October 31, 2007

My $.02

Original post is at Wide Open.

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I’m delegating most of my thoughts on what has to be seen, barring divine intervention, as the end of this particular “Wide Open” experiment, but not the end of wide-open experimentation, to Jill, who said it all (WLST link) pretty darn well.

If you want my perspective on yesterday’s and last evening’s events, go here.

If you want to see, or care about, the standards I’ve imposed on myself to ensure credibly perceived blogging, go here. I don’t expect others to reach the same conclusions I have about abstaining from political contributions, but I really do think that we’re going to have to wrestle with what disclosures readers routinely have a right to expect from those who choose to make them, whether it’s on proprietary or co-op blogs. I also find it odd that several of those who are seemingly obsessed with having conflict-free, fully-disclosed politicians, and who seem to concentrate their fire on those who aren’t from their party, don’t seem to have a problem with keeping their own potential conflicts of interest from their readers.

This post isn’t as much a resignation as it is an observation that the whole thing has sort of blown up, and it looks like there’s nothing left to resign from.

As with Jill, I have nothing but nice things to say about Jean Dubail and Chris Jindra, and thanks to all who visited Wide Open, moreso to those who commented there.

I do believe that somebody’s going to make this type of thing work (don’t ask me to define “this type of thing”). A Buffoon of the Month congressman, a newspaper that didn’t anticipate the potential pitfalls, and a bit of impetuousness have prevented that from happening at WO.

Looking forward, we’re still at our homes (me, Jill, Jeff, and Dave).

And there’s a Carnival of Ohio Politics to catch up on.

The Jeff Coryell-PD-Wide Open Thing

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,Wide Open — Tom @ 3:48 pm

It’s interesting how this is turning out, because it’s running against the “accepted” stereotype. That would be the one about how conservatives are rugged “on your own” individualists and liberals are team players.

The three of us (Jill, Dave, and I) learned of Jeff Coryell’s involuntary termination in an e-mail from the PD Online’s Jean Dubail yesterday at about 4:40. I’m not the best mind reader (doh-obvious at this point), but what I thought I saw was evidence of a strong disagreement, not clear antagonism. Sure, this was only one side of the story, but I saw nothing to indicate that Jeff was in anything but an “agree to disagree” mode.

I had to leave at 5:00, fully intending to send Jeff an I’ll-miss-your-work, good-luck e-mail at about 9:30 when I returned.

Obviously, all hell broke loose in the interim.

It took a while after digesting (and feeling) the outrage to get to what I think the real questions should be, which is why I tend not to do knee-jerk posts.

Why didn’t Jeff tell us what he planned to do first? Or (better) even ask us if he should do it? Or if there wasn’t something we could do to renegotiate the ground rules? Or to collectively quit if we came to the conclusion that the situation couldn’t be solved? If he didn’t trust the two righties, why not at least run these questions by Jill? (since his Ohio Daily Blog post went up less than an hour after the Dubail e-mail, I’m assuming he didn’t contact her — if I’m wrong, Jill will surely set me straight :–>)

People demanding that “we” resign in solidarity are asking us to react in support of a person, who I thought was part of a team, who instead decided to start throwing verbal bombs not just at the decision to terminate him, but at Wide Open’s entire operation and concept.

Jeff should know that this is (with each passing hour, looking more like “was”) about bigger things. It’s about whether a traditional news operation can co-exist with the blogosphere. (Semi-related — Interestingly, though I was clearly getting under the newsroom’s skin with the Imam Alzaree story, not once was I ever cautioned to lighten up.) It’s about whether two righties and lefties can co-exist on the same blog at a relatively civil level of discourse, even in the presence of less-than-civil commenters. I can tell you that these past six-plus weeks have been tense, often very intense, but that the four of us were making progress towards informal “ground rules” and boundaries that we were getting more comfortable with. Everybody was bending and accommodating to an extent. I don’t think it was happening as fast as any of the four of would have liked, but it was happening.

Ultimately, this is about the evolution of the news gathering, reporting and analysis process. We were part of that; now it seems likely that we won’t be. Don’t get me wrong — the PD gets a large share of the blame for why we are where we are, especially its clumsy handling of Buffoon of the Month Congressman LaTourette, but I have a hard time believing that something couldn’t have been worked out.

