January 25, 2007

Carnival Barking (012507)

Filed under: News from Other Sites — Tom @ 9:21 pm

Newshound’s 58th on Ohio politics is here.

Boring Made Dull’s 30th on Econ and Social Policy is here.

Press Censorship: With Rare Exceptions, Hugo Chávez Gets Yet Another Pass

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 2:23 pm

One of the exceptions is Marcel Granier at OpinionJournal.com on Wednesday:

Remote Control
Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez sets his sights on the media.

CARACAS–The president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, has verbally announced his decision to shut down Radio Caracas Television (RCTV)–our TV station, the oldest in Venezuela as well as the one with the largest audience.

So continues a long series of attacks against journalists, employees, management and shareholders of many independent media companies. The aim of all this is to limit the citizens’ right to seek information and entertainment in the media of their choice, to impede public access to those media where they might express or encounter criticism of the government or their proposals for reform, to stifle the pluralism of opinion in news and talk programs, and to cut off the free flow of information and debate in Venezuela. Instead, the Chávez government seeks to install a system that it has described, without apparent irony, as the “communicational and informative hegemony of the state.”

America’s formerly Mainstream Media is apparently too busy fawning over Chávez’s cynical heating-oil ploys to notice or care about threats to their fellow professionals in Hugo’s Workers’ Paradise. Oh, and don’t miss Joseph P. Kennedy II’s tortured defense of accepting the oil.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (012507)

A national embarrassment: It’s pretty bad when your team’s record of continuous player arrests (latest contribution to that record is here; may require registration) gets the full-smackdown treatment from leading sportstalker Jim Rome. But that’s what the Cincinnati “Nine Players Arrested in Eight Months” Bengals had to endure on Rome’s Monday show. Rome worried that the “good guys” on the team might not be able to impose their will on the criminal element — because they may be outnumbered. He is right to worry.

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From the I’ll Believe It When I See It Department — The new UN Secretary-General just said “The Secretary-General will call for an urgent, system wide and external inquiry into all activities done around the globe by the U.N. funds and programs.” As the OpinionJournal.com editorialists noted, the key word is “external.” Those external auditors must be given unfettered access to information, and must have no restrictions on what they’re allowed to report or who they’re allowed to report it to (i.e., ultimately, the world). We’ll see.

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How’s this for a contrast? At the same time as at least some believers in global warming (otherwise known as “globaloney” around here) are worried that they are overhyping the situation, a bunch of big companies jumps on the globaloney bandwagon. It’s not as odd as you might think: The scientists are worried that they are being pushed to the fringe as climate research reality continues to bite them in the butt. Meanwhile, on the business side, the big boys are making peace with globaloney because they feel they can absorb the enormous costs that would be involved in adapting, while believing that smaller competitors will either have a tougher time of it, or will go out of business.

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Dumb Thieves Department:

It didn’t take much for police to track down 14 cell phones stolen from a town’s public works department on Long Island.

The Town of Babylon had used the phones as GPS (Global Positioning System) devices for its trucks. The same technology led police right to the home of the suspects about a half-mile from where the phones were stolen, according to Babylon Department of Public Works Commissioner Phil Berdolt. The devices went missing last week.

2006 ‘Mass Layoffs’ Were the Lowest in 10 Years; Media Ignores

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:19 am

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly report on “mass layoffs” yesterday. It also included annual totals and an eleven-year chart of mass layoff history.

A “mass layoff action” involves “at least 50 persons from a single establishment.” Since 1988, employers have been required to give 60 days notice of “covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.” The BLS Mass Layoffs report compiles those notices.

Now that 2006 is in the record books, here is that eleven-year chart:

MassLayoffs1996to2006

As you can see, the total number of “layoff events” in 2006 came in at the lowest on record (BLS began compiling these statistics during the second quarter of 1995), while the number of people who filed unemployment claims as a result of those layoffs was the lowest in 10 years. On a percentage-of-workforce basis, the number of unemployment claims filers in 2006 was also, along with the layoff events, the lowest in the 11 full years BLS has reported on this information.

Some of those years would include the formerly Mainstream Media’s favorite period for reporting good news about the economy, namely 1997 through 2000. Well, it so happens that the number of employees filing claims as a result of mass layoffs during that media-perceived Golden Age (6.72 million) is barely less than the comparative number (6.78 million) for the “Greatest Story Never Told” economy of 2003 through 2006. As with the single-year comparison in the previous paragraph, the 2003-2006 percentage of the workforce affected by mass layoffs was lower than the percentage so affected during 1997-2000.

