the above information, which appears irrefutable, should be enough to convince the Ohio House to follow through on the promise noted in the article, get off their butts, and impeach him.

The Governor’s spokesman has said that Mr. Taft is not “governed by polls,” which currently show a narrow plurality saying he should resign (HT Viking Spirit). Nothing wrong with that; he should instead be governed by what’s left of his conscience, and get out.

UPDATE: Though I never sent a letter (maybe I did send an e-mail), I received this form letter from Mr. Taft dated September 1:

Thank you for your letter expressing your concern about my failure to file complete financial disclosure statements with the Ohio Ethics Commission. I have accepted full responsibility for these errors and I am very disappointed in myself that in this instance I did not live up to the high standards that I have set for public employees in the State of Ohio.

I hope you will understand that my mistake, though serious, was not an intentional one. Upon becoming aware that my forms were imcomplete, I took the initiative to notify the Ohio Ethics Commission, pledged my full cooperation, and provided all the information to assist the Commission in bringing its investigation to a conclusion.

I have fully disclosed, reimbursed the appropriate individuals for the cost, paid my fine, and made a public apology to the people of Ohio.

I hope you will accept my sincere and heartfelt apology. It is now time to move forward and continue to do the job that the people of Ohio elected me to do — working to build school buildings and improve our schools, creating more jobs with the help of our tax reform plan which reduces state income and sales taxes, and moving Ohio ahead in every possible way.

Sincerely,
Bob Taft
Governor

When Disaster Strikes: The Noble and Ignoble

Filed under: General,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 11:33 am

Katrina’s devastation has made it difficult to even think of blogging about anything else.

Disasters of this magnitude tend to bring out the best and worst in people. Here’s a roundup of a bit of both–It’s not too difficult to tell which category each piece falls in:
- Michael Daly of The New York Daily News: “It’s Our Turn to Help Biloxi”
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: “For They That Sow the Wind Shall Reap the Whirlwind” (who says that the storm is the fault of the Governor of Mississippi; you won’t believe why)
- Instapundit has an excellent collection of Katrina relief charities to donate to, a “Carnival of Relief” as he calls it, which he is keeping bumped to the top of his home page.
- Looters, the cockroaches of humanity in these kinds of situations, are apparently out in full force. Michelle Malkin has a roundup of the grimness. I have been and continue to be unapologetically in the “shoot ‘em” camp for genuine looters ever since the New York blackout in the 1960s.
________________

UPDATE: EU Rota unearths and charts the truth about hurricane frequency, and shows that hurricanes have been striking the US at a LOWER rate since the early 1950s. This reveals as total lies the it’s-global-warming’s-fault claims of Robert Kennedy Jr. and Germany’s Environmental Minister. If you extended EU Rota’s information and used the the twisted reasoning of Kennedy et al (a reasoning method not employed here at BizzyBlog), it would be an argument FOR expanding the use of things that cause global warming, so as to further reduce hurricane frequency!

August 30, 2005

Quote of the Day (083005): On Accounting Firm KPMG’s “Abusive Tax Shelters” Settlement with the Feds

Filed under: Economy,Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:35 pm

The Wall Street Journal, on the $400-plus million-dollar settlement accounting firm KPMG has agreed to with federal prosecutors over “abusive tax shelters”:

In the meantime, the finger-waggers in Congress might acknowledge their role in creating the 6,000-page, 2.8-million-word, tax code Frankenstein that facilitates the tax-avoidance industry. President Bush’s tax-reform commission is due to report at the end of September. Here’s hoping that a simple system with a low rate that encourages voluntary compliance will lead its list of recommendations.

The Journal notes that KPMG could have fought, gone to trial, won, and found itself in the same position as Arthur Andersen ended up in with Enron: a dead winner. Then we’d have three dominant international accounting firms instead of four, with all the negative competitive implications that situation would have caused.

Don’t get me wrong; I have plenty of bones to pick with fellow members and the large firms in the profession whose credential I carry. I just think that the Feds should be indicting individuals, including the managing partners and other firm executives. Instead, they are indicting (or threatening to indict) the firms themselves, which in Andersen’s case ended up killing the firm, and in KPMG’s case would likely have done the same, punishing everyone in the firm equally regardless of innocence or guilt. In the meantime, the actual perpetrators, if they are indeed guilty (which thanks to the lack of individual trials we’ll never know), are getting off the hook.

