September 15, 2006

LA Times Editor’s and Publisher’s Defiance Are Firing Offenses

Filed under: Business Moves,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 6:26 pm

If it’s not, the people who run The Tribune Company have lost control of it, and THEY need to go.

Dean P. Baquet and Jeffrey M. Johnson have drawn the line in the sand, and have clearly been in open defiance for several months:

The editor of The Los Angeles Times appears to be in a showdown with the paper’s owner, the Tribune Company, over job cuts in the newsroom.

In a highly unusual move, Dean P. Baquet, who was named editor last year, was quoted yesterday in his own newspaper as saying he was defying the paper’s corporate parent in Chicago and would not make the cuts it requested.

The paper’s publisher, Jeffrey M. Johnson, said he agreed with Mr. Baquet. “Newspapers can’t cut their way into the future,” he told the paper.

The number of jobs at stake is unclear but the paper, the fourth largest in the country, has eliminated more than 200 positions over the last five years from an editorial staff that now numbers about 940.

“I am not averse to making cuts.” Mr. Baquet told the paper. “But you can go too far, and I don’t plan to do that.”

The paper reported that Scott C. Smith, president of the Tribune Publishing division, had asked the paper’s executives to come up with a plan for trimming their budgets, but when Mr. Smith visited Los Angeles late last month, they had produced no such plan.

By producing no plan when asked, Baquet gives lie to the “not averse to making cuts” statement. He had his chance to come up with something, and didn’t.

He should have resigned by now if he really thought the company was going too far, as should have Mr. Johnson. But they are acting as if their newspaper is some kind of indispensable public utility. The public, which is abandoning them by cancelling subscriptions at a net rate of 5% or more every six months, clearly doesn’t agree.

If Tribune Company Publishing Division President Scott C. Smith backs down, he should kiss HIS job good-bye.

Friday Afternoon Biz-Econ Pick-me-ups

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 4:09 pm

This was not a good day, and probably won’t be a good weekend, for those who have been bad-mouthing the economy –

  • Oil is sliding down towards $62 per barrel.
  • August inflation was only 0.2%.
  • The Dow is less than 1.5% away from its all-time high.
  • Consumer confidence turned around, both in the University of Michigan and Ispos surveys. The Ipsos report was a total 180 from previous months (notice how the record reading got pushed by the AP writer into a very late paragraph):

    The RBC Cash Index, based on the results of the international polling firm Ipsos, showed confidence rebounding to 93.7 in early September.

    That marked an improvement from August, when consumer confidence sank to a three-month low of 74.8. At that time, the toll of soaring energy prices was blamed for weighing on consumers’ psyches. The recent drop in energy prices, however, provided people with some relief and propelled confidence to its best reading since February.

    “The drop in pump prices is very visible to consumers and seems to have a huge impact,” said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Bank of America’s Investment Strategies Group. “Consumers seem to view gasoline prices as a barometer to their overall well being.”

    After surging past $3 a gallon in many areas, gasoline prices are now hovering around $2.62 a gallon nationwide, the Energy Department says.

    Economists believe that price relief figured prominently in the upswing in consumers’ feelings about current economic conditions. This measure shot up to 118.8 in early September. That was up sharply from 92.1 in August and was the highest reading on record. Ipsos started the confidence index in 2002.

All of that fires ME up for the weekend.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

September Will Tell the Tale on Federal Deficit Trend

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:54 pm

The first nine months of the fiscal year (Oct. 2005 through June 2006) pointed to a possibly dramatic lowering of the deficit to possibly as low as $260 billion, especially because tax receipts were up almost 13% compared to the same nine months of the previous fiscal year.

Even though the 11-month deficit is $304 billion, the Congressional Budget Office still believes that $260 billion will be the end result. But based on looking at the latest monthly report from the Treasury, there are reasons to doubt it (note that the report presents fiscal 2005 first, followed by fiscal 2006):

  • After the first nine months of double-digit increases, combined July and August 2006 receipts were only 5.4% higher than July-August 2005.
  • Fortunately, spending was only up 2.3% during those two months, but the mad dash to spend unappropriated money that traditionally occurs in September shouldn’t give anyone cause for optimism.
  • I would estimate that September receipts will have to be in the neighborhood of $270 -$280 billion to result in a $44 billion surplus for the month, and I would rate that a long shot.

