February 24, 2008

A McCain Coincidence? NYT Stock Nosedived Thursday and Friday

Filed under: Business Moves,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:50 pm

During the four weeks preceding February 20, New York Times Company stock had been staging a nice comeback.

Lord only knows that the company’s long-suffering shareholders, who before then had seen the share price drop more than 70% since June 2002, a point in time that roughly coincides with the onset of the Old Gray Lady’s seemingly intractable case of Bush Derangement Syndrome, welcomed any kind of reversal of fortune.

For a while, they had it. From a intra-day low of $14.01 on January 23, the stock rose over 50%, closing at $21.07 last Wednesday.

But on Thursday and Friday, that climb was halted abruptly, and partially reversed. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.4% in those two days, and the S&P 500 dipped 0.5%, NYT stock dove almost 9.7%, closing Friday at $19.03.

In reviewing news about the company, I could only find two factors which could be likely contributors. The great debate, of course, will be the relative importance of each.

The first is that investors reacted negatively to the company’s Thursday announcement after the closing bell that its 23¢ per share quarterly dividend would remain unchanged. Though the decision theoretically only affected Friday’s trading, it’s not unusual for such news to leak out earlier (I know, leaks at the Times. Imagine that).

The companys’ dividend announcement followed a 31% increase in the dividend in March of last year that was partially pitched as a “return of capital” to shareholders resulting from sales of certain broadcast properties. Pegging shareholder reaction to dividend news is difficult at best, but despite the smiley faces at Times headquarters (the company’s January 31 earnings conference call transcript is here), it’s easy to believe that shareholders might have wished that the company would have reduced the dividend in the name of retaining more cash for operations (Agreeing and dissenting opinions as to the effect of the dividend announcement from corporate dividend-policy folks are more than welcome).

The second factor is the profoundly negative reaction to the Times’s tissue-thin story Thursday (first available online late Wednesday) about John McCain’s “relationship” with a female lobbyist in the late 1990s, and the likelihood that it weakened investors’ perceptions of the company’s journalistic integrity and credibility.

The Times was, and continues to be, strongly criticized not only by the story’s target and the “usual conservative suspects,” but by many in the ordinarily tight-knit Old Media community.

It has gotten to the point where the McCain story isn’t the story any more; the Times’s conduct is. Just a few Old Media examples:

  • CNN.com — “Times criticized, defended over McCain story”
  • NPR — “Newspaper Faces Questions About McCain Story”
  • The editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer refused to run the Times’s McCain story (HT Michelle Malkin), saying that “To me, the story had serious flaws. It did not convincingly make the case that McCain either had an affair with a lobbyist, or was improperly influenced by her.”

Because the issue has become the Times itself, including the legitimacy of its decisions concerning whether to run the story and when, it’s not unlikely that investors and analysts caught wind of the flap, and got nervous.

If newly-minted investor squeamishness over journalistic standards at the Old Gray Lady has indeed arisen, what, if anything, does the Times intend to do about it? Or is keeping the bias in its reporting so important that family-controlled management wouldn’t particularly care if non-family shareholders lose faith?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

AP’s Nedra Pickler Has Obama’s Back

It now appears, as predicted by yours truly two weeks ago today, that Hillary Clinton will not be our next president, and that the candidate I often refer to as BOOHOO (Barack O-bomba Overseas Hussein “Obambi” Obama) is going to be Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

This means that it must be time for Old Media to start playing robust defense on his behalf.

Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press got Old Media off to a “great” start in that regard this morning, as she linked criticism of Obama’s patriotism strictly to conservatives, rewrote the history of the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, played a game of misdirection regarding the candidate’s failure to put his hand over his heart during the national anthem, and made excuses for Michelle Obama’s quarter-century gap in her pride in being an American.

Pickler’s report, entitled “Conservatives Say Obama Lacks Patriotism,” starts thusly:

Sen. Barack Obama’s refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin along with a photo of him not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem led conservatives on Internet and in the media to question his patriotism.