But, getting back to the quote, the more complex the code, the more opportunities there are for being “creative.” If Congress would gut the current Internal Revenue Code and replace it with a flat tax, or go with the most ambitious idea of totally replacing the income tax with something like the FAIR tax, the opportunities for “creativity” would mostly go away.

Beginning West Coast Blogging Week: Free Credit Reports Available to All on Sept. 1; Ignore “Free Report” Pretenders

Filed under: General,Money Tip of the Day,Scams — Tom @ 11:08 am

BizzyBlog will be on business in California most of the week; hence the late morning post. Hopefully during the rest of the week I’ll be able to get posts ready the previous evening and defer them until the next morning so you, dear readers, can have new info to look at here early each Eastern-Time morning.

The Money Tip of the Day is that the final phase of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) relating to the availability of annual free credit reports kicks in just two days from now on September 1, allowing those in the following states to get free reports once every 12 months: CT, DE, DC, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, VT, VA, WV. Some of the states just mentioned (MA for one) already had this availability under previous state laws.

So finally, two days from now, everyone will be able to get their credit report from each of the three bureaus once every 12 months using one of three methods: Internet, phone, or mail.

The contact info is:

Online: www.annualcreditreport.com
Phone: 877-322-8228
Mail: Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Credit reports are free. Credit scores are not.

This previous post suggested, thanks to online crooks who appear to have gained the ability to compromise Secure Sockey Layer security and successfully pose (site seal and all) as someone else, that getting your free reports by phone is safer that going online.

Since everyone in the country is now eligible for the annual report using the above means, you can officially once and for all ignore all the other noise you hear on the radio and see on TV about how to get “free credit reports.” These ads are really come-ons for free credit-monitoring services. The Federal Trade Commission recently cracked down on deceptiveness of these ads, so if we’re lucky we won’t be hearing or seeing any of them again.

August 29, 2005

Quote of the Day (082905): Victor Davis Hanson

Filed under: Quotes, Etc. of the Day — Tom @ 3:05 pm

If you don’t like Victor Davis Hanson, you can only hope that what he says is ignored, because it cannot be refuted.

I first saw this in the “Other Comments” section of Forbes (scroll about halfway down):

If the Dead Could Talk

Indeed, if our dead could rise out of their graves they would surely rebuke us for our present blasphemy–shaking their fingers and remonstrating that Bin Laden and his followers, both active and passive, are no different from Hitler and the other evil killers of their own age, who deserve to be defeated, not reasoned with or apologized to, and not understood. The voices of our dead abroad murmur to us, the deaf, that a nation is liked not by being good and weak or bad and strong, but only by proving both principled and resolute.

– Victor Davis Hanson,
Hoover Institution, National Review Online

More Unhappy Kelo Ruling Supporters

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 5:55 am

In the wake of the Kelo ruling, politicians around the country are finding the renewed belief in the idea that a “person’s home is their castle” (despite what the Supreme Court says) really annoying.

In St. Louis, projects that could be getting the Kelo green light are getting stalled by (oh my) worry about voter backlash (bolds are mine):

Ruling has unexpected effect here – it stalls projects

In the fight to save her home from a bulldozer, Kathy Tripp suffered what looked like a major blow in June.

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities can condemn people’s houses for private development. It seemed that a shopping center soon would replace Tripp’s Sunset Hills home.

Her loss was supposed to be a gain in Florissant. There, a plan to revive some less-than-holy property near the historic St. Ferdinand Shrine hinged on some extra government muscle to buy land. It got some from the Supreme Court.

But in just two months, the tables quickly have turned. Fueled by a backlash, the Florissant plan was killed – at least for now. Tripp, meanwhile, says her battle has found new life.

Across St. Louis and the nation, the court’s controversial June 23 decision initially was viewed as a win for developers and cities – and a crushing blow for small property owners. So far, it hasn’t worked out that way.

Instead of running rampant, the use of condemnation has stalled. Two such projects in the St. Louis area have failed. In Sunset Hills and other places, opponents of eminent domain are finding new ammunition and support.

“The Supreme Court did us a tremendous favor,” said Tripp, who has lived 22 years in Sunset Hills. “Before the (court) ruling, this kind of thing went on, but nobody knew about it. Now, people are starting to listen to us, thanks to the Supreme Court.”

While the trend has been cheered by property rights advocates, it worries others who think that legitimate projects might be shot down and that development will tilt even more away from older urban areas, such as St. Louis.

