May 31, 2007

The New ‘Turnaround Ohio’: Strickland Campaign Theme Hijacked, or Truth in Packaging?

This message merited an audible “Hmm…” in the BizzyBlog bunker when it arrived in the e-mail inbox (click on pic to see full text of e-mail):

POHtohSmall

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TURNAROUND OHIO?

Seems like I’ve heard that “somewhere” before….

Oops, that link didn’t work. That’s because it was changed to a generic Ted Strickland banner mere hours after this post at RAB and this one at BizzyBlog called out the governor for publicly dithering on education once safely in office (“School-funding fix need not be rushed, Strickland contends”). Only three months after his election and barely a month in office, Strickland indicated that education initiatives wouldn’t need to get into his first two-year budget, even though he had outlined over $350 million in “First Year Funding” (go to the bottom of this page that was saved from Strickland’s campaign web site before it went dark) during the gubernatorial campaign.

(Aside to Joe Hallett: Contrary to the snide assertion you made, and which you also attributed to Mrs. Sherrod Brown aka Connie “in lockstep” Schultz (“Little original reporting comes from political blogs.“), this was one of dozens of times Ohio’s center-right blogosphere has scooped the Columbus Dispatch and the rest of Ohio’s Old Media. So is this post. A longer list is available on request — that is, if you and others at your paper ever wish to stop being the mouthpiece for Ted’s ignorant economic posturing and his amateurish war-conduct second-guessing [here and here] and catch up with recent history and current events.)

Strickland’s Governor-elect site appears to have subsequently carried in the Turnaround Ohio and Learning for Life pages intact. Their conflict with what has been done since he took office remains.

Back to ProgressOhio and Turnaround Ohio — Are we to assume that they are acting with Ted’s consent by using that slogan in its campaign literature? If there is no objection by the Governor, should we then also assume that Ted really supports this economy-crippling power grab while publicly opposing it?

OFHEO: 1Q07 Home Prices Up 0.5%, 4.3% Over 12 Months Ago

Those looking for a pervasive and severe nationwide decline in home prices are going to have to keep looking.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) just released its House Price Index (PDF) for the first quarter of 2007. This most comprehensive of home-price reports shows that nationwide prices increased 0.45% (rounded to 0.5% in the announcement) in the first quarter of this year, and went up 4.25% (rounded to 4.3% in the announcement) in the past four quarters.

Core inflation during those two time periods was 0.6% and 2.5%, respectively. OFHEO says that inflation excluding only shelter costs only rose 1.6% during the past year.

Context (from Pages 4 and 5 of the report):

  • From 1990 through 1997, reported four-quarter appreciation was less than the 4.25% just reported 28 out of 32 times.
  • During that same time period, individual-quarter appreciation was less than the 0.45% just reported 14 out of 32 times — including six nationwide quarterly declines.

I recall no discussions of pervasive real estate “bubbles” or fears of steep, widespread declines during the 1990s.

Here’s what will likely be a well-kept secret: Seven western states actually showed double-digit gains in the past 12 months (UT, ID, MT, WY, WA, NM, and OR), and 12 others had increases of over 6%.

Only seven states came in with four-quarter results below OFHEO’s 1.6% inflation minus shelter costs figure (from Page 19 — RI, CA, NH, OH, NV, MA, and MI). All are understandable without having to call out a price-collapse scenario. Cali and Nevada overheated more than most states in the three previous years, while the other states’ economies aren’t doing very well. Only MA (-0.56%) and MI (-0.86%) actually had year-over-year declines.

Looking at regions (Page 28), eight of nine came in above the 1.6% benchmark just noted; only New England (+1.11%) trailed.

As to metro areas, the search for widespread suffering was also futile. In contrast to the S&P report (Excel spreadsheet is at 5th item at bottom of linked page) that showed 13 and 17 of the 20 largest metro areas with annual and quarterly declines, respectively, OFHEO showed only three annual declines (overheated San Diego, plus declining Detroit and Boston) and 10 quarterly declines. San Diego (-1.12%) was the only top-20 metro area to show a quarterly decline of over 1%.