Now Obama’s wife, Michelle, has drawn their ire, too, for saying recently that she’s really proud of her country for the first time in her adult life.

Conservative consultants say that combined, the cases could be an issue for Obama in the general election if he wins the nomination, especially as he runs against Vietnam war hero Sen. John McCain.

“The reason it hasn’t been an issue so far is that we’re still in the microcosm of the Democratic primary,” said Republican consultant Roger Stone. “Many Americans will find the three things offensive. Barack Obama is out of the McGovern wing of the party, and he is part of the blame America first crowd.”

The “conservative consultants” are smart enough to know that you don’t have to be a conservative to take umbrage at the Obamas’ statements and actions. But Pickler insists on tying criticisms of the couple to conservatives alone.

Here’s Pickler’s rewrite of the John Kerry/Swift Boat situation:

Opponents of Sen. John Kerry proved in the 2004 election that voters are sensitive to suggestions that a candidate is not sufficiently patriotic. The Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign was torpedoed by critics of his Vietnam War record called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, even though he won multiple military honors and was lauded by his superiors.

The Swift Boat campaign started as a relatively small television ad buy that exploded into an issue that dogged Kerry for months. The Massachusetts senator has conceded since losing to President Bush that the campaign and his lackluster response to unsubstantiated allegations he considered unworthy of a reaction likely cost him the election. And the term even became part of the campaign lexicon — swift boating.

Too bad Pickler doesn’t note the correct definition of “swift boating,” which is usually presented as one word (graphic obtained from Michelle Malkin’s site; original author unknown):

Swifts

The Swifts’ allegations, in fact, were far from “unsubstantiated.” With very rare and relatively insignificant exceptions, the allegations of the Swifts’ stand unrefuted.

Here’s just one example of a rock-solid Swifts’ claim: John Kerry, if he even did spend “Christmas in Cambodia,” was NOT there when Richard Nixon was president, as he has claimed several times was “seared” into his memory. The Christmas in question was 1968, which was a month before Nixon was even inaugurated (Kerry’s claim refers to a statement Nixon allegedly made at the time but could not possibly have made until after being inaugurated, that the US had no troops in Cambodia).

More important, Pickler totally ignored Kerry’s false statements about the scope of atrocities committed by American soldiers in Vietnam, his heavy involvement in presenting and trumping up war atrocity stories in testimony before Congress as head of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and his unauthorized meeting with North Vietnamese officials during wartime — all critical elements in the SwiftVets’ compelling case against him becoming commander-in-chief.

How about the no-hand-over-the-heart incident? Pickler engages in classic misdirection, and fails to address the underlying issue:

Last summer, Obama was photographed by Time magazine at an event in Iowa standing with his hands folded during the national anthem.

….. It has been repeatedly reported that the moment came during the Pledge of Allegiance, but that’s not the case.

Really clever, Nedra. That’s not the topic. What about what Obama actually did or didn’t do during the anthem?

Martin Finkelstein at NewsBusters was among those who correctly noted that the photograph involved was taken during the national anthem, and explained the significance of the incident:

During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. — United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Sec. 171

The real “point,” Nedra, is that Obama wasn’t doing what most Americans instinctively do during the national anthem. The Obama campaign’s response (“Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t [put his hand on his heart]. In no way was he making any sort of statement, and any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous”) attaches no significance to the fact that what he did was a more-than-minor breach of etiquette, and offers no apology for having committed it.

Regarding Michelle Obama’s statement, that “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m proud of my country” (video here), Pickler let Obama’s weak defense of his wife’s statement stand:

Barack Obama has expressed frustration that his wife’s remarks had been taken out of context and turned into political fodder — both the Obamas say she was talking about politics in the United States, not the country itself.

Since Ms. Obama, 44, did not qualify her statement when she made it, it shouldn’t be surprising that many people, and not just “conservatives,” see her statement as a let-down-her-guard moment revealing a fundamental truth about her “adult lifetime” of 26 years. Pickler simply accepted Barack Obama’s distracting excuse for his wife’s statement without challenge.