There is a point at which, absent a policy change of some kind, the double-digit growth in revenues won’t be sustainable. Making the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent, once and for all, would probably be the tonic that would buy us at least a couple more years of double-digit revenue growth.

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Related Post:

July 18, 2005 — Four Reasons NOT to Be Impressed with the “Falling Deficit”

Column of the Day: Victoria Toensing Exposes the Plamegate Snakes

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:46 am

Joe Wilson and Patrick Fitzgerald owe a whole raft of people, and the nation as whole, apologies.

I don’t expect them, but you can expect to get a quick rundown of why the whole Plamegate affair has been a scam for the ages by reading Toensing’s OpinionJournal.com column today.

Quote of the Day: Biz Weak Letter Writer on the Minutemen

From a subscriber-only link at Biz Weak, Randle Sink of Huntington Beach, CA writes something that should be obvious, but obviously isn’t:

President George W. Bush and Border Angels founder Enrique Morones are wrong about the Minutemen being vigilantes. Vigilantes take the law into their own hands. Minutemen are not breaking the law — they are asking the federal government to enforce it. Illegal aliens and those who hire them are breaking the law.

UPDATE: Conservative Culture has more. The March 23, 2005 White House press conference where Bush said “I’m against vigilantes in the United States of America” is here.

There’s a “Firm” Reason Why Shareholder Lawsuits Are Down

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:05 am

According to the Wall Street Journal, in a subscription-only editorial, that “firm” reason is the indictment-induced inactivity of law firm Milberg Weiss:

Lawsuits are certainly down, but a closer inspection of the numbers shows that the drop-off directly correlates with the decline in filing by one law firm: Milberg Weiss. Long the nation’s premier class-action generator, the entire firm and two partners were indicted in May of paying off their class-action plaintiffs.

According to Cornerstone, a research firm that tracks litigation, law firms filed 179 class actions last year. The first six months of this year saw only 61, a rate that would result in about 123 class actions for the year — or a decrease from 2005 of 56 suits. Meanwhile, according to publicly available press releases, Milberg Weiss filed 91 of last year’s suits. Yet in the first six months of this year, having come under prosecutorial scrutiny and lost many lawyers, the firm has filed only 17. At this rate, Milberg would tally about 34 suits for the year — or 57 fewer than 2005.

These numbers are more than a coincidence, and should put to rest the assumption that Sarbanes-Oxley or better corporate governance standards are producing fewer causes of legal action. Securities lawyers have long understood that most class actions have little or no substance but are manufactured by the plaintiffs bar to pad their own pocketbooks.

Good.

Vaporizing Landfill Trash

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Environment,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:00 am

Keeping in mind that the “landfill space crisis” has already largely brought under control by technology discussed here, it’s even more interesting to see the possibilities of vaporizing it entirely.

Geoplasma is the company that is building and paying for a $425 million plant to accomplish this in St. Lucie County, Florida. Their home page video describes what they’re doing. Skeptics exist, including some in existing disposal businesses who would suffer from the project’s success, and they get their say in the USAT piece. I’m in no position to evaluate whether the company is financially or technologically able to pull this off. The implications of success here would be significant indeed, and the project bears watching.

Foreclosures Up, But Not Dramatically (But See Update)

Filed under: Bankruptcy & Reform,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:55 am

From AP:

Mortgage foreclosures climbed in the spring as higher interest rates and energy prices made monthly payments harder for some homeowners.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, in its quarterly mortgage survey released Wednesday, reported that the percentage of mortgages that started the foreclosure process in the April-to-June quarter rose to 0.43 percent. That was up from 0.41 percent in the first quarter and was the highest in just over a year.

The association’s survey covers 42.5 million loans.

Even with the increase, the new foreclosure figure is still low by historical standards and thus not overly worrisome to lenders. But it suggests that some borrowers are feeling pinched.

One potential trouble spot for the housing industry and home prices I am concerned about would be a raft of foreclosures brought on against people who, before Bankruptcy “Reform” took effect last October, might in many cases have been able to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and avoided losing their homes. The reason foreclosures against families on the brink could increase would be their reluctance to go into the new law’s overly onerous “Means-Tested” partial-payments regimen under Chapter 13, their avoidance of filing because of higher costs, delays in being able to file because of pre-filing counseling requirements, and a misguided belief that bankruptcy is almost impossible.