Apparent doomsday believer Rex Nutting of MarketWatch jumped on the S&P report (requires free registration), and appeared eager to tell us that, according to the relatively limited S&P report, “Prices have been falling for the past three quarters.”

Well, not exactly, Rex. Let’s see how he treats the OFHEO release, whose now-accurate prediction of 0.5% made by an economist was saved for the last paragraph of his report.

The Associated Press, in an unbylined report at 11:36AM, searched for a way to go negative on the OFHEO release, and settled on the idea that it “provided the latest indication of a modulated slowdown in the once-sizzling housing market.”

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Preliminary Estimate: GDP at 0.6% for 4Q07

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:05 am

This is shaping up to have been a weak quarter.

This sentence from BEA’s report sticks out:

The real change in private inventories subtracted 0.98 percentage point from the first-quarter change in real GDP, after subtracting 1.16 percentage points from the fourth-quarter change.

That’s a lot. If inventories had stayed the same, 4th quarter 2006 growth would have been about 3.7%, and 1st quarter 2007 would have been about 1.6%.

That means that businesses reduced inventories for the second quarter in a row. The two-quarter reduction is a combined $29 billion (about 2.14% of a $13.5 trillion GDP, the sum of 0.98% and 1.16%), which I’m guessing most observers didn’t think could happen. Its possible, but doesn’t seem likely, that businesses have suddenly figured out a way to run even leaner and meaner and stay that way permanently. But I would think that any kind of increase in consumer or business demand, which may have already occurred since the end of the first quarter, will cause a bounce-back effect, leading to an inventory build-up that might make GDP jump sharply in future quarters.

Tomorrow’s employment and ISM manufacturing reports, and next week’s ISM non-manufacturing report, will be very important indicators of whether that bounce-back might be occurring.

A Warning Signal That Will Likely Be Ignored

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:04 am

When a liberal-friendly network is screaming about earmarks and going after the current congressional and Senate majorities, as is the case in this video of a CNN report, perceptive members of those majorities should be taking it as a warning that voters won’t be happy with how they’ve done the people’s business when the next election arrives.

Odds are they won’t listen.

Positivity: Couple celebrated life despite dim prognosis

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

From Dayton, OH (a related story is here):

FAIRBORN — Nothing about their relationship was typical. They met at Dayton Children’s Medical Center, dated over the phone, and kissed through oxygen masks.

But for Douglas and Misty (Rose) Langstaff, both born with cystic fibrosis, nothing was going to keep them from enjoying their life together.

The Fairborn couple married on April 14. A month and a day later, Misty, 18, died at Dayton Children’s.

Douglas Langstaff, 20, said although the couple of two years only got to experience married life for a short time, it felt like they’d been together 50 years.

“We did everything together,” he said. “The wedding was Misty’s highlight.”

Douglas helped Misty achieve other milestones in her last few months. She attended driving school and got her license, went horseback riding on their honeymoon in Kentucky, and received her high school diploma from Graham Digital Academy May 1.

“She was a very strong person,” Douglas said of Misty. “She never complained about her disease or anything.”

May 30, 2007

Quote of the Day: Maggie Gallagher

At Townhall:

If you want to know why the immigration bill makes people so mad, just listen to the Bush administration defend it.

Michelle Malkin has pointed specifics directed at the president.

$59 Trillion

Filed under: Economy,Soc. Sec. & Retirement,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:03 am

If accounting and reporting standards applied to the private sector were applied to Uncle Sam, that would be the amount of liabilities that would have to be recorded on the books of the federal government, according to USA Today.

Though it ignores the government’s assets, I find the liabilities number credible.

Most of the liabilities are in Social Security and Medicare, the two programs that Congresses controlled by both parties and every president until the current occupant of the White House have for the most part resisted applying any kind of meaningful reforms to.