Look for more Old Media reporters to have Obama’s back in the coming months. I suspect that the candidate and his wife will keep them very busy.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

US Media Ignore NHS Collapse, Hoping for a Similar System Here

Filed under: Health Care,MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:34 am

Note: This column went up at Pajamas Media Friday, under the title “The Perils of Socialized Healthcare.”

Programming Note: From this point forward, I will post the PJM column from earlier in the week on Saturday or Sunday mornings, depending on when PJM posted it.

____________________________________________

This is a difficult column to write, because there’s a glut, not a lack, of pertinent material.

You see, the state-run British National Health Service (NHS) has been decaying steadily for years. Even the formerly fawning British media, after decades of kid-glove treatment, has taken to regularly exposing the NHS’s dark side.

Here are just a few of the most recent sordid examples revealing a system at its breaking point.

The first comes from just outside of many British hospitals (known as “trusts”), in the UK Daily Mail:

A&E patients left in ambulances for up to FIVE hours ‘so trusts can meet government targets’

Seriously ill patients are being kept in ambulances outside hospitals for hours so NHS trusts do not miss Government targets.

Thousands of people a year are having to wait outside accident and emergency departments because trusts will not let them in until they can treat them within four hours, in line with a Labour pledge.

The hold-ups mean ambulances are not available to answer fresh 999 calls.

Doctors warned last night that the practice of “patient-stacking” was putting patients’ health at risk.

You don’t say? Ambulances sit; sick patients get sicker; injured patients’ wounds fester. When was the last time you heard about a US ambulance not unloading its human cargo on a timely basis?

Upon admission, the quality of care is, uh, less than perfect:

  • “Patient’s anger at cancer retests” (BBC, Jan. 19) — Women with cancer were told they didn’t have it until a year or so later because of botched biopsies.
  • “Throat cancer patient ‘starved to death’ after feeding tube blunder” (Times Online, Feb. 15; HT Socialized Medicine Blog).
  • “Neonatal unit closed after fungal infection kills baby” (Times Online, Feb. 15; HT Socialized Medicine).

I would suggest that those who obsess over “medical mistakes” in the US would have their hands full if they crossed the pond.

Well, if the NHS is to do something about all those parked ambulances, and all those treatment mistakes, they’re going to have to deal with utilization, right?

Here’s one “briilliant” idea, originally written up in the January 28 UK Telegraph:

Don’t treat the old and unhealthy, say doctors

Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone.

But wait: Wasn’t the whole idea of socialized medicine “free care to everyone”? Instead, we see eugenics not-so-light.

Here’s yet another utilization control measure, from an IBDeditorials.com opinion piece:

“Instead of going to a hospital or consulting a doctor, patients will be encouraged to carry out ‘self-care’ as the Department of Health tries to meet Treasury targets to curb spending,” the (UK) Telegraph explained.

Yet it’s liberals who accuse conservatives of advocating a “you’re on your own” society.

Perhaps you’re one of those “unhealthy” folks who wants to stay alive, and for whom “self-care” is not an option. Even if you’re filthy rich, you’ll be in for the shock of your remaining life, as shown in this UK Daily Mail report from late January (bold is mine):

Sentenced to death by idiocy

….. Mrs. (Colette) Mills, a former nurse who has breast cancer, was told back in September that her local hospital trust would not pay for Avastin, a drug which would double the time her disease was kept under control.

Colette, 58, and her husband Eric, said they would buy the Avastin out of their savings. Imagine their shock when they learned that, if they purchased the drug, the mother-of-two would have to pay for all her future NHS care – to the tune of £15,000 a month (about $29,000 US — Ed.).

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has ruled that patients can no longer combine private and NHS care as this creates a “two-tier” system.

Who knew that the NHS’s lousy health care was “worth” about $350,000 a year? So Colette Mills’s choice is to go broke in the private “tier,” or die sooner in the public one — liberal “compassion” at its finest.

