January 26, 2006

Reuters Reporter Downplays Record Home-Sales Results

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 9:58 pm

In her report yesterday on existing home sales, Reuters reporter Kristin Roberts chose to emphasize a one-month decline in December and negative anecdotal information from the Midwest, while failing to give her readers favorable big-picture data that had been handed to her on a silver platter.

Here’s how the press release from the National Association of Realtors that served as the starting point for Ms. Roberts’ report began:

Existing-Home Sales Down in December But 2005 Sets a Record

Existing-home sales declined in December but easily set an annual record, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales – including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – were down 5.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 6.60 million units in December from an upwardly revised pace of 7.00 million in November. Sales were 3.1 percent lower than a 6.81 million-unit level in December 2004.

There were 7,072,000 existing-home sales in all of 2005, up 4.2 percent from 6,784,000 in 2004. This is the fifth consecutive annual record; NAR began tracking the sales series in 1968.

Now no one would expect Ms. Roberts to copy and paste what the NAR gave her, or not to bring in other relevant information where appropriate. But it’s fair to ask her not to omit material facts. Here are paragraphs 1 through 8, plus paragraphs 11-12, from her report:

December existing home sales fall but 2005 a record

Home resales in the United States fell 5.7 percent in December to the lowest level since March 2004 as the market cooled on the back of slowing Midwest economies and the loss of investors, a trade group said on Wednesday.

But for the year, 7.072 million existing homes were sold, making 2005 the fifth record year in a row, the National Association of Realtors said.

“So, 2005, when we look back, was the best year in housing in recent memory, probably of all time,” said David Lereah, the group’s chief economist.

December’s sales rate of 6.6 million units compared with an upwardly revised 7.0 million unit pace in November. That includes both single-family homes and condos.

Analysts had expected overall sales to decline to a 6.90 million unit annual rate in December from an originally reported 6.97 million unit rate the previous month.

“Even though we are close to the peak and we are still going to see spurts in activity, we will eventually see the housing market slow,” said Anthony Chan, chief economist at J.P. Morgan Private Client Services in Columbus, Ohio.

December’s drop in existing home sales signaled further cooling in the U.S. housing market after five years of gains that shattered construction and sales records and sent prices up more than 55 percent nationwide.

The decline in total sales for the month was driven by a 6.8 percent drop in single-family home sales. Condo sales rose 1.6 percent in December.

….. “This is not a boom-related cooling in the housing market. These are a lot of non-boom (metropolitan areas), metros that never experienced a real estate boom, metros in Texas, metros in Ohio, metros in Michigan that are experiencing a slowdown because of a slowing in the economy,” he (Lereah) said.

In fact, while the number of homes available for sale nationwide declined by 4.4 percent to a 5.1 months’ supply at the current sales pace, inventories in non-boom markets increased, Lereah said.

Here is some of the data I extracted from the one-page PDF the NAR linked to their press release for full-year existing-home sales, percentage changes in December (“December” label added by me), and median sales prices (medians are for all sales that occurred during the year):

HomesDec2005

Here are salient facts Roberts owed her readers:

  • She totally ignored the 4.2% full year-over-year existing-home sales increase NAR noted, and, for that matter, the remarkable increase of over 14% in the past two years.
  • The anecdotal evidence she attempted to construct from her selected outside experts to support a contention that “the market cooled on the back of slowing Midwest economies” doesn’t hold up for the region as a whole. No hard data for individual “Midwest economies” was presented. But the Midwest’s seasonally adjusted existing-home sales performance in December was the second-best of the four regions compared to both November 2005 and December 2004. Midwestern median sales prices also increased nicely from 2004 to 2005, and the region’s December’s median sales price of $173,000 (not seasonally adjusted, and not shown) was higher than those of the previous three months.
  • Since she appeared so willing to include contrarian quotes, Ms. Roberts could have balanced the report by paraphrasing these very important points made by Mr. Lereah in the press release: “The level of home sales activity is now at a sustainable level, and is likely to pick up a bit in the months ahead. Overall fundamentals remain solid, driven by population and employment growth as well as favorable affordability conditions in most of the country, so we expect the housing market to remain historically high but lower than last year’s record.”

