December 26, 2009

Flight 253: AP Scrubs ‘M-Word,’ Potential Relevance of ‘Nigerian Taliban,’ Suspect’s Reference to Afghanistan (UPDATE: Son of Prominent Nigerian Banker?)

2009-12-25NYTNWA253It has been interesting watching the Associated Press reports on the attempted takedown of Flight 253 devolve in the past 12-plus hours.

In its 8:56 a.m. report (likely dynamic and subject to change), it looks like the assemblage of AP writers who worked on the story have succeeded in:

  • As Mark Finkelstein at NewsBusters noted earlier this morning in the case of the New York Times, ridding the report of the M-word (“Muslim”).
  • Minimizing to nearly zero the possible relevance of the suspect’s home country of residence and of the possibility that he might be affiliated with what one publication refers to as the “Nigerian Taliban.”

The wire service’s 11:04 p.m. report (not linked, as original was revised by AP), had this to say about the relevance of Nigeria in its 23rd paragraph of 26:

APonNigeriaLateEvening122509

At least it has the M-word, and at least it seems to imply that Nigeria might have some current AQ activity.

That verbiage remained but went to the second-last paragraph of the 3:07 a.m. version of the report (linked, but may change), and disappeared without replacement from the 3:54 a.m. dispatch. The 8:56 a.m. report also has no text discussing circumstances in Nigeria, and has been purged of the M-word.

Kaney Obaji Ori at Afrik.com lays out the relevance in the final four paragraphs of his update on the incident (internal link added by me; bolds are mine):

The Nigerian Diaspora have meanwhile expressed disappointment and concern over the susceptibility of al-Qaeda sleeper cells amongst predominantly Northern Muslim Nigerians. The Nigerian Taliban known as Boko Haram, an anti-western extremist Muslim group that sprung up in Northern Nigeria in July and threatened state civility in Nigeria were armed with machetes, knives, home-made hunting rifles and petrol bombs.

The group went on rampage in several states across Northern Nigeria, attacking churches, police stations, prisons and government buildings, and demanding sharia law for all Nigeria as opposed to democratic western-styled education and ideals.

After the sects uprising in northern Nigeria, many beheaded bodies were found in the sect’s headquarters, including at least three Christian preachers and the second in command of the military operation. Hundreds of sect members were also killed by Nigerian security forces in a major clampdown to dismantle the sect. Over 700 deaths related to the violence was (sic) reported.

The presence of an al-Qaeda branch operating across the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, Morocco, Mali and Niger and Nigeria’s porous borders was confirmed when a report submitted to top government officials in 2007 had identified and classified the Boko Haram sect as a “murderous religious group” that had been train by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. State Security Service of Nigeria stated that “the group was linked to Al Qaeda through some of its members including Barah Abdul and Mohamed Al-Amin who were in Afghanistan and have strong links with some Al Qaeda leaders”.

After the July violence, during which Boko Haram leader Mallam Mohammed Yusuf was killed, the group declared total jihad (HT Jihad Watch):

The Islamic sect Boko Haram has declared total Jihad in Nigeria, threatening to Islamise the entire nation by force of war.

In a statement dated August 9, 2009, …. the sect whose activities led to the lost of hundreds of lives in northern Nigeria recently declared that their leader Yusuf who was killed in controversial circumstances during the crisis, lives forever.

In what looked like a declaration of war on the rest of the nation, the Boko Haram sect said it will unleash terror in Southern Nigeria this August, beginning with the bombing of Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu to make good its words.

The group’s statement also says that “We support Osama bin Laden, we shall carry out his command in Nigeria until the country is totally Islamised which is according to the wish of Allah.”

AP also couldn’t find space in its 1,100-word report to tell us that many passengers claimed to have heard the suspect “screaming about Afghanistan” during the ordeal. Uh, don’t Afghanistan’s extremists also call themselves “the Taliban”?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: I saw information about this gentleman last night, but thought it too coincidental to speculate over.

Well, it turns out that he might be the suspect’s father (HT Powerline) —

In Nigeria, a prominent banker said Saturday that he was meeting with security officials there because he feared his son was the suspect. Alhaji Umaru Mutallab told The Associated Press said his son was a one-time university student in London who had left Britain to travel abroad.