These stories rarely receive US Mainstream Media coverage. Even news about Massachusetts’s imploding state-run Commonwealth Care, aka RomneyCare, rarely gets beyond the Bay State. Reporters there incredibly still refer to it as a “grand experiment,” and a “landmark.”

Why? It’s simple:

  • Despite all of the contrary evidence, Mainstream Media reporters persist in their belief that socialized medicine can be made to work better than “evil, profit-driven” healthcare.
  • Two of the three remaining viable US presidential candidates advocate socialized medicine, aka “universal healthcare.”
  • Ergo, the serious problems at NHS and in Massachusetts must be ignored.

If we ever see a nationwide state-run healthcare system in the US, the Mainstream Media will have played a large role in its arrival by ignoring its myriad failures, both overseas and at home.

Positivity: ‘I Can Still Be a Mother’

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:02 am

I saved this for the weekend, because it’s a two-parter (Part 1 at BizzyBlog, which is, like Part 2 below, is a small excerpt, was posted Saturday morning), and each part is long — but worth every word.

Oh, and a warning — The story carries a triple-hankie alert, and if there isn’t a Pulitzer in this for Doug Most, there ought to be an investigation.

__________________________________________________

From various places in Greater Boston:

February 17, 2008

Her limbs gone but her heart strong, Monica Sprague begins the long road back to the life she knew, driven by the desire to be there for the husband who stood by her and the daughters who need her.

HE NURSES CHANGING the dressings on Monica Sprague’s arms and legs a few times a day developed a unique routine. Most important was shielding Monica from seeing her own limbs – so they would distract her, ask her to close her eyes, or simply stand in her line of sight. And then they would slowly unwrap the cream-colored gauze slick with Vaseline from the tips of her fingers all the way up past her elbows and from the tips of her toes up past her knees. The limbs were dead, all black and shriveled, hard for anyone to look at, never mind the person whose own body they were attached to, and so once the bandages were off, a fresh coat of Vaseline was applied and fresh gauze delicately wrapped on.

“Her hands were the most horrendous I’d ever seen,” says Kate Davignon, one of the nurses in MGH’s surgical ICU who helped change Monica’s bandages. “Her fingers were the size of a child’s. They were all shriveled, small and thin. They were black through and through, the nails and the skin.”

The nurses were successful at protecting Monica from seeing her wounds, until one day when she stopped Davignon.

“I want to see,” Monica said.

It was early in September 2007. Barely one month ago, Monica had given birth to a beautiful daughter, her second, and had been so close to going home healthy to her apartment in Ayer and starting her new life with her fiance, Tony Jorge, their newborn, Sofia Maria, and Madalyn, her bubbly and precocious 9-year-old from her first marriage. But that all seemed so long ago. Now Monica, a passionate, spry, and outgoing 35-year-old woman with a perpetual smile, was slowly accepting the hard truth that a rare and mysterious flesh-eating bacteria had nearly killed her in the hours and days after her delivery at Emerson Hospital in Concord and that she was alive only because of the fast and aggressive care she got from trauma surgeons at Mass. General.

But even they were not miracle workers. The bacteria were gone from her body, but not before doing irreparable and devastating damage. The only way she was going to live, the only way she was ever going home again was if she let doctors amputate both her arms and both her legs. Those surgeries were now days away, and Davignon, all of 28 and an MGH nurse for five years, had hoped to make it to the operations without Monica ever glimpsing her dead limbs. But Monica had insisted.

“Well, they’re really pretty bad,” Davignon replied when Monica said she wanted to look. “I’m not sure if you want to see.”

“No, I want to see. I want to know what I have to work with.”

And so Davignon slowly undid the gauze on the left hand, showing Monica the back of her hand first, because it was the least damaged and because her black fingers were hidden, curled beneath the hand. But Monica realized that Davignon was being kind. The hand was like glass, hard to the touch, and the dead skin stretched up her forearm.