Overall, Ms. Roberts’ report leaves one with an incorrect impression of a housing market at the beginning of a decline. She succeeds in that attempt by ignoring any and all data and comments that would jeopardize her premise. A very poor, and very biased, performance.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Passage of the Day: Mark Steyn on the Fate of the “Unilateralists” and Their Opponents

Filed under: Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:01 pm

What follows are the first two paragraphs from a longer article that is unfortunately behind The Wall Street Journal subscription wall:

Remember the conventional wisdom of 2004? Back then, you’ll recall, it was the many members of George Bush’s “unilateral” coalition who were supposed to be in trouble, not least the three doughty warriors of the Anglosphere — the president, Tony Blair and John Howard — who would all be paying a terrible electoral price for lying their way into war in Iraq. The Democrats’ position was that Mr. Bush’s rinky-dink nickel-&-dime allies didn’t count: The president has “alienated almost everyone,” said Jimmy Carter, “and now we have just a handful of little tiny countries supposedly helping us in Iraq.” (That would be Britain, Australia, Poland, Japan . . .) Instead of those nobodies, John Kerry pledged that, under his leadership, “America will rejoin the community of nations” — by which he meant Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, the Belgian guy . . .

Two years on, Messrs. Bush, Blair, Howard and Koizumi are all re-elected, while Mr. Chirac is the lamest of lame ducks, and his ingrate citizenry have tossed out his big legacy, the European Constitution; Mr. Schröder’s government was defeated and he’s now shilling for Russia’s state-owned Gazprom (“It’s all about Gaz!”); and the latest member of the coalition of the unwilling to hit the skids is Canada’s Liberal Party, which fell from office on Monday. John Kerry may have wanted to “rejoin the community of nations.” Instead, “the community of nations” has joined John Kerry, windsurfing off Nantucket in electric-yellow buttock-hugging Lycra, or whatever he’s doing these days.

And if the Unliateralists had followed conventional “wisdom” and insisted on working through the UN, they’d still be waiting for meaningful action.

Frey’s Lies: Oprah Moves into Damage-Control Mode

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Corporate Outrage,Scams — Tom @ 12:21 pm

From the NY Observer’s Media Mob blog, which endured today’s Oprah show (HT Drudge):

Oprah on Frey: “I Was Wrong”

On today’s live Oprah Winfrey show, Ms. Winfrey apologized to her audience and to readers of her book club.

“I apologize, I was wrong,” Ms. Winfrey said, about her support of author James Frey. The Smoking Gun released an investigation of disputed facts in Mr. Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, earlier this month. She also said, “I regret my phone call to Larry King,” referring to her live phone call to the talk show host, in which she blamed the publishing industry for not disclaiming the memoir. “The truth matters,” Ms. Winfrey said, and: “My judgement was clouded.”

Mr. Frey’s publisher, Nan Talese, said on the show that she found the whole experience sad. “It’s not sad for me,” said Ms. Winfrey. “It is embarrassing.”

After a number of disclosures, including his inability to recall whether he had actually experienced the infamous root canal without pain medication that he recounted in his memoir, Mr. Frey said that “there were no other major issues.” No questions were asked about the title character of Mr. Frey’s second memoir, My Friend Leonard.

Well, it’s a step, taken under duress, made in the knowledge that her credibility was in full-flush mode.

Perhaps she thinks this will stem the tide of criticism.

Maybe it will. No, make that it probably will. But it definitely shouldn’t.

In light of all that has happened, including the allegations in The New York Times earlier this week that Frey’s account of his rehab stay were not only largely false, but that their falsehood was at least known to some people at Oprah’s company, if not Oprah herself, the big question, asked and asked and asked again, remains unanswered: “What did Oprah know and when did she know it?” (Jan. 27: See Update 3 below for Oprah’s answer.)
__________________________

ALSO: Gawker has a more complete blow-by-blow of Frey’s appearance. Oprah apparently did the ticked-off parent role with Frey pretty well (seems like there’s no direct response to the “What did you know?” issue), while Frey owned up to some lies, and the audience was in no mood to forgive. Nice, now that he’s a rich guy off of them.

PLUS: A couple of choice comments at Gawker –

EvilMinion:
I loves me an Oprah smackdown. You go girl. While you are at it you may want to smack down the staff members who ignored the early warnings from Hazelden. You may want to smack yourself for being such a self rightous tool.

Juvenal:
The sad part? His book sales will jump tomorrow. Oprah’s ratings will have shot up and her image will remain impeccable. I will be unable to sell my memoirs.