If so, that sort of refutes the “poor, desperate, exploited, angry Muslim” angle. Related: Michelle Malkin — “The Myth of the Poor, Oppressed Jihadist”

UPDATE 2, 5 p.m.: Plot thickening, via ABC

The device intended to blow up the Northwest flight was made at the location in Yemen, according to Abdulmutallab, and consisted of a six-inch packet of powder and a syringe with a liquid. Both were sewn into the student’s underwear so they would be near his testicles and unlikely to be detected, he told agents.

…. Published reports in Nigeria said Abdulmutallab’s father had contacted the U.S. embassy six months ago about concerns his son had become radicalized and could pose a threat to the U.S. One report said the father could not understand why his son was allowed to board a flight to the U.S. given his warning.

Well, I guess that pretty much answers the terror affiliation question. Given that the father’s contact was in June, it also means it’s not Bush 43′s fault.

A ‘Progressive’ Christmas: More Financially Trying, Less Visible

grinchTaking “Christmas” out of a mediocre shopping season.

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Note: This item went up at Pajamas Media and was teased here at BizzyBlog on Thursday.

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Each November and December, the presence of Christmas-specific decorations and signs in the malls and other shopping venues in this part of the country seems to diminish just a bit. It’s some consolation in southwestern Ohio that at least we’re not to the point where we call the Christmas tree a “Unity Tree,” which incredibly has been the case in Pittsburgh for a while.

Less than benign neglect of Christmas describes the way the supposedly open-minded and progressive establishment press covers the season’s retail trade. I’ll have more on that later, but let’s first look at how the Christmas shopping season is going, and at its impact on jobs and the economy.

The relatively good news is that sales appear to be on track to barely trail last year. A short time ago the predictions were much worse. The problem is that time after time after time, the headlines tell us that retailers haven’t done a lot of seasonal hiring. I know for a fact that many of the larger merchants in our area are trying to slide by with their existing staff, apparently willing to severely test the patience of customers needing personal assistance or merely trying to get through the checkout lines.

This retailer hiring holdback was clear in the job-related numbers that came out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics last month — but not in the widely published figures of 10% unemployment (down from 10.2%) and 11,000 jobs lost. The latter figure was especially skewed by the nature of the bureau’s seasonal adjustment calculation and the high degree of fantasy contained in its “birth/death” model.

In November, what in fact happened on the ground (i.e., in the not seasonally adjusted numbers) is that employers added an estimated 80,000 net jobs. But part of that number included 30,000 net birth/death positions, representing the supposed difference between jobs added by newly born and unseen businesses and those lost at disappearing and invisibly contracting ones. Excluding November 2008′s outlier of 610,000 total jobs actually lost, which was largely a reflection of the sudden bailout-induced loss of confidence in the financial system and a reaction to Barack Obama’s electoral victory, November 2009′s all-inclusive on-the-ground job jump was a full quarter-million less than the November 2003-2007 average. If retailers were doing a lot of seasonal hiring this year, that result would have been very different. It’s by no means certain that stores will even be able to keep all of their full-time staff when 2010 rolls around.

As to the birth/death model, the high likelihood that it is overstating employment is really not the BLS’s fault. The model recognizes that in a typical downturn and recovery, many laid-off and terminated workers take the opportunity to start up new enterprises below the radar and end up taking on new people. They tend to do that in greater numbers than smaller, invisible firms and self-employed individuals give up their efforts.

But this is no typical downturn, nor is it a typical recovery; instead, it’s the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) Economy. Thanks to impending tax increases, the possibility of cap and trade, the apparent likelihood that statist health care will be with us shortly, and many other similar factors, uncertainty dominates. Few businesses are brave enough to invest, expand, or even temporarily take on more people. The BLS should be forgiven for not incorporating assumptions about what might happen if a political party bound and determined to take down the economy took over the reins of power into its birth/death model. Before the summer of 2008, who thought it would ever happen?

The BLS currently estimates that almost 1.2 million net new birth/death jobs sprang up between February and November. Fortunately, the bureau eventually circles back and revises its results when better information becomes available. As a result, as the New York Post’s John Crudele noted, a downward adjustment in the neighborhood of a preliminarily estimated 824,000 jobs will become official early next year. Bah humbug indeed.

Of course, Christmas isn’t primarily about commerce. It is, or should be, about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, and the uplift to the human spirit that accompanies that celebration. It’s a spirit that is more than generous enough to welcome others who don’t share that belief to nevertheless participate in the celebratory feeling. That commercial activity related to gift-giving has historically mostly risen during the Christmas season is not an automatic indictment of obsessive materialism. Rather, it is more often than not tangible evidence that most people in this country don’t think that their life is all about them.