“Turn it around,” Monica said.

Monica glanced at the fingers, and Davignon saw a look of shock come over her face.

“I’m trying to move them,” Monica said, “and I can’t.”

And that’s when she knew. She had no choice. When her surgeon, Marc de Moya, came to check on her, she told him “I just want to get this over with.”

A few days before the surgeries, Tony went to the hospital with Sofia and Madalyn, and they all crammed into her small room. Amy Brennan, a registered nurse with three kids of her own who’d grown close to Monica, gave Madalyn some crayons to play with. But at one point, Monica blurted out to Madalyn: “You know, they are going to take my hands.” Brennan cleared everyone else from the room, leaving mother and daughter alone. A few minutes later, Madalyn came out and went straight to Brennan.

“She would die if they don’t take her arms, right?” Madalyn said.

“Yes, that’s right,” the nurse told her.

On September 7, 2007, de Moya amputated Monica’s legs below the knees. Four days later, Monica had a relaxing “spa” day at the hospital with Davignon. The sweet nurse conditioned her hair, massaged her shoulders and scalp, and talked to her about how strong Madalyn was. Then David Ring, an orthopedic surgeon, took her away and cut off her arms below the elbows.

REBECCA MURPHY, A SHORT and sassy middle-aged blonde from Brooklyn who wears colorful eyeliner and chunky, stylish jewelry, has been a clinical social worker with intensive care patients at MGH for a decade. “I can sit with patients at their most vulnerable times and allow them to express themselves,” Murphy says. “I assist them in their journey.” After seeing Monica up close in the ICU in late August, however, Murphy didn’t expect her journey to last very long. “I thought she’d die.”

Instead, on September 16, Murphy found herself helping Monica move from the ICU to the seventh floor, a fast-paced wing known as Ellison 7, with 36 beds and a staff of young, energetic therapists, where post-surgery patients begin their physical rehabilitation. It was here that Monica’s shocking story began to circulate in the hospital hallways. Some who only knew her as “that pregnant woman who had the flesh-eating disease” assumed she had died when they hadn’t heard about her for weeks. Now they learned that not only was she alive but that she was, only six weeks later, beginning her recovery, minus her arms and legs. On the day Monica moved up to Ellison 7, Roberta Dee, a case manager who helps patients line up their insurance, remembers the ICU nurse telling her that this was “the sickest patient to ever come out of the ICU and survive.”

As Murphy, Dee, and others in Ellison 7 got to know Monica, they found themselves nervously anticipating the inevitable, hysterical “Why me?” meltdown from the mother of two. But it never came. What they encountered was a determined and surprisingly cheerful woman who loved her apple juice and oatmeal and who, even in her groggiest, most medicated state, even when her surgically induced menopause reduced her to a puddle of sweat and tears, would point with her amputated arm to the bedside picture of her two daughters as her motivation to keep going. “We were all pushing for her,” one of her nurses, Vilma Pacheco, recalls. “But if the patient doesn’t want to do it, it’s like pushing a boulder uphill.”

Monica needed little pushing. Each day, her exercises grew more intense: reaching forward across her body with her arms to improve her range of motion; strengthening her core as much as possible, given that her abdominal muscles had been surgically removed; and learning to sip from a cup, feed herself, and even sign papers (like the consent form she signed with an “X” to agree to this story).

By the end of the month, Monica was making her goals clear to anyone within earshot. On September 27, she told Rebecca Murphy she wanted to change from Monica Sprague to Monica Sprague Jorge, to take the name of the man who gave her Sofia and who was there when she opened her eyes after all those surgeries.

And once that was done, she wanted to go home, to be with Tony, Madalyn, and Sofia. “I can still be a mother,” she told Murphy. “I may not have my limbs, but I can still be a care provider for them emotionally. I went in to have a baby. I am going to go home.”

And so Murphy set out to throw her patient the perfect wedding. …..

Go here for the rest of the story.