Ronald Reagan occasionally referred to the idea of making Social Security voluntary, but in the name of pursuing what he felt were larger goals (winning the Cold War, and reforming the then-punitive federal income tax structure, and turning the economy around), he pledged to leave the fundamental structure of Social Security in place.

A mid-1980s Social Security commission headed by Alan Greenspan considered private accounts, but instead opted for tweaks to the retirement age and tax increases that kicked the can down the road instead of fundamentally reforming the system.

A 1995 congressional attempt to reform Medicare that could have fundamentally changed the program for the better led to the president shutting the government down until Congress backed off.

The Clinton Administration mostly talked about reforming Social Security during its second term, and as I recall never had a bill introduced supporting a reform framework it favored. It resisted private accounts, instead favoring direct government investment in the stock market — a move that inevitably would have led to the government, at best, making political statements (don’t invest in tobacco, etc.), or at worst, picking favored companies.

President Bush has made fitful attempts to get a relatively puny version of private accounts onto the national agenda, and the response from opponents has been “there is no crisis.”

Really?

As I’ve said before (here and here), supporters of leaving the two programs alone, no matter what, have a distinct advantage. Their position improves with each additional day of dithering, because the larger the unfunded liability gets, the more difficult fixing the problem becomes, until it gets so overwhelming that our problems resemble the virtually intractable ones facing France and Germany. It’s clear that believers in the status quo would consider that a good thing.

Positivity: Tragedy spurs celebs to give ailing kids personalized songs

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:58 am

From New York City (HT Daily Good e-mail), about a nationwide effort that has provided the “medicine of music” to thousands of children and teens:

Seven-year-old Ronald Sterling of New York City loves baseball, hot dogs, doughnuts with sprinkles and Sesame Street.

This week, Ronald, who has a serious genetic disorder that affects his immune system, is getting a special treat.

Bob McGrath of Sesame Street just recorded a song that’s all about Ronald. On Thursday, 15,000 schoolchildren from the New York City area will sing the chorus to the soundtrack, along with McGrath, during a recording session at Shea Stadium.

The event marks the 12,000th song produced by the Songs of Love Foundation, a non-profit group that creates personalized compositions for children and teens who are chronically or terminally ill, are developmentally disabled or have serious psychological or psychiatric problems. Each song has its own melody and lyrics that describe the child’s interests, family, friends and pets.

Go here for the rest of the story.

May 29, 2007

Couldn’t Help But Notice (052907)

What he drew.

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I hope he’s right:

Muslims are not silent in the face of radicalism, extremism, and other ideologies that support terrorism from within the ranks of the Islamic global community. But Western mainstream media – the MSM – have proven unwilling or incapable of reporting to Western audiences on the personalities embodying the Islamic “counter-jihad.” The problem is more that of “MSM silence” than of “Muslim silence.”

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Although I’ve been following the American Family Association’s boycott of Ford (now pushing 710,000 signers at boycottford.com), I’ve never been a big fan of the tactic. Given the dire straits Ford is in and the fact that a widespread boycott does exist, my concern has been that the company is going to commit corporate suicide in the name of so-called Corporate Social Responsibility and political correctness, and that Old Media will lend an assist by failing to acknowledge what the company is doing to itself.

As to the boycott tactic, I believe it is fair to ask the American Family Association why it concentrates all of its fire on Ford and not on other companies, given the results of its own monitoring of TV program advertisers. Yes, Ford is the worst according to its standards, but if you look at the detail (HT One News Now) you’ll see plenty of other potential targets for AFA’s wrath. So why only Ford?

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Let’s see now:

  • HE was for it before HE was against it.
  • SHE was for it before SHE voted against it.
  • This means that what this guy said about the man who was president from 1993 to 2001 (“no core beliefs”) is apparently true of at least two of the his party’s three major 2008 presidential candidates.
  • Surely, BHOO (Barack Hussein Obambi Obama) looks “good” (as in relatively consistent) by comparison — for now.
  • BHOO also apparently looks better in the polls against potential GOP rivals. But this guy wasn’t mentioned.

