January 27, 2006

Positivity: Angel Flight Southeast Had a Busy 2005

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

Angel Flight Southeast, Inc. is a non-profit volunteer pilot organization involved in “public benefit flying.” They mostly arrange free air transportation by private aircraft to distant medical facilities when commercial service is not available, impractical or simply not affordable, and serve patients in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. They are a division of Angel Flight America, the National volunteer pilot organization.

Angel Flight Southeast had a special 2005:

(more…)

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.)
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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?
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Previous Posts:

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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.

January 25, 2006

Frey’s Lies: The Oprah Spin Cycle Begins

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Scams — Tom @ 7:50 pm

Today I received a PR e-mail, presumably in reaction to my various posts about the devastating Smoking Gun and New York Times articles that skewered and essentially disproved the truthfulness of James Frey’s book, “A Million Little Pieces.”

The release is dated January 18, so I don’t know whether the author is fully aware of what yesterday’s New York Times piece did to what remained of Mr. Frey’s and Oprah’s credibility.

But, for the record, if you can stand it, here are the first five paras:

Christian Prison Evangelist Sides with Oprah Winfrey over “A Million Little Pieces” Controversy

Christian prison evangelist Marty Angelo speaks out in support of television talk show host Oprah Winfrey and her stand on the “redemptive” value of author Jim Frey’s controversial best-seller “A Million Little Pieces.”

LOS ANGELES, CA (PRWEB) JANUARY 18, 2006 -— In the wake of recent controversy over the issue of embellishments and unverified facts in author James Frey’s best-selling book, “A Million Little Pieces,” Christian prison evangelist Marty Angelo today spoke out in support of television talk show host Oprah Winfrey and her stand on the “redemptive” value of Frey’s controversial best-seller.

Angelo has recently finished writing a book entitled, “Once Life Matters: A New Beginning,” chronicling the true story of his struggle as a major entertainment industry executive caught up in a life of drugs, booze, rock/disco music, and a six-year sentence to a federal prison for possession and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. It is a powerful, life-changing account of his delivery from addiction, and is scheduled for release on January 30, 2006.

“I think Oprah should be commended for not only standing behind her ‘redemptive’ remarks regarding Frey’s book, but also for her willingness to keep the book on her ‘Oprah’s Book Club’ picks list,” said Angelo during a recent Christian drug rehab founder’s meeting.

While Angelo does not condone the inclusion of fictional elements in a book marketed as non-fiction, he says, “The controversy surrounding the recent accusations that Frey embellished some of his statements in his book is relatively minor compared to the fact this man claims he cleared one of the biggest hurdles in his life—his substance abuse. That’s the bottom line issue.”

“Right now the media seems to be negatively attacking the messenger instead of concentrating on promoting the positive message of redemption, as Oprah so clearly points out,” Angelo adds. “In terms of the benefit to readers as a self-help book, the message is the key issue, not the minor story details. One needs to stay focused on what the real message is—overcoming addiction.”

I cannot come up with words to describe the contempt I have for people like Mr. Angelo who remain so willfully blind, and who should (and I believe actually do) know better.
_________________________________

UPDATE: John Leo’s sarcastic column title sums it all up — “Lying Isn’t So Bad If It Makes You Feel Good”

Kelo Sand Springs Church-Taking Update:
The Case Gains National Attention

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:44 pm

Most recent developments:

  • Ralph Blumenthal of the New York Times has a story today (requires free registration) excerpted below on the Centennial Baptist Church controversy.
  • The matter is receiving a great deal of local and national attention — (from the Times article) “The Sand Springs Leader stepped up coverage of Mr. Gildon, and a local radio host, Dillon Dodge, broadcast a program on the dispute. ‘Hannity and Colmes,’ the talk show on the Fox News Channel, plans a program from Sand Springs on Wednesday, Ms. Wilhelm said.” Heather Wilhelm is the author of the National Review Online article that has ultimately led to the Sand Springs Project’s national visibility.
  • Contrary to contentions in the comments section at another blog (which also erroneously characterized this entire controversy as a “hoax”), vision2025.info IS the official web site of Vision 2025, per David Arnett of Program Management Group LLC in Tulsa, which operates the web site.
  • I also spoke with Mr. Arnett on his personal take in the Sand Springs matter, which I will go into after The Times excerpt.