But so far, the bad-news scenario isn’t materializing (crossing fingers). Even the 30-day late numbers, which if rising might foreshadow an increase in foreclosures down the road, are holding steady.

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UPDATE: Tracy makes some very good points in her comment below, especially that you can’t file for Chapter 7 unless you are current with your mortgage.

I also paid a visit to RealtyTrac.com, a site for people looking to buy foreclosed properties. Though it may be a marketing item that’s not kept up to date, the bottom left at RealtyTrac’s home page indicates that there are 650,000 foreclosed properties nationwide.

RealtyTrac told the press that over 115,000 properties entered foreclosure in August. Even though that was the highest monthly total in 6 months, I have reason to believe that Tracy’s cite of 500,000 foreclosures in the first half of 2006 (83,000 per month average) needs to be looked into — because it may be low.

Though I saw it after I put up this post yesterday, the testimony of FDIC economist Richard Brown at the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Banking Housing, and Urban Affairs gave me some comfort that it’s not time to sound the alarm — yet. You can find and download a PDF of his testimony by going here. Though the items charted are not the same as actual foreclosures, Brown’s graphs on Pages 20 and 21 of charge-offs and non-current loans are still flat or declining.

All of that said, Tracy is closer to the action on the ground than I can ever hope to be, so it’s worth noting that someone in her position (able to pick up warning signs sooner than me, the FDIC, or anyone else in the government) is painting a much less than rosy picture.

Positivity: A 55 Year-Old Heart Keeps a 12 Year-Old Alive

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:55 am

In Kirkby Malham, UK, a last-minute transplant story with an amazing age difference:

Sep 11, 06:36 PM

DRESSED in jeans and trainers, she looks like a typical schoolgirl on the threshold of becoming a teenager.

But inside Sally Slater beats a 55-year-old heart.

Back in March 2000, Sally then a healthy six-year-old was struck down by a mystery virus which destroyed her heart muscle.

She was only hours from death when a donor heart was found.

And as Sally approaches her thirteenth birthday this Friday, it was revealed that the heart came from a 49-year-old woman.

That means her heart is 13 years older than her parents, who are both 42.

Sally wears a silver horseshoe chain around her neck a gift from the donor’s family to remember the woman whose death saved her life.

Sally said: ‘If it wasn’t for this lady, I wouldn’t be alive now.’ Apart from the chain, the only reminders of her ordeal are a faint scar and the drugs she takes every day to prevent her body rejecting the organ.

The schoolgirl lives in the North Yorkshire village of Kirkby Malham with parents Jon and Bridget and brothers Joe, 11, and Charlie, ten. She goes to Settle Middle School, enjoys playing the piano and acting and wants to become a teacher.

It’s a future that her parents did not dare to hope for when she was lying unconscious in an intensive care unit in Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.

Sally had to be kept alive by a ventilator and an artificial heart pump after her own heart was destroyed by the virus in three weeks.

The heart pumps cost Pounds 40,000 each, and Sally needed two while waiting for a transplant. Luckily, a charity paid for both. But after doctors warned them that Sally had hours to live, Mr and Mrs Slater made an emotional appeal for a donor.

They have since revealed that they did not expect to be able to save their daughter, but simply hoped they could raise awareness of the shortage of organ donors.

They had even taken the decision to donate Sally’s organs if she died, saying: ‘We appreciate that any part of her could help someone else.’ But as Mr and Mrs Slater said goodbye to their daughter, their prayers were answered as a donor suddenly became available.

Sally underwent the transplant operation and began the slow process of recovery.

Two days after the operation, she squeezed her mother’s hand, and 24 hours later her eyes briefly opened for the first time.

And after coming off the ventilator, Sally was back at home within three months.

Mr Slater, a financial planner, said: ‘She has a pacemaker and takes pills every day, otherwise she’s normal and healthy.’ The identity of the donor is a secret, but there has been ‘tentative contact’ between the two families.

‘The heart is from a lady from the North-East,’ Mr Slater said. ‘The family will always be in our thoughts. It’s a debt we can never repay.’ As her heart is relatively old, Sally may require another transplant. But for the moment she’s just happy to be able to enjoy being a teenager.