Oh boo hoo.

And in Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania (see, BizzyBlog goes to the deepest nooks and crannies of the world to get news; bolds are mine):

The words “eminent domain” had barely settled on the audience before Ambridge Council tabled the resolution.

The measure, introduced at council’s Aug. 8 meeting, would have endorsed a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the use of eminent domain for economic-development purposes “as a last resort.” But council quickly veered away from it as soon as residents in the audience, particularly those affected during the borough’s last big eminent-domain case when property was seized for a CVS drugstore, began speaking against it.

The Supreme Court ruling sparked an almost instantaneous backlash in Congress, and heated debates in Washington, D.C., for the last month and a half. But while even mentioning eminent domain elicits emotional responses, some local officials say the ruling doesn’t really change how Pennsylvania municipalities can use the law, and rushing to add limits now could hurt communities seeking revitalization projects in the future.

“Redevelopment would be much more difficult if we didn’t have that tool to exercise in a reasonable and intended fashion,” said Frank Mancini Jr., executive director of the Beaver County Redevelopment Authority. “Eminent domain can be abused, but it is a tool Beaver County sure needs when it is absolutely necessary.”

The politicians don’t like it a bit when voters are energized.

That’s nice, but human nature being what it is, the citizen involvement and oversight, while it has shown good staying power, won’t last, and the definition of “reasonable and necessary” will eventually start pushing the limits now allowed by the Supremes.

Legislative solutions are needed, and state governments need to be pressured to pass something, uh, concrete.

August 28, 2005

Quotes of the Evening (082805)

There is a bumper crop of quotes tonight. Maybe I should spread them out so I can do less original blogging (comments and e-mails agreeing with that sentiment are not welcome).

(Click “more” to read the delicious collection of prosaic punditry assembled for you)
(more…)

Cindy Sheehan, Through the Google News Goggles

Filed under: Business Moves,Corporate Outrage,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 5:55 am

The pros and cons of Cindy Sheehan’s protest, her views, and the people she has chosen to associate herself with have been chronicled and debated ad nauseam, and I’m not going to cover any of that ground again.

But I do want to take a fresh look at a complaint from conservatives and center-right bloggers that has been building for some time, and the Sheehan story seems like the best opportunity for doing it.

Part of the conservative and center-right blogger objection has to do with the sheer volume of coverage Ms. Sheehan and her cohort have received and continue to receive, as Sister Toldjah noted back on Tuesday.

But it goes way beyond the number of stories. The concern is that the primary Internet news filters (Google, Yahoo, and MSN, but especially Google) are attempting to, and are largely succeeding at, imposing the same loathesome liberal biases and filters onto Internet news stories, news source selection, and news source exclusion that have been so apparent in The Mainstream Media for so many years.

So the Sheehan story is a good test case to see whether loopy and far-left sources, stories, and opinions with no new information or analysis are seen as legitimate news, while newsworthy and/or thoughtful pieces that advance the discussion coming from the conservative and center-right side of the spectrum are ignored.

Google was the news search engine I tested, as it’s the most widely read (though not by much, according to MSN and Yahoo).

Various Google news searches on “Cindy Sheehan” (in quotes) and “‘Cindy Sheehan’ hero” (“Cindy Sheehan” in quotes) on August 21 revealed many “interesting” articles published by Google-sanctioned sources. Search results change constantly, so you won’t be able to replicate the results of a week ago, or necessarily succeed in finding the items in your own news search; also, all links won’t necessarily work at all times.

Here is just some of what I found:

To be fair, I noticed a precious few independent and center-right sources: WorldNetDaily (a few times), ChronWatch.com, RedState.org, BlogCritics.org and PowerlineBlog’s scary-good news site.

But in relation to the Sheehan story, two newsbreakers were notably absent from Google News, even as sources for anything (meaning that a search on the source with “Sheehan” as the search topic yielded a message “source ‘________’ not found):

  • Matt Drudge (“not found” proof here-look right under the search entry), who revealed that a mainstream newspaper covered Sheehan’s meeting with George Bush shortly after her son died and had had kind things to say about the President.
  • Michelle Malkin (“not found” proof here), who with the help of blogger Dang If I Know, broke the story that Sheehan’s husband had filed for divorce well before any other mainstream media outlet.

