November 21, 2008

Mary Taylor Is Right; Joe the Plumber Snoop Should Be Fired

Filed under: Consumer Outrage,Privacy/ID Theft,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:27 pm

(Scroll for Updates: Make That “Snoops” — Four More Nearly Invisible Wrist Slaps; Official Gov. Statement on Jones-Kelley; Curious Story Timing)

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I could not find Mary Taylor’s statement at any related URLs, though I think she would be perfectly justified in expressing her opinion at her State Auditor web site (that’s what auditors do).

So Taylor appears to be relying on the press (good luck with that), her supporters, and others to get this word out. I am happy to assist with that.

Here’s her press release from today on the slap on wrist (i.e., the one month suspension) given to Helen Jones Kelley for her Joe the Plumber shenanigans:

Statement from Ohio Auditor Mary Taylor
November 21, 2008

Ohio Auditor of State Mary Taylor issued the following statement regarding the one-month suspension of Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Helen Jones Kelley:

“Ohio citizens should have the highest confidence that the private information that state and local government have access to is protected and will not be used for political or other inappropriate purposes. According to the report released today by the Inspector General, this basic and fundamental trust was broken by Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Helen Jones-Kelley.

We need to restore accountability and transparency in government and send a message to Ohioans that the misuse and abuse of personal information will not be tolerated. Government leaders need to be responsible for the actions of their employees so I urge Governor Strickland,who campaigned on the promise of running an ethical administration, to ask for the resignation or terminate Ms. Jones-Kelley immediately.”

Ted Strickland’s oh-well, no-big-deal response to all of this has been pathetic.

And where is the action, if any, on the other Joe the Plumber data divers?

The message is that Ohioans can feel confident that their personal and private information are secure with state agencies — only as long as they don’t make disagreeable, disruptive waves that offend the powers that be.

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“Friday News Dump UPDATE,” 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 22: More wrist-slaps, covered in an AP story that went up at about 8 PM last night –

4 more punished over ‘Joe the Plumber’ searches

….. Fred Williams, the Department of Job and Family Services’ assistant director, will be placed on two weeks unpaid suspension beginning Monday, spokeswoman Scarlett Bouder said in a statement. Doug Thompson, the department’s deputy director of child support, is facing a four-week unpaid suspension, also starting on Monday, (AP ended this sentence with a comma; there is no break in text — Ed.)

Two other agency employees are facing disciplinary action based on conclusions reached Thursday by Ohio’s government watchdog, she said.

The department’s director, Helen Jones-Kelley, improperly ordered staff to look up records on Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, the Toledo-area man who became a household name in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Ohio Inspector General Thomas Charles said in a report.

Gov. Ted Strickland immediately ordered Jones-Kelley be placed on a one-month unpaid suspension after reviewing the report’s findings.

Charles’ report also outlines roles played by Williams and Thompson in the searches, as well as Paul Fraunholtz, the deputy director of family stability, and Judi Cicatiello, the deputy director of unemployment compensation.

Totally. Unacceptable.

Not that we’ll ever find out, but does anyone want to bet against some form of “compensation for valuable campaign services rendered” making its way from “somewhere” to the five people involved?
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UPDATE 2, Nov. 22, 8 a.m.: Here is Ted Strickland’s official statement announcing Jones-Kelley’s suspension –

Columbus, Ohio – Governor Ted Strickland issued the following statement today:

“Helen Jones-Kelley has dedicated her life to helping the most vulnerable among us. She is recognized nationally as an expert in the field of foster care and she has worked commendably for many years as an advocate for children, families and workers in her native Montgomery County and the state of Ohio. I value her contributions to the state and her local community.”

However, I accept the Inspector General’s judgment that there was not an adequate business purpose for the searches in question. I also accept his determination that her personal Blackberry was inappropriately synchronized, resulting in emails she perceived to be personal being transmitted through governmental email resources. Therefore, today I have issued a one-month unpaid suspension for Director Helen Jones-Kelley. Additionally, I am issuing a management directive – applicable to all state agencies, boards and commissions – regarding the proper use of state databases to help ensure that a situation such as this never happens again.”

The full text of the governor’s management directive is pasted below …..

There is currently no statement in the press release section of the Governor’s web site on the “punishments” handed out to the other four individuals the AP mentioned earlier.

An enterprising Ohio journalist would look into whether the governor’s “management directive” is a cut-and-paste of something very similar that might have been put into place during the state’s “Datagate” in 2007, during previous gubernatorial administrations, or at the agencies themselves. Because if similar relevant guidance already exists — and there is good reason to believe that it does, or did — the “management directive” is nothing more than rear end-covering window-dressing.

Assuming Ohio journalists stay in snooze mode, anyone who can point to a previous directive, law, or policy should e-mail me.