Now to The Times story (excellent journalism — since I’ve beaten up on them often in the past, they deserve their due on this one; bolds mine; links within article added by me):

Humble Church Is at Center of Debate on Eminent Domain

SAND SPRINGS, Okla. – With bulldozers churning up the earth at the front door, the small Centennial Baptist Church in this struggling industrial hub west of Tulsa seems about to fall to the wrecker.

But the construction is just roadwork, for now. And that is all it will ever be if the congregation has its way.

“The Lord didn’t send me here to build a minimall,” said the longtime pastor, the Rev. Roosevelt Gildon.

In what a local newspaper called “a battle between God Almighty and the almighty dollar,” Sand Springs is moving ahead with a redevelopment plan to clear the church and other occupants from the rundown district near downtown to make way for superstores like the Home Depot.

“I’m open to anyone telling me how we’re going to pay for city services,” said Mayor Bob Walker, who said the city was seeking to negotiate fair prices with Mr. Gildon and other property owners – 41 offers have been accepted – and would use eminent domain only as a last resort.

Strengthened by a United States Supreme Court ruling last summer that approved the condemnation of private property by New London, Conn., for resale to other private interests for what the court called “public purpose,” municipalities around the country are considering similar forced takings, to a chorus of opposition by local interests and state legislators.

….. Here in Sand Springs, a city of 17,600 on the Arkansas River founded by Charles Page, the oilman, industrialist and philanthropist, the redevelopment plan dates from 2003. County voters agreed to add fractions of a penny to the sales tax for special projects, in the Sand Springs case $14.5 million to acquire private tracts on 96 acres along the highway for redevelopment.

But the project was thrust into the national spotlight on Jan. 17 with an article posted on National Review Online by a conservative group, Americans for Limited Government, based in Glenview, Ill., that has been working with Oklahomans in Action and other groups to gather signatures for the “Protect Our Homes” movement and budget-curbing measures on state ballots.

….. City officials, mortified at being portrayed as villains, protested that they had not seized any property and might not. “Eminent domain is not being used at this time to acquire property,” City Manager Loy Calhoun said in a statement Friday. “Media reports to the contrary are inaccurate.”

But in interviews, Mr. Calhoun and Mayor Walker acknowledged that it remained a last resort if the city and property owners could not agree on price.

Mr. Gildon, sitting in a pew of the church that he has led for 14 years, the last seven in a new building that cost $90,000, said he and other leaders of the congregation met last week with a relocation agent working for the city, the Cinnabar Service Company, and came away believing that they had little choice but to sell.

“If you tell me this is going to happen,” he said, “that tells me it’s eminent domain.”

He said the offer of $142,000 for the church and two extra lots was not enough to move to a new location where he could serve his 50 or so regular members. He said he was “praying over” the question of a counteroffer. “If I have to move,” he said, “we’re not going out of existence.”

“….. (he) said he told city officials, “The Lord did not lead me here to sell out the church.”

If the parties cannot agree, a team of three appointed appraisers devises a final offer, and whether or not the seller is happy, the city can take it for that price – and sell it to someone else.

Other property owners in the first 25-acre redevelopment zone said they felt that the city’s initial offer of $1 a square foot was far too low. A fairer figure, several said, would be $8.50.

“I don’t have a problem with the city,” said Joe Harrison, who runs the Firestone dealership downtown. “I just don’t want them stealing my land.”

In the Muffler Stop a few blocks from the church, Ernie Nanney said the city first offered him $65,000 “which is less than I paid 25 years ago.” He said that he counteroffered $350,000 and that the city came back with $85,000. (NOTE: Based on this, the status of the Muffler Shop at this post has been changed to BEING TAKEN; note that the McDonald’s in the area is NOT–Ed.)

In her small wood-frame house on Oak Street, Ray Jean Smith-Knight, 72, said that when she grew up a few houses away the neighborhood was “a little old Wall Street” of black professionals, and survivors of the Tulsa race riot of 1921 were welcomed to Sand Springs by Charles Page.

Ms. Smith-Knight said that she had yet to receive a buyout offer and that despite the deterioration of the area did not relish leaving.

“I’m not happy about it but I don’t have a choice,” she said. “So many people have passed away that used to be fighters. One or two cannot fight.”

