September 28, 2009

Stephen A. Smith Speaks Out

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:53 pm

I’ve detected rumblings of unhappiness from the far leftosphere over the comments of sports reporter Stephen A. Smith. Apparently those running the liberal plantation are starting to have a problem with him.

I don’t. In fact, Smith inadvertently yet eloquently makes the case (HT HipHopCSS via an e-mailer) in a discussion with Mark Levin that Barack Obama’s election was accomplished by fooling people about his agenda:

ACORN Question for Local Media: What in the World Are These People Really Doing?

acorn_rottenIn a great NewsBusters post early this morning, Rusty Weiss wondered how much local media coverage there has been of ACORN’s suspension of services, and focused on potential vote fraud in Albany and Troy, New York.

Here’s a question local reporters looking for an angle should be asking, even in the somewhat unlikely event they can’t find anything corrupt or criminal at the ACORN office in their town: How effective is the organization’s outreach?

Based on what little I’ve learned, a more legitimate question might be, “Is ACORN’s so-called outreach really just a facade to conceal other not well-known activities it really considers more important”?

The issue first occurred to me when I read a September 18 report by WCPO in Cincinnati (WCPO apparently stands for “We Constantly Promote Obama”) about the office’s decision to suspend services (bolds are mine):

Every month more than two dozen people walk into ACORN’s Cincinnati office on Central Avenue for help with avoiding foreclosure and finding financial aid programs.

ACORN, or The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is the nation’s largest community activist group. But starting this Friday, it’s suspending its social services and outreach.

The agency is conducting damage control after undercover video hit the airwaves. In it, ACORN workers appear willing to help a pimp and prostitute buy a home to run as a brothel. The two were actually conservative activists.

ACORN says the tapes were doctored and an internal investigation is underway. The employees in the tapes have been fired.

The leader of Ohio ACORN, Amy Teitelman, calls the videos “a racist and classist campaign against us.”

Let’s get past the tired boilerplate leftist name-calling for a moment and look at the numbers.

ACORN Cincinnati, when operating, was seeing barely more than one new client each business day. Barely one.

A September 18 Cincinnati Enquirer story by Quan Truong takes the number down further, even though the services described are wider in scope (bold is mine):

People seeking services from ACORN will have little luck getting any as the agency’s offices statewide try to ride out nationwide scandal over advice given to some clients and caught on hidden cameras.

Locally, that means about 20 clients a month will be turned away, said Amy Teitelman, the local and state director of ACORN.

The decision to suspend services, which includes foreclosure prevention and tax preparation, came after conservative activists revealed hidden camera footage of ACORN employees in other states offering advice about setting up prostitution businesses.

We’ve now gone from barely one to only one new client each business day, and for all services.

That’s embarrassing. What in the world are these people doing all day?

The stories just excerpted are, as far as I have been able to determine based on this Cincinnati.com search, the only two locally-originated Greater Cincinnati stories generated in the wake of James O’Keefe’s and Hannah Giles’s undercover video work in various U.S. cities (five thus far). I’d say I just gave our locals a story idea, if they would care to run with it.

A similar pattern holds when you look at the numbers nationally. For example, here’s this excerpt from a September 15 report by Fox News, which says it obtained the numbers it reported from ACORN’s national web site (bold is mine):

Six years later, in 1986, the organization created the ACORN Housing Corporation to “build and preserve housing assets.” Since its inception, according to its Web site, the corporation has assisted more than 45,000 families to become first-time homeowners and has rehabbed more than 850 vacant or abandoned housing units.

What?

Even if those totals were for only 5 years instead of 23, that would be 1.57 families per office per week (45,000 divided by 110 cities divided by 5 years divided by 52). It seems pretty obvious that the real number is a lot lower than 1.57. Again assuming only 5 years instead of 23, the rehabs are less than 1.6 per city per full year (850 divided by 110 divided by 5). Habitat for Humanity (this is a huge understatement) runs circles around that.

Again, what in the world are these people doing all day?

Finally, there’s this September 23 AP story about the Internal Revenue Service severing its ties with ACORN:

The Internal Revenue Service said it would no longer include ACORN in its volunteer tax assistance program. The program offered free tax advice to about 3 million low- and moderate-income tax filers this spring. ACORN provided help on about 25,000 returns, the IRS said.

25,000 returns nationwide? That’s less than 1% of the 3 million cited, is just over 200 per year in each of ACORN’s 110 cities, and likely includes a lot of repeat-year returns that are pretty easy to prepare. The IRS could have fired ACORN solely on the basis that they weren’t worth management’s time and attention.

By contrast, here’s just one example of a United Way taxpayer assistance outreach effort out of Washington state (bold is mine):

In 2009, 530 volunteers dedicated 16,000 hours to United Way of King County’s Free Tax Prep Campaign. Volunteers prepared 13,631 tax returns, helped return $17.3 million in federal refunds back to the community, including $5.2 million in Earned Income Tax Credits, and saved customers an estimated $1 million in tax preparation fees.