Follow-ups on Previous Posts (052907)

EU carbon emissions were up 3.6% in 2006. The US’s were down 1.3%, as noted in a weekend post.

Though those facts were known on about May 17 and May 23, respectively, a May 26 New York Times story (may require free registration) on how “The United States has rejected Germany’s proposal for deep long-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions” omitted those inconvenient truths.

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Having ripped the Home Depot and departed CEO Bob Nardelli often (previous posts relating to Nardelli’s departure are here, here, here, and here), it’s only fair to note that this year’s annual meeting appears to have been a big improvement, but not across the board:

At first, it seemed that everyone was on the same page. The new chief executive, Frank Blake, took the stage and apologized for last year’s infamous annual meeting, when Nardelli refused to take questions from investors, and members of the company’s board stayed home, at their leader’s urging.

“There is no better way to deal with a mistake than to acknowledge it, fix it and move forward,” Blake said. “We apologize for last year’s meeting. It was a mistake, and we won’t do it again.”

But in an interview minutes before the meeting, the company’s lead director, Kenneth G. Langone, strongly defended Nardelli’s leadership and pay, both of which came under withering criticism before the board asked him to step down in January.

“We needed the best. We got the best. Bob saved Home Depot,” Langone said.

He said Nardelli was worth “the full value” of his pay, roughly $270 million over six years. “I am never going back away from it.”

Given that Nardelli’s pay is the subject of at least one shareholder suit, what else could Langone say? As to saving Home Depot, Nardelli couldn’t have screwed up what was a good thing worse if he had tried. The share price performance of the company versus Lowe’s tells the tale, Mr. Langone.

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A post last week on the overreaction to April’s 11% drop in the median selling price of a new home — the drop was attributable almost entirely to a change in the sales mix to lower-cost regions — noted that the real decline after factoring out the mix problem was in the neighborhood of 1.2% in the last month, and 1.5% in the past year. This fact was totally ignored by Martin “Where’s the Bad Economic News?” Crutsinger of the Associated Press.

Sure enough, the April National Association of Realtors existing-home sales report, which is less vulnerable to regional fluctuations, came in showing a 0.8% decline in the past year. What’s more, the Excel spreadsheet supporting the NAR announcement (link is at the same page) shows that the nationwide median existing-home selling price went UP 1.2% from March 2007 to April 2007, and went up in every region of the country (Northeast, +1.9%; Midwest, +3.5%; South, +0.7%; West, +1.0%).

Sorry about those erroneous estimates (:–>) — but only about 10% as sorry as Martin Crutsinger should be for not explaining the obvious problem in a nationwide Commerce Department report.

Positivity: Hero wardens lift 14-tonne bus to rescue trapped boy

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:57 am

From South London, England: (HT Good News Blog):

May 25 2007

A HEROIC team of passers-by lifted a 14-tonne bus off the ground to free a 13-year-old schoolboy trapped under-neath.

The youngster had tripped and fallen under the vehicle as it was pulling away from a stop in Katharine Street, central Croydon, at the junction with St George’s Walk.

Witnesses say the boy had missed the 250 bus and was trying to catch up with it in the hope it would stop when the accident happened shortly before 4pm on Wednesday.

As he fell he became trapped between the body of the bus and the pavement, breaking his leg.

With the boy in a dazed state, street wardens Nathan Thompson, 27 and Neville Sharpe,41, heard the commotion and organised an unlikely rescue operation.

Go here for the rest of the story.

May 28, 2007

News Never Sleeps, But Old Media Does (Blogs and Others Are Running Circles Around Old Media in Venezuela Coverage, Accuracy)

Hugo Chavez is simultaneously acting as Bull Connor (fire hoses/water cannons) and Gustav Husak (deploying tanks against his own people), yet what little Old Media coverage there is seems to want to avoid those elements of the story.