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UPDATE 3, Nov. 22, 8:20 a.m.: A Google News search on “Joe the Plumber” Ohio (typed as indicated) shows that the earliest relevant story about the additional four employees disciplined (*) appeared in the Columbus Dispatch at about 5 p.m. on Friday (“15 hours ago,” per Google News, though the story now carries a 7:33 p.m. time stamp).

How convenient.

The Dispatch story does not mention of Mary Taylor’s statement, or for that matter the post-decision reaction of any Republican.

(*) – Italicized words added on November 23 for clarification.

Worse Than Worthless: Market Negatively Values the New York Times Company’s Flagship Newspaper

In other words, they would have to pay you to take what is rapidly becoming Manhattan’s quaint little alternative newspaper off their hands.

Yesterday, New York Times Company stock closed at $5.72. That is, by far, its lowest close in the 22 years presented in this chart at Yahoo!:

NYT Chart

Before today’s opening bell, the company is worth $822 million,

Using conservatively adjusted numbers from a hysterically titled July 25 Business Week article about the company (“How Can The New York Times Be Worth So Little?”), I will show that the market currently sees the New York Times newspaper as literally being worse than worthless.

Here are the two key paragraphs from Business Week’s original “analysis”:

In a research note published on July 9, Lehman Brothers (LEH) analyst Craig Huber estimated the Boston Globe and the 14 regional newspapers the company owns could be sold for $575 million after taxes. Huber valued the 17% stake in the Boston Red Sox, after taxes, at $152 million and the Times’s portion of its new headquarters building in midtown Manhattan at $750 million after taxes. The company paid $410 million three years ago for Web property About.com; according to an estimate by tech blog Silicon Alley Insider, that could be sold for approximately $600 million today. That sounds low to us, since About has consistently reported increasing revenues. Let’s conservatively kick that up to $700 million and assume a 20% tax bite on the Times’s $290 million gains in that sale, which is $58 million. So $642 million, aftertax, for About.com.

Totaling up those figures gets you to just over $2.1 billion. Subtract that from the enterprise value, and you get $750 million for the company’s remaining assets.

Here are estimated adjustments to the components just named for today’s market realities:

  • Boston Globe and regional newspapers — cut July’s $575 mil by about half; call it $280 mil.
  • Boston Red Sox — Despite the economy, there is little sign that sports franchises are declining in value, especially a marquee property like the Red Sox. But to be conservative, knock the original $152 mil down to $140 mil.
  • Despite the real estate slump, the NYT headquarters building’s value probably hasn’t suffered all that much in four months. But I’ll knock it down anyway (figuratively) by 20% from $750 mil to $600 mil.
  • The original About.com valuation at $642 million by Lehman’s Huber goes a long way towards explaining why Lehman is where it is: in bankruptcy. The Times vastly overpaid for About.com, which is a collection of advice and information sites that are hardly, if at all, unique. I’m going to go hyperconservative on this one and assume that About.com is about …. worthless.

Even with a very conservative set of assumptions, that leaves the rest of The Times Company — the flagship paper, the International Herald Tribune (IHT), and one TV station — as having a negative worth of $198 million (+$822 – $280 – $140 – $600). Since the TV station could probably sold at a positive value, this means that the company would probably have to pay you an absolute minimum of $200 million to take its flagship paper and the IHT. Going to more moderate assumptions on the company’s other components would quickly increase the estimated negative valuation to $500 million.

There’s a steep price to pay for insufferable bias, and NYT’s shareholders are paying it. Yours truly and many others saw deep trouble ahead for the Times as early as the summer of 2005 if the paper didn’t stop its Bush-deranged, standards-compromised march towards the cliff.

They had their chances, but nothing changed. Now the precipice approaches.

The market is telling the company’s shareholders that they’d be better off hanging on to the Red Sox and their interest in the headquarters building — and shuttering or selling off whatever they can of everything else.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE, 12:55 PM: NYT stock is down another 10% today, lopping another $80 million off the company’s valuation.

UPDATE 2, 2:25 PM: Sometime during today’s trading, NYT was below $5.

Things I’d Like to Post About Today …. (112108)

Filed under: TILTpatBIDHAT — Tom @ 8:39 am

….. But I Don’t Have Any Time For:

  • CNS News — “Catholics Who Vote for Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) Could Face Automatic Excommunication” — There’s no “could” about it. So-called Catholics who do so commit a de facto excommunication themselves, regardless of what officially comes down. Absent repentance, so-called Catholic voters who voted for Barack Obama in the full knowledge that he would aggressively pursue the passage of FOCA are in a state of serious sin. Been there, proven that.
  • I see yet another reference to “choked credit” in the AP article I linked to in my “Couldn’t Help But Comment” post today. Sorry, I see absolutely zero evidence that consumers who legitimately qualify for loans can’t get them. If “choked credit” means that those who are too likely not to be willing or able to make their payments aren’t getting loans, that’s a good, and necessary, situation.
  • Speaking of AP, this is from the “Couldn’t Happen to a More Deserving Bunch” Dept. — “Associated Press to cut 10 pct (of) jobs in ’09.” Absent a sea change to fair, balanced, competent reporting, I support nine more years of the same. The reality, however, is that even with those cuts, AP appears to be in a position to dominate original-source news for the foreseeable future. Note that it is going around its print members completely by using outlets like Google, Yahoo!, and Breitbart to get news to Internet readers. As newspapers fade, AP’s dominance will become more apparent — as will the wire service’s insufferable bias.
  • Speaking of media layoffs — “Weather Channel lays off staff.” Maybe we’ll be lucky, and (if she’s still there) self-appointed globalarmist and globaloney intimidator Heidi Cullen of “The Climate Code” will be among them.
  • “Angelina Jolie’s Carefully Orchestrated Image” — Jolie and hubby Brad Pitt negotiated contractual promises with People Magazine that its coverage would be positive. They had it rough. Barack and Michelle Obama have gotten the same thing for almost two straight years and have barely had to lift a finger.

Couldn’t Help But Comment (112108, Morning)

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air had a great supplemental point yesterday that went beyond what I noted at NewsBusters about that Phil Richter LA Times story. Richter reported that peace activists are upset that President-elect Obama is leaning towards “centrist” (LOL) and “hawkish” (ROTFLMBO) defense advisers.

Morrissey added this:

I wonder what Jodie Evans thinks of all this? The Code Pink founder bundled cash for Obama and helped harness the energy of her organization for his election. Richter didn’t interview Evans for this story, which is a shame; it would have been very entertaining indeed to hear her spin Obama’s reliance on pro-war Democrats in the incoming administration. I’d say that her Code Pink associates may have a few questions for Evans in the coming days.

Hopefully I’ll have some choice words for a Code Pink principal in the coming days that will refer back to events in 2002.

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Meanwhile, Allah at Hot Air thinks that Congressmen who actually sleep in their offices (one outgoing rep thinks there may be as many as 40) are pulling a “stunt.” No, they’re saving money and being frugal. Given the crazy hours Congress can have when they are in session (which is, what, maybe 120 days a year?), and the sky-high rents for holes in the wall in DC, I don’t blame them a bit.

An interesting follow-up would be to track the party ID and the fiscal conservatism of those engaging in the practice. I would guess that there’s a high correlation.

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The Big Three bailout appears to be in trouble:

The $25 billion rescue plan for the auto industry, desperately sought by Detroit’s beleaguered Big Three, collapsed Thursday as Congress drew the line at one more bailout and Democrats said they wouldn’t even consider it until the companies produced a convincing plan for rebuilding their once-mighty industry.

I think this is misdirection.

I believe that a “(not really) convincing plan” will arrive on about, oh, January 22, 2009, in time for the Saviour to create His First Save and a larger Democratic majority to ram it through, while making it appear as if they “got tough” before doling out the dough.

This is advance notice that yours truly won’t be fooled. If POR Economy architects Pelosi, Obama, and Reid want to make their case, have the Big 3 execs submit their plans to real bankers and venture capitalists. More than likely, they will then have to stand back and cover their ears, as the db level from the howls of laughter will be ear-splitting.

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Yet more evidence that that alarmists pushing global warming (referred to around here as “globalarmists” and “globaloney,” respectively) are guilty of scientific and public education malpractice:

Global warming predictions are overestimated, suggests study on black carbon

….. soils are by far the world’s largest source of carbon dioxide, producing 10 times more carbon dioxide each year than all the carbon dioxide emissions from human activities combined.

Where have you heard this before? My guess is “nowhere.” You would think from the hype that humans are causing almost all of it.

Assuming there are no other sources of CO2, even if planetwide human emissions were to be cut by 50%, that would only result in a 4.5% reduction in total worldwide CO2 emissions (50% times 1/11). More positively, if humans doubled their CO2 production in the name of lifting the world’s population out of poverty — something free-market capitalism has been doing quite well — it would only increase CO2 emissions by 9%. If there are other sources of CO2, the impact is even less.

The idea that an atmosphere that can “somehow” absorb and adjust to the impact of volcanoes and sunspots can’t deal with small annual increases or decreases in CO2 is absurd on its face.

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Another Al Qaeda biggie got taken out in Afghanistan.

Two thoughts:

  • There’s probably a correlation between successes such as these and the falling monthly coalition troop death numbers in Afghanistan (7 this month so far, down from 19 in October and 46 in September).
  • We’d better get as many of the major players as we can before January 21, because after that, if history is any guide, the people in charge won’t pull the trigger, even when the target is right in front of them — “….. the Clinton Administration had eight chances to get Bin Laden and in each instance, Bill Clinton chose to pass on it or to make no decision (which in essence was a decision, as the opportunity passed).”