____________________________

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has links to other comments and video.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times quickly pushed a piece onto the web today by Edward Wyatt. Selected excerpts:

Oprah Calls Defense of Author ‘a Mistake’

….. Ms. Winfrey apologized to her audience for her call to “Larry King Live” earlier this month defending the author. Today, Ms. Winfrey, alternately fighting back tears and displaying vivid anger, berated Mr. Frey for duping her and her audience.

“I gave the impression that the truth does not matter,” Ms. Winfrey said. “I made a mistake.” To all of the viewers who called and wrote to her telling her she was wrong to allow Mr. Frey to maintain that his book reflected the “essential truth” of his life even though substantial details were falsified, Ms. Winfrey said, “You are absolutely right.”

“I feel duped,” she said. “I don’t know what is true and I don’t know what isn’t,” she said, before addressing Mr. Frey with the question, “Why did you lie?”

Ms. Winfrey chose “A Million Little Pieces” in September for her popular television book club, and it sold more than two million copies within the next three months, making it the fastest-selling pick ever for her book club.
….. On Thursday, Mr. Frey said of the Smoking Gun report, “Most of what they wrote is pretty accurate.”

….. Ms. Winfrey asked if he made up the material because it helped him cope or because he thought it would help sell books. Mr. Frey responded, “Probably both.”

UPDATE 3, Jan. 27: A fuller NYT piece this morning indicates that Oprah has (perhaps successfully; we’ll see) pushed a lot of the onus for the book’s falsehoods back onto the publisher:

Ms. Winfrey also acknowledged that she had received an early warning that parts of “A Million Little Pieces” were fictionalized from a former counselor at the center where the book takes place. Eight days after she picked the book in September, a former counselor at Hazelden, the Minnesota treatment center now identified as the one where Mr. Frey stayed, contacted her producers and told them that many parts of the book were untrue.

Ms. Winfrey said that she had had her producers ask the publisher about the allegations, but that they were reassured the book was accurate. She had harsh words during the broadcast for the publisher, Ms. Talese, who said that neither she nor anyone at Doubleday had investigated the accuracy of Mr. Frey’s book. She said the company first learned that parts of the book had been made up when The Smoking Gun published its report, nearly two years after the memoir was first published.

“An author brings his book in and says that it is true, it is accurate, it is his own,” Ms. Talese said. “I thought, as a publisher, this is James’s memory of the hell he went through and I believed it.”

But Ms. Winfrey pointed out that her producers had asked about reports of the book’s truth in September, after the Hazelden counselor raised doubts, and that they were reassured by Random House.

“We asked if you, your company, stood behind James’s book as a work of nonfiction at the time, and they said absolutely,” Ms. Winfrey said. “And they were also asked if their legal department had checked out the book, and they said yes. So in a press release sent out for the book in 2004 by your company, the book was described as brutally honest and an altering look at — at addiction. So how can you say that if you haven’t checked it to be sure?”

Ms. Talese replied that while the Random House legal department checks nonfiction books to make sure that no one is defamed or libeled, it does not check the truth of the assertions made in a book.

Ms. Winfrey replied, “Well, that needs to change.”

It also appears that Mr. Frey’s literary future isn’t quite as rosy as it was a few weeks ago, and that the publishing industry is resigned to having to do more to vet nonfiction works:

In a statement, Penguin said it was considering what action to take regarding its book. About a contract it recently signed for two more books from Mr. Frey, the company said: “The ground has shifted. It’s under discussion.”

Mr. Frey has previously said he offered “A Million Little Pieces” to publishers first as a work of fiction, then as a memoir. But he has also said that in changing the book’s designation from fiction to nonfiction, he did not change anything in it.

One former publisher said he believed that the publishing industry would have to change its practices at the behest of its biggest patron, Ms. Winfrey. Laurence J. Kirshbaum, who recently retired as the chief executive of the Time Warner Book Group and who now runs his own literary agency, said in an interview yesterday that “there is no question what she said will have a far-reaching impact on our business.”

“Agents, publishers and authors are all going to have to be much more cautious in the way they approach the nonfiction market,” Mr. Kirshbaum said. “Traditionally, publishers have not done fact-checking and vetting. But I think you are going to see memoirs read not only from a libel point of view but for factual accuracy. And where there are questions of possible exaggeration or distortion, the author is going to need to produce documentation.”