The King County group, in just one metro area, did over half as many returns as ACORN did in the entire country, and provided their services for free.

I repeat, what in the world are the people in these ACORN offices really doing?

Local reporters ought to be all over this, assuming they’re interested in digging for the truth instead of parroting ACORN’s press releases and talking points. National reporters should be ashamed that they have ignored the obvious indications that ACORN’s offices really accomplish very little of value on behalf of the poor people they allegedly serve.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

A Billion Here, A Billion There: Dem-Backed Firms Get Speculative Energy Dept. Loans

GlobalWarmingThe headline and the first paragraph from this Friday Wall Street Journal report by Josh Mitchell and Stephen Power reads like a bad joke Jay Leno’s writers would have discarded, because no one would believe it. The second paragraph isn’t much better.

Gore-Backed Car Firm Gets Large U.S. Loan

A tiny car company backed by former Vice President Al Gore has just gotten a $529 million U.S. government loan to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000.

The award this week to California startup Fisker Automotive Inc. follows a $465 million government loan to Tesla Motors Inc., purveyors of a $109,000 British-built electric Roadster. Tesla is a California startup focusing on all-electric vehicles, with a number of celebrity endorsements that is backed by investors that have contributed to Democratic campaigns.

That’s a combined total of just shy of a billion dollars going to two companies currently making toys for the wealthy under circumstantially suspect conditions.

Tesla may have legitimate prospects; at least it is selling something. The company claims in an August 7 press release to have posted a profit of $1 million on sales of $20 million during the month of July. Fisker, on the other hand, is still working on a dealer network.

But in each case, based on where the companies stand, the funding for development would ordinarily come from venture capital or corporate investors who would take significant ownership stakes. No lender in the private sector, even a bank laboring under the Treasury Department’s Troubled Assets Relief Program, would dare make these loans except under externally-induced duress, on the justifiable concern that, well, they would be creating more troubled assets.

But the Department of Energy (DOE) has no problem putting taxpayers on the hook for these speculative ventures. As the late Illinois Senator Ev Dirksen said (in essence), “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

The story should have received more attention than it has, especially because of the circumstantial evidence of favoritism, which apparently included a of taxpayer-financed loan application consulting:

DOE officials spent months working with Fisker on its application, touring its Irvine, Calif., and Pontiac, Mich., facilities and test-driving prototypes.

…. Henrik Fisker, who designed cars for BMW, Aston Martin and Tesla before starting his Fisker Automotive in 2007, said his goal is to build the first plug-in electric hybrids that won’t sacrifice the luxury, performance and looks of traditional gas-powered luxury cars.

…. He said he pitched the Karma to Mr. Gore at an event hosted by KPCB last year, and that the former vice president almost immediately submitted a down payment for the car.

Kalee Kreider, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gore, confirmed that the former vice president backs Fisker and purchased a Karma. “He believes that a global shift of the automobile fleet toward electric vehicles, accompanying a shift toward renewable-energy generation, represents an important part of a sensible strategy for solving the climate crisis,” she said in a statement.

Fisker’s top investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a veteran Silicon Valley venture-capital firm of which Gore is a partner. Employees of KPCB have donated more than $2.2 million to political campaigns, mostly for Democrats, including President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign contributions.

…. Fisker’s government loans will come from a $25 billion program established by Congress in 2007 to help auto makers invest in the technology to meet a new congressional mandate to improve fuel efficiency. In June, the DOE awarded the first $8 billion from the program to Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., and Tesla, which are all developing electric cars.

It’s reasonable to ask whether Congress in 2007 expected that the program would take on the self-evident default risks of lending to a start-up and a very early-stage company, respectively, or if it expected that the funds would be accessed by already well-capitalized companies.

It’s also reasonable to ask whether the Fisker deal is worth it, based on the DOE’s September 22 press release (bolds are mine):

US Energy Secretary Chu Announces $528 Million Loan for Advanced Vehicle Technology for Fisker Automotive
Investment will save or create at least 5,000 jobs

Washington, DC – Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced a $528.7 million conditional loan for Fisker Automotive for the development of two lines of plug-in hybrids that will save hundreds of millions gallons of gasoline and offset millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2016. The project will result in approximately 5,000 jobs created or saved for domestic parts suppliers and thousands more to manufacture a plug-in hybrid in the U.S.

“This investment will create thousands of new American jobs and is another critical step in making sure we are positioned to compete for the clean energy jobs of the future,” said Secretary Chu. “Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles could revolutionize personal transportation and cut our dependence on foreign oil, not to mention give us cleaner air and less carbon pollution.”