At 11:00 a.m. Sunday, Gateway Pundit blogged (and did an update post at 7:43 p.m. last night) on Venezuela’s virtual dictator sending in tanks to intimidate opponents demonstrating against a government-planned closure of one of the country’s last independent TV outlets. An underlying post at Publius Pundit that GP linked to shows the tanks in place, and has a time stamp of 2:09 a.m.

The Jungle Hut reported (scroll down) at what appeared to be midnight on May 27 that:

12:oo UPDATE: It is done! the RCTV emblem is gone! Now we see the new television social emblem! TVes.

UPDATE: All media is warned not to refer to this as a closure of RCTV, but rather that their concession (liscense) has not been re-newed.

In Globovision pics eerily reminiscent of the fire hoses turned on Birmingham, Alabama demonstrators in 1963 (second paragraph at link), it appears that water cannons are being used against demonstrators (an AP report discussed below confirms this).

Voice of America mentioned the tanks in a story that carries a date of May 26 at Google News but is currently dated May 27 at VOA. The context clearly indicates that the article was originally written, and the tank deployment occurred, on Saturday:

Venezuelan army tanks and security forces deployed across the capital and other cities ahead of the protests, which are expected to continue Sunday.

Yet the South American bureau of the Houston Chronicle, in a report dated May 26 at 9:54 p.m., fails to mention the tanks. Co-authors John Otis and Jose Orozco also saw fit to tell us that “Although Chavez remains wildly popular, revoking RCTV’s license has been one of the most unpopular moves of his presidency.”

New York Times searches on “Venezuela tank” and “Venezuela tanks” (not in quotes in both cases) show no current results. A May 26 Times article on the impending station closure by Simon Romero, carried in May 27′s newspaper, makes no mention of military deployment, and can only be described as bending over backwards to make Chavez look reasonable.

Google News searches done at about 9:30 AM ET on “Venezuela tank” and “Venezuela tanks” (not in quotes in both cases) turn up no other items besides those just discussed.

In a report caught by Drudge, Reuters managed to report last night that “Venezuelan troops have seized an anti-government television channel’s broadcast equipment.” It did refer to “a show of military force meant to deter possible violence by opposition demonstrators,” but didn’t mention the tanks or the tactics used on demonstrators.

The progression of the three most recent Associated Press dispatches as of 10:00 a.m ET, the first two by Ian James and the third by Christopher Toothaker (here, here, and here; saved for posterity, and of course fair use and discussion purposes, here, here, and here), is interesting indeed. The first consists of only two paragraphs, and its second paragraph appears to be nearly celebratory:

Venezuela’s oldest private television station went off the air at midnight Sunday as thousands banged on pots and pans in protest against President Hugo Chavez’s decision not to renew the license of the opposition-aligned channel.

Fireworks exploded across Caracas as crowds of Chavez’s supporters celebrated the expiration of Radio Caracas Television’s license and the birth of a new public service station that was created to replace it.

The second and third reports mention that “police” used “a water cannon and tear gas” to break up “one opposition protest” (referred to oddly in what may be a Freudian slip as “one opposition protests” in the third report), and never use the word “military” or “tank.”

Someone please remind me of why we’re supposed to rely on Old Media outlets to stay informed.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: This YouTube vid (HT BoingBoing via Instapundit) clearly validates the comparison to Birmingham 1963.

UPDATE 2: A more balanced BBC report (“Rallies as Venezuelan TV closes”) notes the water cannon and tear gas, and the oft-overlooked fact that Chavez has “the power to rule by decree.”

UPDATE 3: A revised AP report from about 11:15 a.m., mostly containing what was in the third AP report discussed above, is here. Still no mention of tanks.

UPDATE 4, 11 PM: Now Globovision is getting the shutdown threats.

UPDATE 5, May 29: Michael Moore (“The media is far freer in Venezuela than it is here in the US”) was unavailable for comment (HT Old Controller).

UPDATE 6, May 30: Troops have attacked students with rubber bullets. Video is at the link.