We can only hope.

The Franken-stein Monster That’s Eating Air America Radio

Filed under: Business Moves,Corporate Outrage,Economy,Scams — Tom @ 11:14 am

Brian at Radio Equalizer has the latest on Air America’s Radio’s Al Franken (HT Michelle Malkin).

It is a very painful but instructive read on the mindset of this supposedly “compassionate” poster boy for the American Left.

A reasonable question: Have the exorbitant salaries paid to Franken and his AAR entourage (oops, I meant “staff”) prevented AAR from fully repaying the loan it unethically obtained from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club?

Two other reasonable questions for someone like Mr. Franken, who is being paid way north of $1 million per year (and not earning it, based on benchmarking against the pay of other talk hosts with better ratings): Aren’t you the least bit embarrassed that (from all appearances) this loan has not yet been repaid? And what are YOU doing to make sure repayment occurs?
__________________________________

Previous Posts:

_____________________________

Jan. 28: Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

Rubin’s Revisionomics Reduced to Rubble

Filed under: Economy,News from Other Sites,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:12 am

Yesterday, Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin burned up 2,000 words (link requires subscription) attempting to revise economic history, and succeeded only in showing us that we were lucky he didn’t always get his way when he was in charge.

Gregg at PunditReview.com and Don Luskin both did masterful jobs of fisking Mr. Rubin.

But first, a bit of the Rube himself:

….. The proponents of supply-side theory who assert that tax cuts will wholly — or even significantly — pay for themselves (through increased growth and federal tax revenues), appear to be no more accurate now than they were in the ’90s. Then, they argued that tax increases included in our plan to address fiscal deficits were likely to lead to massive job loss, but what followed instead was the longest economic expansion in our history. Moreover, while 10-year fiscal deficit projections are inevitably unreliable, these forecasts could just as readily turn out to be low as to be high. What actually happens will always involve factors cutting both ways — the unexpected costs for Katrina and unbudgeted costs for Iraq and Afghanistan are already projected to exceed the unexpected tax revenues.

Here’s Gregg on this howler: “Historical evidence has demonstrated that tax cuts have increased tax revenues to the federal treasury. Three times in 1900s (the 20s, 60s, and 80s) taxes were cut across the board. All three cuts stimulated the economy substantially and immediately and resulted in increases in tax dollars to the federal treasury.” As have the Bush cuts of the early 2000s. Gregg also has significant data on the effects of the various 1920s across-the-board tax cuts that show that supply-side econ was working a full 50 years before the term was first coined.

Back to the Rubemeister:

….. Finding the balance that best promotes economic growth in this context could well call for revenue increases as well as spending discipline, as evidenced by the ’90s, when a mixture of spending cuts and targeted tax increases was followed by years of strong growth, powerful job creation and rising incomes. Moreover, any revenue-increasing measures should reduce, not exacerbate, our growing income gap.

We’ll let Don Luskin take this one with a HUGELY overlooked point that explains why the late 1990s saw tax revenues and stock market valuations explode (bold is mine):

….. It’s a lie to say that the expansion “followed” the Clinton tax increases. The expansion began in March 1991 — and Clinton didn’t even take office until almost two years later (and his tax hikes weren’t implemented until several months after that). ….. As supply-side theory would predict, they resulted in virtually no greater tax revenues than had been expected before the hikes were conceived and enacted — they were thus a deadweight loss to the economy. ….. The positive surprise (in tax revenues) versus expectations started in 1997 and the years after. What happened in 1997? A Republican congress cut the capital gains tax. So it all went just perfectly according to supply-side theory.

Gregg’s and Don’s posts, plus this one from a few weeks ago, should be all you’ll ever need to blow away the “supply-side doesn’t work” arguments.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ Links (012606)

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:45 am

This is a day for links to longer items, so there are only a few.