Leave it to Reverend Gildon to cut to the chase: The forced acceptance of the city’s offer, with the threat of eminent domain backing it up, means that the government’s expanded right of eminent domain (thanks to Kelo) made the property transfer happen, whether or not the city is ever forced to condemn the property.

David Arnett’s Take

Mr. Arnett and I had an extensive conversation about the Sand Springs project and his personal views of it. Here are the main things I took away from it:

  • City officials are sincere in their belief, and he also believes, that they are doing what they believe is in the best interest of the community, and they don’t want to have to use eminent domain.
  • The area involved is very blighted, and most people living there are renters in non owner-occupied housing. Most have been oblivious to the city’s hopes and plans for the area, though they have been known and publicized for many years.
  • There are properties in the area that have been sitting idle for 20-30 years and more.
  • If the church doesn’t sell and most others in the area do, Rev. Gildon’s congregation, who apparently mostly walk to church now, will have mostly moved out on him, and may not come back for services.
  • It’s a low population-density community that he believes won’t be able to do effective development on a piecemeal basis, because no single retail enterprise can justify being the first one in.
  • If the city and county’s agenda is going to be questioned, the agenda of others involved in this fight should be brought to light.

All right. Let’s assume for the moment that everyone involved in all sides of this controversy, regardless of their “agenda,” is sincere and believes they are doing the right thing.

It still all comes back to Kelo. Before that ruling, the city, for better or worse, would have had no choice but to let the Centennial Baptist Church stay right where it is, and to let any other holdouts do the same. Kelo changed that. On balance, I don’t believe that’s a good thing.

As I said in this previous post about New London, CT:

“If the Kelo Seven are being selfish, shortsighted, obtuse, etc., it’s their right. They earned that right when they took ownership of their property. So-called larger societal goals beyond those that truly benefit the common good (roads, bridges, etc.) don’t enter into the equation.”

I believe that the same holds for the Reverend and others in the Sand Springs Project area.

If enough people decide my view of things is wrong, the proper avenue for redress is to appropriately amend the Constitution. It is not pretending, as the majority in Kelo did, that it allows something it clearly doesn’t.
_______________________

UDPATE, Jan. 25 3PM ET: In an e-mail, Mr. Arnett provided me with the city’s Jan. 20 response to the original NRO article. His e-mail added, in part (his opinions, not mine):

Sand Springs is a delightful small community, but the area in question is in desperate disrepair. The majority of homes in the area designated are not owner occupied – slums really – and empty warehouses that have sat unused for so long that even metal For Sale and For Lease signs have rusted falling to the ground. The area is considered blighted in the heart of the city adjacent to an expressway. That expressway provides traffic counts of significant levels to draw investment from retail, dining, and entertainment entrepreneurs beyond what a small city could measure otherwise. Thus, the location is critical for a higher quality of life Sand Springs residents’ desire.

….. I do certainly understand the concern over the recent Supreme Court “Kelo” decision. From what I can gather, the Phillips Foundation and Americans for Limited Government are both fine efforts, but Sand Springs, Oklahoma is not the poster child for a campaign to reverse Kelo.

_______________________

Selected Previous Property Rights Posts:

Yet Another Reason (As If Needed) to Drill in ANWR

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:14 am

Richard L. Russell, writing in OpinionJournal.com (may require free registration), provides a very compelling reason:

Oil for Missiles
Our friends the Saudis make friends with the Chinese.

….. Humiliated by their dependence on Washington for survival in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Saudi royal family has long been seeking to forge closer ties with Beijing in the hope of reducing their dependence on the U.S. The Saudis began moving in this direction even before the first Gulf War, secretly negotiating a deal with China in the mid-’80s to purchase CSS-2 ballistic missiles. That was an affront to the Reagan administration and its policy of preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles. But the Saudis risked American ire because they saw Iran, Iraq and Israel all armed with ballistic missiles and did not want to be left out. In return, China won hard currency for the missile sale, as well as diplomatic relations with Riyadh in a snub to Taiwan.

Since 9/11, and the American public’s backlash over the fact that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, Riyadh’s search for a new strategic partner has assumed fresh impetus. China, for its part, is importing ever increasing amounts of oil from the Gulf to fuel its rapidly expanding economy. That has prompted a degree of paranoia over “energy insecurity.” Beijing military strategists worry that, because they lack America’s “blue water” navy, the country is potentially vulnerable to a U.S. blockade of oil shipments from the Gulf to China.