A Google News search on “mass layoffs” (in quotes) at about 11PM last night only had about 15 stories on the latest mass layoffs report, all relating to coverage of individual states by business weekly newspapers.

A search on the “My Way” business-news pages (Associated Press, Fox, MSNBC, NY Times, USA Today, and MarketWatch) a few minutes later also had no coverage.

The failure to report good economic news by the formerly Mainstream Media’s business press would explain why American Research Group’s monthly poll about the economy continues to show people believing that it is not in good shape, or being handled well:

BushEconApproval0107

When news of favorable developments like the record low in mass layoffs is totally ignored, why would anyone expect a different result?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

This Gives New Meaning to the Term ‘Political Hack’

Filed under: Privacy/ID Theft,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:14 am

It goes back into December of last year, but this one’s too much fun to ignore.

The outgoing mayor of Cumberland, Kentucky did something that you would expect to be unthinkable:

Fed-up mayor shares password to city’s bank account
Dec. 2, 2006

CUMBERLAND – When the mayor of a small Appalachian town got tired of questions about his city’s debt, he took the idea of government transparency to the extreme.

He gave the public the username and password to the city of Cumberland’s bank accounts, allowing taxpayers to pull up financial statements on how their money was being spent.

“I’m always thinking of things like that,” said Carl Hatfield, mayor of the 2,600-population town, this week. “That’s public accounting.”

Hatfield posted the username and password on a local public-access channel on Nov. 22, with a statement directing folks to the Web site for BB&T bank.

“It’s your services fees and taxes, you should see how it is being accounted for,” the statement read in part.

The ad ran over Thanksgiving weekend, but the username and password were blocked a few hours after being revealed. Hatfield said access to the account was denied after he realized users could transfer funds between the city’s three accounts for the general fund, water and sewage.

Hatfield, who did not seek a second term, said his only intention was to make city spending more transparent, especially after recent heated city council discussions over the town’s debt of about $220,000 from a landfill, utilities and a water bond.

“There was no harm done, no loss of funds,” he said.

When it comes to bigtime security ignoramuses, Carl Hatfield is the real, uh, McCoy.

Not Only Do I Not Want to Spend 2007 Obsessing Over the 2008 Election — I’m Not Going to

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:09 am

From Newt Gingrich:

Is This Really How You Want to Spend 2007?

Talk with Americans anywhere in the county and they will tell you that they have little interest in being bombarded with negative ads, trivia and cynical news reports about the men and women who are running for President over the next two years. Given the political destructiveness over the last two election cycles, Americans are anticipating the 2008 presidential race with about the same enthusiasm as getting a root canal: We know the ultimate purpose is important, but does it have to be so painful?

Did you know that Sen. John F. Kennedy announced he was running for President on January 2, 1960? And when Ronald Reagan ran for President in 1975 and 1979, he began his campaigns in November on dates that would be considered laughably late by today’s consultants and journalists. But Ronald Reagan got the last laugh.

Our political process has come a long way in just 20 years — and not for the better.

I could not agree more. The process is broken. I would go further and suggest that no primary should be taking place anywhere until March of election year. As noted previously, if a candidate comes out with a policy position worth commenting on, I’ll comment on it (one small example is here). But if you want a horse race play by play, you are at the wrong blog.

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UPDATE: Michael Barone agrees, but says –

So what can we do? The best answer I come up with is: Muddle through.

….. This is the first election in 80 years in which it’s clear that the incumbent president and vice president are not running. The system, for all its defects, has mostly given us pretty good presidents. Let’s hope America’s luck holds.

I’m not touching THAT can of worms.

Another ‘Crisis’ Bites the Dust? Health of Private-Company Pensions Is Improving

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Soc. Sec. & Retirement — Tom @ 6:04 am

It’s an early and untested attempt to get a handle on the issue, so I don’t want to make too much of it, but what it reports is as bit of a “surprise” (PlanSponsor.com link requires free subscription):

The inaugural pension fund tracking system unveiled Monday by UBS Global Asset Management shows a dramatic improvement in pension plan funding ratios in 2006.

A news release said that the first index reading found that a typical pension fund that started the year with a funding ratio of approximately 90% closed the year with a funding ratio of nearly 103%.