If Drudge’s and Malkin’s items aren’t “news,” what is? Based on my blog rounds during the past two weeks, I am quite sure that a number of other center-right bloggers have had news worth noting on the Sheehan saga and have been similarly excluded.

Here’s another gem: David Brock’s Media Matters for America is a Google-sanctioned news source; Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center is not.

So this much was obvious last week about the summer saga of Cindy Sheehan:
— One mother, out of more than a thousand who have lost her sons in the war in Iraq, has been getting an astoundingly disproportionate level of media coverage.
— Far-left sources, almost all of which have had nothing new to report, have been allowed into Google News as sources with legitimacy equal to that of published newspapers and licensed broadcasters.
— Many center-right blogs and reporters with real news and analysis have been shut out, not just from the Sheehan story but from having their content considered newsworthy at all.
— The number and shrillness of the far-left and conspiracy sites that Google has sanctioned, combined with the sources of valid conservative and center-right news and information that it has excluded, has influenced the national discussion about her. The only debate is how much. There can be no doubt that Google News’s biased selection and exclusion process has to some degree assisted the pro-Sheehan forces.

Past experiences reported by center-right bloggers who have attempted to become Google-sanctioned sources, including Charles at Little Green Footballs (LGF), indicate that the exclusion of conservative and center-right voices by Google is no accident. Charles at LGF was the first person to definitively demonstrate that the documents used by CBS in a story about George Bush’s Air National Guard service were forgeries, but was rejected as a sanctioned source by Google News.

The obvious conclusion that comes out of what I have found in the Sheehan situation with Google News is this: Conservative and center-right news sources and views are being marginalized out of at least one leading Internet news source in much the same way they have been shut out of or ignored in Mainstream Media coverage for decades.

This may also be occurring at MSN and Yahoo (LGF notes that there is good reason to be concerned about Yahoo). Though there are more ways to fight back in cyberspace, this is still is not a pleasant prospect.

To borrow from Roger Daltrey (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”):

Meet the new filters, same as the old filters.

_________________________

TO BE CLEAR: I am NOT suggesting that most of the above cited sources should be excluded from Internet news searches (but Mumia, who should long ago have forfeited his free-speech rights, has got to go). Though I am sure it has the potential to become unwieldy, I’m suggesting MORE inclusiveness across the board. The folks at Google, MSN, and Yahoo should be able to handle the extra load, and the public deserves viewpoint diversity.
_________________________

A (sort of) Backup Source: This list, which purports to show all US Google News sources that had entries since March 22 of this year, supports what I have noted about the exclusion of Drudge, Malkin, and Media Research (i.e., they’re not on the list), and the inclusion of Media Matters for America. It may not be complete, however, since many of the far-left sources that had real Sheehan-related entries aren’t on this list either, even though most of them seem to be US-based.
_________________________

UPDATE: Sent this message at the Google News suggestion page re Media Research Center: “Folks, this is a source that does on the conservative side exactly what Media Matters for America (which you have allowed as a source) does on the liberal side. They both critique current news coverage and comment on errors, omissions, and slants in reported news stories. MRC has been doing this for over 20 years; Media Matters has been at it for about three. I would suggest, now that you know, that you would be unfair to Google News readers if you continue to exclude MRC. I expect a response to this e-mail as to whether you have chosen to add MRC or have rejected them.” Update to Update, Sept. 1: Got an e-mail from Google News, indicating that MRC had been approved. This of course leads me to wonder whether they have tried to get in previously. I have e-mailed MRC informing them of my e-mail and asking whether they applied earlier and got rejected.

UPDATE 2 (file under “shameless self-promotion”): Whoever developed the sophisticated search engine algorithm that yielded this result on “Bob Taft, impeachment” is a genius. Look at who is at number 6 as of 3PM on August 28 (down from #1 a week ago, darn it). It seems that Yahoo may have customized its news search for Fox, as I can’t replicate the result at Yahoo’s main news search. In fact, BizzyBlog can’t be found at all in a regular Yahoo.com news search (oh the humanity).

August 27, 2005

This Weekend’s Unanswered Questions (082705)

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,General,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 7:01 am

Another installment in a nearly-regular series of mysteries and pseudo-mysteries (usually 3-4) this inquiring mind would like to have answers for (some links may require free registration)–This one should probably be filed under “How to alienate almost everyone in a single post”:

Click “more” to see the questions and discussion.
(more…)

Congratulations To Weapons of Mass Discussion on their 2nd Blogaversary

Filed under: General,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 6:57 am

Well, that’s how they spelled it, so I’ll go with it.