Hence the mutual interest in a closer relationship demonstrated during King Abdullah’s three-day visit, which ended yesterday. For all the headlines about the agreements he signed with President Hu Jintao on issues such as energy cooperation and double taxation, it’s a safe assumption that strategic issues were also on the agenda away from the bright lights of the media. Saudi Arabia’s CSS-2 missiles are now obsolescent and Riyadh would welcome modern Chinese models as replacements. For Beijing, that offers a useful tit-for-tat should Washington agree to further large arms sales to Taiwan.

Suddenly the idea that Saudis might turn off the spigot doesn’t seem so outlandish. And it’s not like China doesn’t have the hard currency to pay for as much oil as its energy-sucking economy needs.

Jan. 29: Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

Here We Go Again: Another Faux Author?

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Scams — Tom @ 9:35 am

The literary world’s January of facing cold, hard facts has just gotten a bit chillier.

First, it was James Frey (third item at link).

Then it was JT Leroy.
.
Now there’s Nasdijj the Navajo:

Navahoax

Did a struggling white writer of gay erotica become one of multicultural literature’s most celebrated memoirists — by passing himself off as Native American?

Is it time to ask the publishing industry to do a bit of due diligence before it puts out nonfiction books yet?

Update, Feb. 6: The answer to the question in this post’s title is “YES”:

Mystery of author JT LeRoy ends with partner’s confession

SAN FRANCISCO: A writer that penned novels claiming to be “JT LeRoy” has now been unmasked by The New York Times as a 40-year-old San Francisco woman who claimed she rescued LeRoy from a hard life on the streets.
Laura Albert was the author behind the ruse, said Geoffrey Knoop (kuh-noop), her recently estranged partner of 16 years.

Knoop has now apologized for playing a role in the hoax. He says the stress of keeping it secret had become too much to bear.

LeRoy’s gritty novels were purported to be based on his own experiences of drug addiction, prostitution and life on the streets.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ Links (012506)

Free Links:

  • iTunes traffic soarsUp 241% in the past year to 20.7 million unique visitors in December 2005. Nielsen has come up with some interesting comparisons of iTunes users vs. the general population.
  • Someone’s getting nervous — Iran Blocks BBC Persian web site.
  • Survive This Howler — “US reality TV show winner Richard Hatch has told a court he thought the show’s producers would be paying tax on his $1m winnings from the programme.”
  • One word: Collectibles — Austrian police have recovered a $60m (£33.9m) 16th Century figurine stolen in 2003 called Saliera, or salt cellar, after a suspect turned himself in.
  • The TimesSelect service of The New York Times has 156,000 paying subscribers — That is up from 135,000 reported in mid-November (first item at link). I don’t see how they get above 250,000 by the one-year anniversary of the service in late September. Even 250,000 subscribers would translate to only about $12 million in revenue, which isn’t enough to matter for a company this size. Then the big question will be how much attrition occurs at renewal time. The company’s overall fourth quarter of 2005 was not good. EU Rota has more about the Times’ elitism.
  • Yahoo! gives up quest for search dominance — Have you ever seen a company besides Avis concede that they’ll be number 2, and they don’t care?
  • When you hear the Big 2 US automakers tell the story, you have to believe that healthcare costs make US plants uncompetitive. Then why is Ford closing one plant and reducing another to one shift in that supposed universal healthcare mecca known as Canada (third paragraph at link)?
  • Another UN scandal of billion-dollar proportions.

Subscription required:

  • Fluoridated Spring Water? — So you and your kids don’t drink tap water? Dentists are expressing concern that kids aren’t getting enough fluoride. (It’s always something, isn’t it?) So some bottlers are stepping into the breach and have come up with fluoridated lunch-box size versions of their spring-water brands. One thing I didn’t know: Some water springs actually have fluoride already.
  • Quote of the day, on compassion“Compassion and altruism are moral only when voluntarily rendered.”

Positivity: Handbag with $110,000 in Jewelry Returned

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:09 am

The Good Samaritan only wanted to be known by her first name:

(more…)

Internet Wall of Shame Update: Google Cements Its Position

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:20 am

Googag

– from Michelle Malkin

Here’s a roundup of the basic news for those who need it, and selected comments from the blogosphere about Google’s China annoucement.