The announcement said the UBS US Pension Fund Fitness Tracker will be a quarterly reading of the overall health of the typical U.S. defined benefit pension plan. The improved health of the typical U.S. defined benefit pension plan is due largely to the year’s strong equity market returns, according to Aaron Meder, UBS Global Asset Management’s Head of Asset Liability Investment Solutions in the Americas.

I’ll have to watch the UBS report for another year or two before putting too much, er, stock in it. The favorable improvement reported doesn’t negate the fact that there are some problem children out there in the auto and airline industries. That said, it IS important to note that good years in the financial markets usually translate into improved outlooks for traditional pension plans, and that the average participant in those plans has a real stake in the markets’ performance. Sponsoring companies are forced to pay more into a pension plan if there is a trend of poor market performance, limiting funds available for capital investments and pay increases.

Positivity: Toddler Saved with the Help of Emergency Operator

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

From the UK — An emergency operator talked a grandmother through a life-saving procedure:

A TODDLER had a terrifying brush with death after crawling through a dog-flap in her grandparents’ house and falling into a garden pond.

Little Zara Garnham’s relieved parents last night praised a quick-thinking 999 call taker who saved her life after she toppled into the water and stopped breathing.

The call handler talked Zara’s grandmother, Brenda Garnham, through life-saving techniques and the 19-month-old is now back at home in Ipswich, unharmed from her ordeal.

Her parents, Michael and Lorraine Garnham, said they had experienced every parent’s worst nightmare and were lucky that Zara had survived the incident. They were quick to express their thanks to Zara’s grandmother and the call taker for their heroic efforts.

The drama unfolded shortly after 11.30am on Wednesday while Zara and her three-year-old sister Sophie were being looked after at their grandparents’ house in Bramford Lane.

While the children were watching television their grandmother left the room but when she returned after only a minute Zara was out of sight.

After frantically searching the bedroom, office and kitchen of the bungalow she decided to look outside, despite the back door being locked.

When she walked down the garden path, however, she found the toddler, who had turned grey with the cold, floating face-up in the pond.

She quickly pulled her out of the icy water and dialled 999 to speak to an operator who talked her through what to do.

Mr Garnham, 28, of Marlow Road, said: “I think my mother-in-law popped to the toilet and when she came back Zara had disappeared.

“Sophie didn’t know where she had gone so she decided to search the house. It didn’t take long because it’s only a bungalow. She knew the back door was locked but for some reason decided to check outside.

“When she looked down the garden path Zara was in the pond. Fortunately she was lying face-up but she was grey because it was so cold – I think her body temperature was 32C when it should be 37C.

“My mother-in-law pulled her from the water, phoned 999 and the operator talked her through it and told her to tilt Zara’s head back, which was when she coughed up some water and started breathing again.”

Mr Garnham, who runs building firm GBS with his father and brother, said his daughter was then taken to Ipswich Hospital where she was kept overnight for observation but was allowed to return home the next day.

He said: “It’s no-one’s fault how it happened. The only thing we can think of is that she crawled through the dog flap in the back door.

“She was properly supervised and the back door was locked. We never thought she would go through the dog flap. It was just an unfortunate accident.

“If my mother-in-law hadn’t been on the scene so quickly or didn’t think to go outside then Zara might not be here now.

“The pond has gone now. My mother in law has been left very distressed by it and doesn’t want anything like this to happen again.

“Fortunately Zara hasn’t been affected at all. We gave her a bath when she got back from the hospital and thought she might be scared of the water but it’s not knocked her confidence as far as we can tell.”

Mrs Garnham, 26, who works as a dental nurse, added: “We were just so lucky. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. You read about these things happening but never think it will happen to you.”

Both Mr Garnham and Mrs Garnham, who have been married for two-and-a-half years, were working at the time of the accident.

“At the beginning we both expected the worst,” Mr Garnham said. “When we got to the hospital we realised it must be bad because there were so many people surrounding Zara trying to make sure she was all right.

“You hear a lot of bad press about the health service but we can’t praise them highly enough. We’ll never know who the operator was but their advice saved Zara’s life.

“The ambulance driver stayed with my mother-in-law until we turned up because they didn’t want to leave her alone and the staff at the hospital were brilliant.

“They did everything so quickly and kept us informed about everything. We really can’t thank them enough – they were just so professional.”