That many others who don’t share similar religious beliefs are too often unwilling to respond to the spirit of the season is by now a pretty much proven point; why that attitude is seen as “progressive” remains one of life’s great mysteries.

All one needs to do to show that journalists in recent years have become increasingly reluctant to recognize Christmas in commerce is to compare the combined results of three pairs of Google News searches in November and December 2009 (a couple of days before Thanksgiving, December 8, and December 21) to analogous searches done four years earlier:

- 2005 -
“Christmas shopping season” — 2,969
“Holiday shopping season” — 21,450
“Christmas” as percentage of the total — 12.2%

- 2009 -
“Christmas shopping season” — 2,529
“Holiday shopping season” — 25,352
“Christmas” as percentage of the total — 9.1%

The percentage of “Christmas” references, already quite skimpy four years ago, is down by about one-fourth since then. At that rate of decline, the term “Christmas shopping season” will disappear in about a dozen years.

Thankfully, despite the media’s and society’s best efforts, the historical record of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection won’t ever do that.

AP’s Babington Plays Obama/Dem Party Mouthpiece, Ignores CBO ‘Double-Counting’ Advisory

APabsolutelyPathetic0109The Associated Press should seriously consider renaming itself “Associated Dems” or “Associated Leftists.”

This morning, the AP’s Charles Babington uncritically relays the latest Democratic Party talking point about its statist health care plan that has been passed in two very different forms in the House and Senate. The supposed point is that anyone who voted to create Medicare Part D in 2003 and voted against ObamaCare is “obviously” a flaming hypocrite.

Along the way, Babington ignores a Congressional Budget Office report response issued just before Christmas asserting that characterizations of the Senate’s bill as reducing future government deficits are wrong. Beyond that, the litany of other distortions and errors in Babington’s report is perversely impressive in its no-fib-or-spin-left-behind comprehensiveness.

Here are the first several paragraphs of Babington’s babble, followed by its final sentence:

GOP lawmakers change tune on costly health plans

Democrats are troubled by the inconsistency of Republican lawmakers who approved a major Medicare expansion six years ago that has added tens of billions of dollars to federal deficits, but oppose current health overhaul plans.

All current GOP senators, including the 24 who voted for the 2003 Medicare expansion, oppose the health care bill that’s backed by President Barack Obama and most congressional Democrats.

The Democrats claim that their plan moving through Congress now will pay for itself with higher taxes and spending cuts and they cite the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office for support.

By contrast, when Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House in 2003, they overcame Democratic opposition to add a deficit-financed prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The program will cost a half-trillion dollars over 10 years, or more by some estimates.

With no new taxes or spending offsets accompanying the Medicare drug program, the cost has been added to the federal debt.

…. When the Republican-led Congress passed the Medicare expansion in 2003, the deficit was $374 billion and projected to hit $525 billion the following year, in part because of the new prescription drug benefit for seniors.

The trouble is, Babington’s third paragraph is flat-out wrong, and he should have known it. The CBO said so in a response to GOP Senators Jeff Sessions and Judd Gregg on Wednesday that was posted at its Director’s Blog at 3:16 p.m. that day. Babington’s report is currently time-stamped at 5:31 a.m. today, i.e., 2-1/2 days later.

CBO tells us that it was asked “whether the reductions in projected Part A outlays and increases in projected HI (Medicare Hospital Insurance) revenues under the legislation can provide additional resources to pay future Medicare benefits while simultaneously providing resources to pay for new programs outside of Medicare.”

Their answer is “no”:

The key point is that the savings to the HI trust fund under the PPACA would be received by the government only once, so they cannot be set aside to pay for future Medicare spending and, at the same time, pay for current spending on other parts of the legislation or on other programs. Trust fund accounting shows the magnitude of the savings within the trust fund, and those savings indeed improve the solvency of that fund; however, that accounting ignores the burden that would be faced by the rest of the government later in redeeming the bonds held by the trust fund. Unified budget accounting shows that the majority of the HI trust fund savings would be used to pay for other spending under the PPACA and would not enhance the ability of the government to redeem the bonds credited to the trust fund to pay for future Medicare benefits. To describe the full amount of HI trust fund savings as both improving the government’s ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings and thus overstate the improvement in the government’s fiscal position.