It’s more than a little likely that all of us would have backed Jeff totally in light of his treatment, had we heard his side before the rest of the world. But we’ll never know; he never gave us the chance. I for one don’t appreciate that, and I believe I have every right not to appreciate that.

I also don’t appreciate the idea that Jeff either didn’t understand what the ultimate outcome of his in-effect call-to-arms would be (doubtful), or that he appeared not to care about the possibility that three people he called “friends” might involuntarily lose their gigs too. You’re not an island, pal.

Now anyone considering an MSM-blog coop effort has to know that any one member can, and that some will, ruin it for the rest of his or her team when things get too difficult. Again, the PD owns a lot of the blame, probably even the majority of it, but this is not a good precedent.

I do wish Jeff all the best in his future endeavors, and have e-mailed him to that effect.

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UPDATE: Here’s one the leftosphere will probably consider a whitewash, the rightosphere might take as vindication, and objectivesphere should sit up and notice. Ex-PDer Bill Sloat of the Daily Bellwether, who would be expected to have sources out the wazoo on this, has given them some exercise

Although the congressman has widely been portrayed as the heavy, sources The Daily Bellwether spoke to all agreed that LaTourette did not ask for a firing, played no role in the sacking of Coryell, did not express anger, nor put pressure on the newspaper or threaten it in any way. The sources do agree that LaTourette spoke to The Plain Dealer’s editorial page editor, Brent Larkin, briefly earlier this month about Coryell’s work appearing on the newspaper’s Web site. Coryell’s name reportedly came up when Federal Election Commission campaign finance records were made public, and LaTourette mentioned to Larkin that Coryell had given money to the congressman’s Democratic opponent, former Ohio Court of Appeals Judge William O’Neill. LaTourette is supposed to have said something like “what’s up with that” during a brief chat, but did not suggest or demand that Coryell be fired, the sources say.

Jeff’s original contention:

I was fired because LaTourette complained. It would not have happened if LaTourette did not exert pressure.

Jeff’s reax to Sloat’s post:

I do not believe it for a minute. I was on the ultimate receiving end of the pressure and heard much about it in the weeks before my firing.

My take — Both Jeff’s and LaTourette’s contentions can exist in the same universe:

  • LaTourette “complains”/”mentions.”
  • Larkin gets his undies in a bunch at perceived displeasure.
  • Inside a lumbering bureaucracy, “displeasure” turns into “pressure” (hey, they almost rhyme).
  • Eventually, the paper decides to be “super-safe,” and lets Coryell go.
  • More like super-dumb. It walks, talks and looks like pressure to Jeff, because by that time it is, while LaTourette wonders what the big deal was.

This is why congresspersons have to watch their every word and gesture. LaTourette’s buffoonery in the episode is fully intact.

Since ‘Everybody’ Is Wondering (and Before Y’all Die of Boredom Looking)

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:10 am

….. I’m sorry to disappoint Pho, who wrote this side-splitter (“Hmmm. Keeping Blumer’s jack out of Ohio GOP coffers may make all this worthwhile.”)

This is it — One candidate endorsement; one piddling contribution wayyyyy too small to make this list; no other contributions to any candidates or issues.

After making my piddling contribution, I disclosed its existence and my endorsement of Bill Pierce in every Pierce- and DeWine-related post until Primary Election Day 2006.

I had the general mindset that it would not be a good idea to make political contributions when I started BizzyBlog. Then, a couple of months after startup, I consciously decided not to do that as a policy when it became clear during the 2005 OH-02 Special Congressional Primary that doing so would affect the perceived quality of my work. The 2006 Pierce for Senate primary campaign was and will remain the sole exception. If you knew Bill Pierce, you’d know why.

In the CPA profession, there are two important concepts: “independence in appearance” and “independence in fact.” You can mentally have independence in fact if you or anyone in your firm owns a very few shares of a company you’re auditing, but a sizable portion of the public won’t see it that way, no matter how much you protest to the contrary. Accordingly, rather than debase the perceived quality of audited financial statements and other reports, the profession has decided that independence in appearance is a critical ethical standard that must be adhered to. This means, with the very rarest of exceptions, that you and other firm members NEVER own any stock of, or make any kind of investments in, the companies your firm audits.