Seriously, Matt and Mark, as one who has been at it for barely more than six months, two years is no mean feat, and probably puts you in the top 2% of blog seniority (ya feel old now?). I also like the new logo.

WMD was an early member of BizzyBlog’s Local Yokels blogroll, which is in a sense unfair, because they also do a great job commenting on national and international news. In fact, guys, I’ll move you to the primary blogroll if you’d prefer it. It’s a near-daily stop for me, is indeed one of the best blog names ever, and I highly recommend it to all.

August 26, 2005

Huggins Follow-up: Comparing Basketball Program Graduation Rates

Filed under: General,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:10 pm

ORIGINAL POST: The Bob Huggins Situation
___________________________

A commenter at the previous post on Bob Huggins’ firingmutual agreement to terminate” claimed that “(Nancy) Zimpher’s graduation rate for students and student athletes when she was … ‘chancellor’ of the University of Wisconsin is reportedly worse than that of UC (University of Cincinnati) and Huggins.”

The only available data in the graduation rates section of the NCAA’s web site is for players who began their college careers in the four academic years ending in 1997-1998 (i.e., ’94-’95, ’95-’96, ’96-’97, and ’97-’98). The fairest comparison would be for basketball players only. The data support the commenter’s claim for students who began their academic careers at each respective school (MIDDLE column):

UC Basketball:
Rows UCgrad
UWM Basketball:
Rows UWMgrad

So the score is UC 25%, UWM 15%. Go here if you want to have your head spin and see an Explanation of the rates.

No one has any bragging rights, as you’ll note that both schools had 0% for black “student-athletes.” But the obvious point is that the place Ms. Zimpher came from didn’t do any better than UC did under previous president Joseph Steger and Huggins, at least in the data I was able to find. So her talk about raising the bar at UC, when the bar, at least for black kids, was just sitting there on the ground at UWM, is a little hard to take, especially since she was Chancellor there for five years and could certainly have done something about it.

If anyone knows how to find more information than appears to be available at the NCAA web site, e-mail me.
____________________

UPDATE: Mike Meckler at Red-State.com (hey Mike, I remembered to link this time) says that while he can agree that the timing of Huggins’ firing was poor, he still thinks it needed to be done.

UPDATE 2: A WhistleBlower quote without a link: “Of the 65 teams that were in the 2005 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the institution with the lowest graduation rate for basketball players was the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, whose previous Chancellor was none other than Nancy Zimpher.”

UPDATE 3: An alphabetical list of schools the 2003 NCAA basketball tournament (corresponding with Zimpher’s last year there at UW-Milwaukee), and which appears to have been project at the University of Central Florida Business school, reveals the following:

University of Cincinnati:
All basketball players: 17%
African-American basketball players: 0%
All “student-athletes”: 53%

UW-Milwaukee:
All basketball players: 14%
African-American basketball players: 0%
All “student-athletes”: 64%

Again, UW-Milwaukee basketball comes out a bit WORSE than UC.

Exactly when did Nancy Zimpher have an epiphany about “raising the bar”?

Or was UW-Milwaukee somehow not worthy of her bar-raising efforts? How does that make y’all feel in Beer City?

UPDATE 4: Only in America.

Correction: Bob McEwen’s Condo Is Not For Sale

Filed under: General,OH-02 US House,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:02 pm

A very informed source tells me this, which is contrary to “my understanding” noted near the end (in the last bullet) of this previous post. The incorrect understanding apparently arose from the fact that another condo in the same building is for sale.

I communicated “my understanding” based on a Project Logic post that he proactively brought to my attention, and sincerely regret the error. I’m tentatively assuming that Project Logic’s error was inadvertent, but am attempting to confirm, and will update if I learn anything new.

It remains an open question as to whether McEwen, who in his concession speech on the night of the 2nd Congressional District Primary said that politics is “in my blood,” is or will be spending the majority of his time in Ohio or Virginia. My bet is Virginia for a lot of reasons, this being just one.
______________

UPDATE: This county county real estate listing shows that the McEwens still own the condo, the address of which is listed at McEwen’s personal home page, and is therefore public information (i.e., no one’s privacy has been compromised).