Reuters columnist James Pethokoukis usefully observes that, “This is a similar shell game played by the government when it uses Social Security surpluses to mask the true depth of the budget deficit.”

Megan McArdle at the Atlantic’s Business Channel elaborates:

Basically, Medicare, like Social Security, has a “trust fund” (actually, more than one), which is supposed to fund it until the trust fund is exhausted in 2019. The “trust fund” does not exist in any meaningful sense, because its “assets” consist of claims on the general fund, i.e. all the rest of the tax money. As Medicare goes into deficit, it trades in those assets to cover its funding gap, which means the general fund has to find the money to pay off the special bonds by either raising taxes, cutting other spending, or borrowing more money. After the trust fund is exhausted, the general fund has to find the money to pay for the Medicare deficit by either . . . raising taxes, cutting other spending, or borrowing more money. The difference to taxpayers is nil.

In sum: It’s a new dog, and they’re teaching it the same old tricks.

Here are Babington’s other major howlers:

  • He quotes Bruce Bartlett at Forbes saying some time ago that Medicare Part D “had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers. One hundred percent of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit.” Uh, no. While it’s in many ways a poor example of fiscal stewardship, the fact is, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Medicare published in May 2009, 11% of Part D’s “revenues” of $66 billion came from beneficiary premiums, and 12% came from “state offsets”; the rest is from “general revenues.” That’s far less than ideal, but Bartlett said “no offsets, and no revenue-raisers.” Bartlett was wrong. I’m wondering if Babington really knew that (if he doesn’t, why is he even assigned to this story?), but chose to quote Bartlett anyway.
  • The “Democratic opposition” that the GOP overcame in 2003 primarily opposed the law because it wasn’t “generous” enough, not because of any interest in controlling spending, as Babington apparently would like readers to believe. Carolyn Lochhead at the San Francisco Chronicle reported in November 2003 that “liberals (opposing the plan) seek a government- guaranteed benefit” (Medicare Part D is a voluntary program). The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) claimed that it would “dump seniors in the cold arms of the HMOs.”
  • Babington also conveniently ignores the fact that in a rarity for any kind of government program, costs during the initial years of Part D have come in well lower than originally anticipated, both for taxpayers and seniors.
  • Finally, Babington “forgot” to tell us in the final excerpted paragraph that the “projected” 2004 deficit of $525 billion came in at $413 billion as the collections-enhancing effects of the 2003 Bush tax cuts were kicking in.

Babington also goes bubbly about how “Bill Clinton’s administration was largely constrained by a pay-as-you-go law, requiring most tax cuts or program expansions to be offset elsewhere with tax increases and spending cuts.” I don’t think this is correct, but even if it is, it’s almost certain that the Republican Congress that would have passed such a law and imposed its constraints.

Anyway, it’s as if Clinton is solely responsible for the brief era of budget surpluses. No sir.

Clinton only gets credit for being behind the 1997 capital gains tax cut passed by the GOP Congress, which raised Treasury collections significantly. Otherwise, the rest of the credit goes to the GOP Congress, especially its Budget Committee Chairman from Ohio John Kasich; welfare reform, which Clinton signed only to preserve his 1996 electoral viability, and which reduced outlays and added well over a million new taxpayers to the employment rolls during its first four years; the dot-com boom (which the Clinton administration’s SEC unfortunately allowed to run out of control, giving rise to the dot-com bubble); and finally, the fact that Clinton and wife Hillary failed to saddle us with statist health care earlier in their term (but that battle did set the stage for the Gingrich Revolution, which led to the previously named factors).

If Babington were even trying a tiny bit to be a supposedly objective and informed wire service reporter, he wouldn’t have committed the egregious error of ignoring the CBO’s “double-counting” response, and he wouldn’t have recited the partisan fibs and half-truths present in his report. If he really wants to continue in his current position, he should either change his ways, or tell his bosses to change their masthead to Associated Liberals or Associated Democrats.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Lickety-Split Links (122609, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 7:05 am

Perfect analogy by Reuters columnist James Pethokoukis on the statist health care monstrosity passed by the Senate (bold is mine):

Basically, the government is taking money out of Medicare’s Hospital Insurance (MHI) trust fund, replacing it with IOUs and then spending it. But the CBO doesn’t score such intra-governmental transfers as the same sort of debt as when a Treasury bond is issued. But it is an obligation just the same. If not for this accounting quirk, the Senate health bill seemingly would be scored as increasing the budget deficit by $170 billion or so over the next decade (itself a funny number since taxes come first, then benefits) instead of cutting the deficit by $130 billion. This is a similar shell game played by the government when it uses Social Security surpluses to mask the true depth of the budget deficit.