Likewise, I believe that you can be a fair and yet opinionated blogger while giving nominal amounts to political candidates and political causes. But as with auditing, a sizable portion of the public won’t see it that way, no matter how much you protest to the contrary. Accordingly, though I believe that nominal contributions would not affect my outlook, and I recognize that others might not make the same decisions with their blogging, I have decided that the perceived quality and credibility of what I bring up and have to say require that I have the same independence in appearance with political candidates and political causes that the CPA profession expects of its members and member firms.

That, and I’m cheeeeeep. :–>

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UPDATE, Nov. 1 — An IMO legitimate question has been raised, and will be addressed here. It has to do with election-law complaints I filed against Ohio 2nd District Congressional candidate Bob McEwen in December 2005 and March 2006. One resulted in a reprimand, the other went nowhere.

Though others will disagree, I happen to think that a blogger with his/her own site can engage in activism such as this without compromising fairness or credibility. I consider it analogous to seeing what you honestly believe is a crime being committed and reporting it to authorities. Why wouldn’t you do that? I would even suggest that establishment news organizations shouldn’t shy away from filing election-law complaints if they believe the situation is an obvious violation and no one else will step up.

Although I have been a NewsBusters contributor since late 2005, the site gave me Contributing Editor privileges in July 2006. This is no trifle. NB only has about a dozen Contributing Editors, and given the other relative luminaries on the list, it still seems ridiculous that I’m among them (but I’m not about to withdraw :–>).

Although I didn’t feel compelled to mention it at the time, at that point I made a conscious decision to get out of activist actions like filing election law complaints, working on campaigns, and the like. I felt, and still feel, that as a recognized representative of NewsBusters and its Media Research Center parent, I owe it to them to take that stance and stick with it, because there is nothing resembling a consensus on the aggressive position I outlined two paragraphs ago.

I don’t necessarily like the self-imposed restraint, but I think it’s appropriate. I’m not suggesting the other Contributing Editors see things the way I do, or that they should. This is just how I choose to operate.

Another ‘Worst Economy Since Hoover’ Update: 3rd Quarter Advance GDP Growth Is 3.9%

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

Stealing the tag line used by Matt at Weapons of Mass Discussion any time there is good news about the economy — This is how the press release from Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Economic Analysis opens:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 3.9 percent in the third quarter of 2007, according to advance estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 3.8 percent.

The Bureau emphasized that the third-quarter “advance” estimates are based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see the box on page 3). The third-quarter “preliminary” estimates, based on more comprehensive data, will be released on November 29, 2007.

The increase in real GDP in the third quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, federal government spending, equipment and software, nonresidential structures, private inventory investment, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by a negative contribution from residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

Translation: Despite the housing drag, the rest of the economy is fine.

See for yourself: Combined with the second quarter’s final reading of 3.8%, the 7.7% two-quarter GDP growth total, if it holds up or improves in future revisions, is higher than any two consecutive quarters since Q3 & Q4 of 2003′s combined 10.2% (7.5% +2.7%). The last time there were two consecutive quarters of 3.8% or higher was Q3 & Q4 of 1999′s 4.8% and 7.3%.

Another tenth of a percent to get to 4.0 would have been really nice. I suspect 4% would get a lot more coverage than 3.9%. We’ll see how Old Media handles it.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (103107)

I’m surprised that this exists, and it needs to go away:

The Ohio House is expected to vote Tuesday to end Ohio’s unique policy of reducing a jobless senior’s unemployment benefits by the amount the person receives in Social Security.

But Gov. Ted Strickland has not yet decided whether he will sign the bill if it is passed by the House, said spokesman Keith Dailey. Strickland supports the concept but would like to see it as part of a broader package of benefit reforms. The Senate passed the measure in May.

Ohio is the only state in the nation to have a full Social Security offset – where 100 percent of a person’s Social Security benefit is subtracted from the amount of unemployment benefits due.