…. While the final assembly of the Karma will be done overseas, more than 65 percent (based on cost) of the parts required for Karma will come from U.S. suppliers. The four-door Karma is scheduled to appear in showrooms in summer 2010.

All of this for 5,000 jobs? What’s more, DOE itself acknowledges that many of the jobs will probably not be “created,” only “saved,” using the preposterous “created or saved” language the administration has used since shortly after the November election. Before the election, candidate Obama, without any exception I could find, referred only to “creating jobs.”

If there were so many conflicts of interest in appearance in a financial arrangement in any other administration, I daresay the press as a whole would be paying a lot more attention to this, and asking a lot more questions. But in the Obama administration, under the environmental mantra, apparently anything goes, even if, as noted yesterday (covered at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), much of the underlying data supporting the very idea of global warming as a valid concept may have disappeared.

Cross-posted at Newsbusters.org.

Lucid Links (092809, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 9:53 am

Here’s an absolute howler (HT Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters) from the Associated Press’s Stephen Ohlemacher yesterday:

The (Social Security cash) deficits – $10 billion in 2010 and $9 billion in 2011 – won’t affect payments to retirees because Social Security has accumulated surpluses from previous years totaling $2.5 trillion. But they will add to the overall federal deficit.

That gives less-informed readers the impression that there’s a stash of cash sitting there for retiree payments.

There is not.

As I have pointed out in previous columns (here and here), there is virtually no money in the Social Security “Trust Fund” because almost all of the $2.5 trillion in “surpluses” Ohlemacher refers to has been “lent” to the rest of the government — and spent.

The “Trust Fund” consists almost entirely of IOUs from the rest of the government, which in case you haven’t noticed is about $12 trillion in debt. The “surpluses” have NOTHING to with Social Security’s ability to pay benefits, because they have long since been raked off.

If Social Security taxes stop coming in, that “surplus” can’t be used to pay benefits without begging our broke government to either pay back its debt or print more money.

The false impression Ohlemacher creates is incredibly irresponsible, but sadly typical.

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Oh, and speaking of Social Security benefits and taxes, in case you missed it last week, Social Security is running monthly cash deficits already — and thank to the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) Economy, now the POR Recession/”RepressionAs Normal People Define It, they’re getting worse very quickly. As long as unemployment stays high, payroll tax collections will lag, and more seniors will start taking benefits early.

Remember how we were repeatedly told this wouldn’t happen until 2017? That would have been the case if Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and Harry Reid hadn’t caused, worsened, and, by choosing “stimulus” over tax cuts, extended the recession.

Speaking of recession, this CNNMoney.com article indicates that final GDP contraction for the second quarter will come in at -1.2% on Wednesday.

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RIP, William Safire.

The best sentence he ever wrote was about Hillary Clinton in January 1996:

Americans of all political persuasions are coming to the sad realization that our First Lady — a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation — is a congenital liar.

He never backed down (here, here) — because he was right.

Positivity: Leprosy patients from Hawaii to see canonization of Fr. Damien

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:56 am

From Honolulu:

Sep 26, 2009 / 01:08 pm

Eleven elderly leprosy patients from Hawaii will travel to the Vatican for the canonization ceremony of Fr. Damien de Veuster, the heroic priest who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii and died of the disease. The patients’ attending doctor called Fr. Damien their “personal saint.”

The Belgian-born priest is a hero in Hawaii for caring for those victims banished to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula. Native Hawaiians were devastated by leprosy, which appeared after the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778.

About 90 percent of the approximately 8,000 people exiled to the peninsula were native Hawaiians. The state of Hawaii stopped exiling leprosy victims in 1969, more than two decades after a reliable treatment was discovered.

Many patients chose to stay at the colony because the community had become their home.

Eleven of the about 20 patients still living at Kalaupapa will make the 12,000-mile trip to Rome for the priest’s canonization, according to the Associated Press.

Their physician, Dr. Kalani Brady, said the trip will be an “energy-laden” voyage for many patients.

“They’re going to see their personal saint canonized,” Brady told the Associated Press. The event is “incredibly important, incredibly personal for them.”

Since 1936, Fr. Damien’s body has rested in his Belgian hometown of Tremelo. However, his grave at Kalaupapa contains a relic of his right hand.

The canonization of Fr. Damien was announced earlier this year after the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints ruled that there was no medical explanation for a woman’s recovery from terminal cancer. She had prayed to Fr. Damien to intercede for a cure.

Pope Benedict XVI will preside over the canonization on October 11. The priest was beatified in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict is expected to meet privately with the patients during their stay in Rome.

About 650 people from Hawaii are traveling to Rome for the canonization. Most are expected to be part of the delegation of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu.

A Boy Scout group called the St. Damien Boy Scouts of Oahu will document the capstone event and their travels on the internet using a blog, YouTube and Facebook. ….

Go here for the rest of the story.