And, as has happened with Social Security during much of the past year (last item at link), when the time comes that related tax revenues are less than benefits paid out, there will be no real money available to pay benefits, because the MHI trust fund’s supposed balance will be a bogus as Social Security’s currently is. Benefits will have to come from current taxes or new debt, assuming it can even be issued.

Update: I critiqued a related pathetic report by the AP’s Charles Babington at this later post.

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CPAC — “Consciously Providing Ammo to Critics.” Given that the organization has treated Objectively Unfit Mitt Romney as a headliner during past several years, I think the first word should be “Continually.”

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These items are a couple of weeks old, but conditions have not materially changed. David Goldman has “Dave’s Top 10 Reasons To Dismiss Last Friday’s Unemployment Report” (HT Pethokoukis, who himself has 12). They’re all good, though if they looked at the government’s actuals (i.e., the not seasonally adjusted figures), they could come up with even more.

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Redefiningaiming low” –

North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has said that the Senate legislation would postpone the Medicare trust fund’s projected 2017 insolvency by several years.

So you see, this is only the beginning of the problem, not the end.

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From the “This Country is in the Best of Hands” file –Kerry Floats Plan to Visit Tehran; White House Wouldn’t Oppose Trip, First by Top U.S. Official in 30 Years, to Chagrin of Iran’s Opposition” (HT Hot Air).

In contrast to Ronald Reagan, who cut Poland and its Soviet-backed controllers no slack in December 1981, the Obama administration, especially if it designates Kerry as its “official representative” if/when he goes, will be legitimizing the current regime and demoralizing its opposition.

Poland ultimately became free. Does Obama want Iran to be free? Maybe someone should ask him.

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Some context in Ford’s buyout offer to all of its U.S. hourly UAW workers:

  • Even after breaking its promise not to lay off any more hourly employees, GM has 48,000 of them, plus including 6,000 – 7,000 on indefinite layoff collecting “sub pay.”
  • Chrysler plays things a lot closer to the vest, even though taxpayers own a substantial percentage of it. Its hourly headcount appears to be something like 23,000. It was reported as 26,000 in late April.
  • Ford’s sales in most recent months, including November, have been running at about 80% of GM’s and are getting pretty close to doubling Chrysler’s.
  • Looking at those results proportionally and taking into account GM outsourcing of more comparatively more components to facilities in other countries, Ford’s 41,000 hourly headcount with only 634 on layoff is probably too many, but not by a lot, especially if (very, very, big if) the company’s early-December plans to significantly increase production are still in place.

I see the buyout a way for Ford to get a bit leaner and to build up a cash reserve in case the car business as a whole doesn’t recover as expected, to hedge against adverse statist actions designed to protect the government’s two wards, and to get ready for negotiations two years from now that result in no new labor concessions. Such concessions might not be necessary if the company can balance its headcount against its sales. What’s more, Chrysler and GM’s contracts are as I understand it basically locked in until 2015.

Positivity: Archbishop Nienstedt preaches joy and conversion to prison inmates

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:56 am

From St. Paul, Minnesota:

Dec 20, 2009 / 02:29 pm

Tim O’Meara, 50, heartily shook Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Most Rev. John Nienstedt’s hand and grinned broadly, his excitement transparent. He had been anticipating the archbishop’s visit for a while, he said. O’Meara is one of about 990 men who are currently in the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City. Arch bishop Nienstedt celebrated Mass and visited with inmates Dec. 15. The visit coincided with Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Advent that calls people to rejoice in the Lord.

In his homily, Archbishop Nienstedt spoke about God’s gift of joy and the faithful’s need to rejoice. He also spoke of conversion, which is at the heart of St. John the Baptist’s message in the Gospel.

“These Scriptures speak to everyone in the church, no matter what condition he or she finds themselves,” he said. “Even in this situation of being incarcerated, there can be real joy in the realization that God is here in your midst, calling you to a change of heart. . . .”

“The past is what it is,” he continued. “The future lies open to what you want to make of it.” ….

Go here for the rest of the story.