“HARD” NEWS

Breitbart/AP:

Google agrees to censor results in China

Online search engine leader Google Inc. has agreed to censor its results in China, adhering to the country’s free-speech restrictions in return for better access in the Internet’s fastest growing market.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company planned to roll out a new version of its search engine bearing China’s Web suffix “.cn,” on Wednesday. A Chinese-language version of Google’s search engine has previously been available through the company’s dot-com address in the United States.

….. To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country’s government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.

Although China has loosened some of its controls in recent years, some topics, such as Taiwan’s independence and 1989′s Tiananmen Square massacre, remain forbidden subjects.

Reuters:

Google says offers self-censored Chinese service

Web search leader Google Inc. said on Tuesday that it was introducing a new service for China that seeks to avoid a confrontation with the government by restricting access to services to which users contribute such as e-mail, chat rooms and blogs.

The new Chinese service at http://www.google.cn will offer a self-censored version of Google’s popular search system that restricts access to thousands of terms and Web sites.

Pajamas Media has a longer treatment courtesy of Newstex.

EXCERPT FROM Reporters Without Borders statement:

“The launch of Google.cn is a black day for freedom of expression in China,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The firm defends the rights of US Internet users before the US government but fails to defend its Chinese users against theirs.

“Google’s statements about respecting online privacy are the height of hypocrisy in view of its strategy in China. Like its competitors, the company says it has no choice and must obey Chinese laws, but this is a tired argument. Freedom of expression isn’t a minor principle that can be pushed aside when dealing with a dictatorship. It’s a principle recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and features in the Chinese national constitution itself.

“US firms are now bending to the same censorship rules as their Chinese competitors but they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the Internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking. These firms’ lofty predictions about the future of a free and limitless Internet conveniently hide their unacceptable moral errors.”

SELECTED BLOG comments:

  • Stephen Green“What they’re doing isn’t only evil in and of itself, it’s willingly acting in concert with the far greater evil of the Chi-Com dictatorship.”
  • Democracy Project“If this were 60-years ago, would Google be agreeing to censor out news of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in order to have access to Nazi Germany’s Europe? Why are we tolerating this corporate immorality?”
  • Publius Pundit“….. it makes me wonder — just a little — what its motivation is to resisting the U.S. government and giving in to the Chinese. Perhaps they should change their motto to, ‘It’s just business.’”
  • UnCorrelated is not troubled“The American view of the public interest isn’t a universal ethic.” Sorry, I’m not buying. This isn’t about “the public interest,” it’s about the basic human right of free speech and expression. His bomb-making instruction analogy is silly.
  • The Zero Point“Don’t Be Evil, Except When You Help Oppress Freedom”
  • Stones Cry Out” Does filtering search results rise to the level of being truly “evil”. No, not really. But it does make it complicit in doing a disservice to Chinese users who want to learn about what freedom really means.” Hey Stones, that’s exactly why it IS evil.
  • Kaiser Snuggle“As GOOGLE claims they needs to protect people in the US who maybe searching for child porn, the gladly cooperate with the commies in China for fear of losing market share. Although GOOGLE may be right to fight the US government on privacy grounds, there is no excuse for their (and everyone else’s) behavior in China.”
  • The Tension“This is a business decision in a market where free speech isn’t a right. If you don’t understand the concept I submit that you need to open up your narrow view of the world. It’s just further proof that Google is the Wal-Mart of the Web.” Zheesh.

__________________________________

UPDATE: Data Poobah, who turned Google’s Code of Conduct back on itself: “….. this is why Codes of Conduct, Vision Statements, Etc. have such a dismal reputation among American corporate workers. They’re either rah-rah bs designed to get us to put more time and effort into a company than it’s worth. Or simply a waste of time to keep the executives busy.”

UPDATE 2: RConversation points out a few mitigating circumstances (e.g., users will definitely know they’re being shut out of content, which is not the case with other search engines in China; there will supposedly be an ability to go to the old US-based Google service, which though slower, is apparently less filtered; and they are avoiding having to turn e-mail info over to the government by locating e-mail servers in the US), but concludes, “At the end of the day, this compromise puts Google a little lower on the evil scale than many other internet companies in China. But is this compromise something Google should be proud of? No. They have put a foot further into the mud. Now let’s see whether they get sucked in deeper or whether they end up holding their ground.”

UPDATE 3: The error message users see when they try to access forbidden content (with translation).