Since there is a linkage between what you put into Social Security and what you get out (never mind that what you get out is really the next generation’s current contributions; that’s a discussion for another time), I find it amazing that Ohio lawmakers ever decided it was a good idea to intercept Social Security benefits this way. More fundamentally, I’m surprised the federal government either let it stand, or that it survived a challenge if one occurred.

The Governor shouldn’t even be thinking about holding the repeal hostage to other measures. Just consign the SocSec offset to the ash heap of history, and be done with it.

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Lay convicted — No, not “Kenny boy,” Mark Lay:

Mark D. Lay once was a rising star in the high-powered investment world, running a firm that managed more than $4 billion in assets and making frequent appearances on CNBC.

Yesterday, a federal jury found him guilty of fraud in the loss of $216 million of Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation money in a Bermuda-based hedge fund that Lay’s MDL Capital Management of Pittsburgh managed.

Lay, 44, of Aliquippa, Pa., sat back in his chair and held his head in his hands briefly as the guilty verdicts were read on charges of investment advisory fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and two counts of mail fraud.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine, although his attorney expects the prison term will be less based on federal sentencing guidelines. The jury also decided Lay must forfeit $590,526 in fees that MDL was paid to manage the fund.

Reminder: Tom Noe lost the Bureau of Workers’ Comp about $50 million. Most or possibly more than that has been or will be recovered (though the time value of money losses must of course be recognized). Meanwhile Mark Lay’s $216 million (or $215.4 million, if you believe Lay will ever pony up his ill-gotten fees) isn’t coming back, and Ohio taxpayers and/or Workers’ Comp premium payers are stuck with the consequences for as long as the should-be-privatized BWC continues to exist. Yet Noe’s errant ways gained exponentially more publicity because of his GOP connections, while Lay’s extensive Dem ties have gotten ridiculously short shrift. Anyone who can explain this disparate treatment as anything other than Ohio Old Media determination to take out the GOP as the party in power in Columbus is welcome to try.

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A Republican congressman wants an earmark for a mule museum. Let the pun-ishment over this ass-inine idea begin.

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The Associated Press’s Nedra Pickler plays the gender card for Hillary after last night’s Dem debate in her very first sentence:

In the City of Brotherly Love, there wasn’t much for a sister.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s rivals ganged up on her during a two-hour Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night, putting the front-runner on defense on issues ranging from Iraq and Iran to Social Security and whether she would be electable in the general election.

Nedra’s undercurrent: “How dare they?”

Earth to Nedra: You, as a supposedly “objective” reporter, don’t get to pretend she’s untouchable because she’s a “sister.”

Politico has more, and though it goes slightly overboard, does an overall better job with its coverage.

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Warren Buffett, quoted in the UK Guardian:

The United States’ second-richest man has delivered a blunt message to the Bush administration: he wants to pay more tax.

Warren Buffett, the famous investor known as the “Sage of Omaha”, has complained that he pays a lower rate of tax than any of his staff – including his receptionist.

Then why doesn’t he just write a check?

Positivity: ‘Right Suit Saved Life of Angler’

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:46 am

Sometimes what you do to prepare, saves you.

From Aberdeen, UK:

12:00 – 29 October 2007

An Angler swept into the sea near Aberdeen was today praised for wearing clothes which saved his life.

The man was trapped in a “melting pot” of water between two wedges of rock for 40 minutes before rescuers reach him.

And Maritime Rescue Institute lifeboat coxswain Hamish McDonald said: “This man cannot be commended enough for doing everything right. He was wearing a flotation suit which helped keep up his body temperature as well as helping with buoyancy.

“He also managed to grab on to his fishing bag which had also fallen into the sea. This acted like a liferaft for him.

“I’ve no doubt that suit played a major part in saving his life.

“That and being between two outcrops of rock where the biggest swell could not reach him. Like a melting pot but a safe one.”

The drama began yesterday around 3pm when police in Aberdeen got a 999 call from another angler fishing on rocks just south of Doonies near Old Portlethen.

On-shore coastguards guided the five-man crew of the MRI vessel to the spot where the stricken fisherman was clinging to rocks.

After getting him on board they sped back to Stonehaven where paramedics took him to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary under police escort.

He was detained overnight while he was treated for hypothermia. But his condition was not believed to be serious.

Go here for the rest of the story.