Free Links:

  • Yesterday, Brian Anderson had a must-save piece at OpinionJournal.com on the direction “Campaign Finance Reform” is taking us. It’s not pretty, unless you like the idea of being forced to give some other clown equal time at your blog every time you express something that resembles a political opinion. And yes, that’s where it could go.
  • This puff piece from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland reminds me that a year ago tomorrow at the last WEF meeting, CNN’s Eason Jordan suggested that US troops in Iraq were “targeting” journalists. His remarks were reported on January 27 by a tech guy, Rony Abovitz, who couldn’t believe what he was hearing (specifically “Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted.”), and was astonished at the relative lack of reaction by those in attendance. Attempts to justify and/or excuse Jordan’s remarks were futile, as they fit a pattern of unsupported criticism of military conduct on Jordan’s part over many years. Two weeks later, after unrelenting pressure from bloggers like Captain Ed, Hugh Hewitt, and Michelle Malkin, he resigned. Many believe that the resignation was forced when CNN saw a video (never released to the public) of Jordan’s speech and realized there was no wiggle room. WORM (Worn-Out Reactionary Media) outlets, even The Wall Street Journal, resisted reporting the controversy, and when it happened, resented Jordan’s unmasking and resignation deeply. Wall Street Journal reporter Bret Stephen even chauvinistically described Malkin as “suspended between meltdown and release.” I think it’s safe to say that the controls on releasing information this year at Davos will be so tight they squeak.
  • Even if the meeting information flow is cut off, it seems that some involved with the WEF Forum I just mentioned can’t help themselvesMartin Qumsiyeh writes (HT Le Mont de Sisyphe) in the WEF’s Global Magazine: “Global civil society ought to boycott Israel until it ends its apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians.” Nice.
  • Actions have consequences — In today’s OpinionJournal.com, Steven Hanke and Stephen Walters look at the effects the recently passed “Wal-Mart Tax” (first item at link) will have on Somerset County, Maryland. The company was planning to build an 800-employee distribution center in the county, the state’s poorest — and now won’t. The economic opportunity the state has effectively passed on is scandalous. I guess it’s only collateral damage to those who think they have a monopoly on “compassion.”

Positivity: Montana and New Zealander Reunited

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:03 am

Another Internet search attempt bears fruit and ends 47 years of separation:

Old Friends Reunited after 47 Years

By Emma Hartley
January 19

If laughter is the best medicine then Ken Rees and Bruce Peterson must be two of the healthiest men alive.

Theirs is a friendship which has spanned several decades, at least two countries and has included among other things a lot of laughs. The two men have now been reunited after 47 years and plan not to lose touch again.

The pair met in 1956 in Christchurch. Mr Peterson was a member of the United States Navy and his ship had docked at Lyttelton to refuel after returning from Antarctica.

He had decided to jump ship for a while and see what the area had to offer so he headed off to the local motorcycle track, which was in Aranui at the time.

After missing the last bus back to Lyttelton, Mr Peterson decided to hitchhike and was picked up by Mr Rees and his family, who were also travelling back from the motorcycle track where Mr Rees had been competing.

They have been friends ever since and regularly saw each other when Mr Peterson’s ship docked in Lyttelton to refuel. His last trip to New Zealand was in about 1959.

Over the next decade or so the men kept in touch through their mothers, who had struck up a friendship. However when Mr Peterson’s mother died in 1977, the pair lost touch.

Despite no communication for more than 20 years, the men never forgot about each other and would regularly pull out old photos and reminisce about the good old times with their families.

A few years ago, Mr Rees, who lives in Mt Somers, enlisted the help of his son to help him search for Mr Peterson on the internet. After looking up Montana and addresses, he typed in Bruce Peterson and got eight hits, narrowing it down to two by looking at a hanky he had with a map of the Montana area.

After calling the first number he hit the jackpot. Mr Peterson’s wife, Evelyn, answered the phone and immediately knew it was New Zealand calling!

“I couldn’t wait for him to come home to tell him,” she remembers.

What followed was a few years of e-mails and phone calls, with the men calling each other once a month, before a snap decision saw Mr and Mrs Peterson make the trip to New Zealand with their daughter Michelle. She is in the airforce and stationed in Hawaii so the pair decided to make a round trip and will be stopping in Hawaii again on the way home.

Since being in New Zealand, they have visited Christchurch to see Cathedral Square, Timaru, Geraldine, Waimate (to see wallabies) and today they head to Lyttelton so Mr Peterson can see how much the area has changed. The couple have also tried wild pig, lamb and venison and spent many late nights catching up on the years they have missed.

“The highlight of the trip has been catching up,” Mr Peterson said.

….. The next big catch up session will be when the Rees’ head over to Big Sandy, Montana, something they know will also be an experience of a lifetime.