I’m Tired of the Oil-Price and Oil-Supply Obsessions

Filed under: Economy,Environment,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:17 am

BizzyBlog has officially hit the wall when it comes discussions of “record high” oil prices and “peak oil.” A quick definition of “peak oil” is this: “the belief we’re going to run out of oil all of a sudden and the world as we know it will end.”

Oil prices and “peak oil” dominate much of business news coverage. Along with the “housing bubble” (to be dealt with in another post in the future), they seem to be the only business and economics topics that break out from the financial pages to the front pages of American newspapers and the lead stories in TV newscasts. Especially as there is plenty of good economic news, even really good news, that deserves more attention, it’s getting very tiresome.

The breathlessness of the reporting about the oil price and supply situation has become nearly comical. My e-mail box is plundered daily, sometimes multiple times a day, and even occasionally once every 15 minutes, by “Breaking Business News” from CNN telling me that oil is up, down, or steady, that supplies are higher or lower, blah-blah. Guys, I subscribed to your e-mail service to get late-breaking news about the entire economy, not an oil-price ticker tape.

The oil obsession meter went into the red last weekend with The New York Times Sunday Magazine piece called (oh no!) “The Breaking Point.”

It naturally repeats the falsehood that the barrel price of oil and the gas price at the pump are at “record” levels, when on an inflation-adjusted basis they aren’t, and would have to go up in the neighborhood of 20% to get to record levels. A rare reference to that truth can be found in the eighth paragraph of this Associated Press report.

But the piece’s main purpose is to convince us that the supply of cheap oil is diminishing, that oil prices are likely to shoot to stratospheric levels in a relatively short time period, and that (of course) governments must “do something.”

The article reflects a fundamental lack of faith in the ability of the markets to adjust on their own. Just one example cited earlier by BizzyBlog: the “we’re running out of landfill space” preoccupation of the 1980s turned out, thanks to human ingenuity, to be a myth. Operators got more garbage into less space, and are continuing to do so. Crisis solved.

As to oil, economics blogger Freakonomics notes that the sky-is-falling crowd has repeatedly erred, but refuses to learn (bolds are mine in this and other excerpts):

One might think that doomsday proponents would be chastened by the long history of people of their ilk being wrong: Nostradamus, Malthus, Paul Ehrlich, etc. Clearly they are not.

What most of these doomsday scenarios have gotten wrong is the fundamental idea of economics: people respond to incentives. If the price of a good goes up, people demand less of it, the companies that make it figure out how to make more of it, and everyone tries to figure out how to produce substitutes for it. Add to that the march of technological innovation (like the green revolution, birth control, etc.). The end result: markets figure out how to deal with problems of supply and demand.

The incomparable Thomas “Four Hands” Sowell agrees (esteemed economist Walter Williams, no publishing slouch himself, gives Sowell this appellation because of prolific writing output). Sowell says it’s simply a matter of having the will to produce:

Today production is being held back …. by political hysteria whenever anyone suggests actually producing more oil ourselves. Organized nature cults go ballistic at the thought that we might drill for oil in some remote part of Alaska that 99 percent of Americans will never see, including 99 percent of the nature cultists.

People used to ask whether there is any sound if a tree falls in an empty forest. Today, there are deafening political sounds over oil-drilling in an empty wilderness.

Nor can we drill for oil offshore, or in many places on land, again for political reasons. Nor can we build enough refineries or even build hydroelectric dams as alternative sources of power.

Many of the same people who cry “No blood for oil!” also want higher gas mileage standards for cars. But higher mileage standards have meant lighter and more flimsy cars, leading to more injuries and deaths in accidents — in other words, trading blood for oil.

Apparently the only things we can do are the things in vogue among nature cultists and the politicians that cater to them, such as windmills and electric cars. That is why we would be better off if the government did nothing and let people adjust their own energy consumption individually in their own ways as the prices of gasoline and fuel oil rise.

Freakonomics goes further and calls the the oil price obsession “the media’s new version of shark attacks”:

So why do I compare peak oil to shark attacks? It is because shark attacks mostly stay about constant, but fear of them goes up sharply when the media decides to report on them. The same thing, I bet, will now happen with peak oil. I expect tons of copycat journalism stoking the fears of consumers about oil induced catastrophe, even though nothing fundamental has changed in the oil outlook in the last decade.

Unfortunately, The Freak is probably right.

Of course, sudden shocks, such as supply cutoffs by hostile countries and the like, could cause big price swings, and I won’t discount the potential negative consequences of a major supply disruption. But that’s not what the doom-and-gloom people are worried about. They think we’re sleepwalking towards disaster regardless of world events. They’re wrong, they’re incredibly annoying, and I’m not going to get sucked into it. While of course you should do everything you can to conserve energy and keep your spending on it under control, don’t be duped by the Chicken Little crowd.
___________________

August 26, 9PM: Outside the Beltway Jammer.

August 27, Noon: Wizbang Carnival participant.

August 25, 2005

Bizzy’s Biz Links of the Evening (082505)

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Privacy/ID Theft — Tom @ 9:14 pm

Three things I caught in the business news today and why they’re significant:

  • General Motors Continues Employee Pricing–The fact that employee pricing has stayed in place for so long is obviously due to poor sales using the traditional pricing model at GM and Ford. The longer employee pricing stays in place for everyone, the higher the likelihood that the companies will abandon the “haggling with the dealers” selling model that infuriates so many buyers. I personally hope so.
  • Jeff at Credit/Debt Recovery, in the course of discussing subscriber difficulties in cancelling AOL’s service (they seem not to be able to find the “off” button for automatic hits to checking accounts and credit cards), makes a point: “Credit protection plans are completely worthless, despite anything your credit card company tells you. There is no reason to sign up for credit protection plans. Don’t do it. Ever. If you have one, call and cancel now. Do it now!” Hear, hear. Although I suppose at some point someone might structure one of these plans to where they make sense, the current expensive plans that are out there are potential multimillion-dollar revenue hogs that merely take advantage of paranoid consumers and provide little value. Besides, if the credit bureaus and data warehouses do what they should do or (more likely) get forced to do what they should be doing on their own through legislation, consumers will be able to freeze their credit and once-vulnerable data will be routinely encrypted (Solution 1 at the link).
  • Tom Yager at Infoworld has a cautionary tale for those who automatically assume that your card company, even Amercan Express, will remove a bogus charge that appears on your credit card statement. Apparently even a pretty quick response won’t guarantee a favorable resolution.

The Economy (Ho) Hums Away: More Good Economic News They Think You Can’t Use

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 11:07 am

In a 15-minute cruise through the major business news sources, I find at least four items of economic news that if they had occurred in mid-late 1990s would likely have received front-page level prominence.

1. Good news in the employment market:

New jobless claims sink: total claims lowest in 4 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week and the four-week average of people receiving benefits dropped to the lowest level in more than four years.

The Labor Department said 315,000 newly laid off workers applied for jobless benefits, a decline of 4,000 from the previous week, providing evidence that solid economic growth is showing up in an improving labor market.

2. The same article also contains this hidden gem about likely economic growth in the current quarter:

Many analysts believe the economy, which grew at an annual rate of 3.4% in the spring, is powering ahead at an even faster pace above 4% in the current July-September quarter.

Imagine that.

3. The housing market continues to be strong (so the author has to water it down with bubble worries, even though contrasting data between new and existing home sales would ordinarily reduce the concerns about excessive speculation):

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new home sales surged to a record in July, fanning the debate about whether the torrid housing market is an investment bubble poised to pop.

New home sales in July grew 6.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.41 million from 1.32 million in June, the government reported.

The government data contrast with numbers released Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors, which showed a slowdown in the market for existing homes. The trade group said July sales of homes fell 2.6% to an annualized rate of 7.16 million from June.

I believe a year from now we’ll still be hearing about the housing bubble that hasn’t happened but is just around the corner. Yes, there are problems with overleverage and loan quality, but the market’s self-correcting mechanisms seem to be reining in some of the excesses, as this article about REITs shows.

4. Finally, good news for long-term wealth distribution–”Biz Startups by Women, Minorities Surge” (with a really dumb mistake in the text):

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Boom goes the growth rate of businesses owned by minorities and women.

A Census Bureau survey shows that minority groups and women are outpacing the national average when it comes to owning their own business.

The Survey of Business Owners showed that the total number of businesses in the nation grew to 23 million in 2002 from 1997, with minorities owning about 18 percent of those enterprises.

The surging number of minority- and women-owned ventures helped the nation’s businesses rake in $23 trillion in 2002.

I don’t know what the right number is, but $23 trillion is laughably wrong, given that total GDP for the entire economy in 2002 was about $11 trillion at the time.