January 24, 2010

AP: Both Brown Win and Obama Anti-Bank Attacks Examples of ‘Populism’

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It’s amazing how Bernard Condon and Tim Paradis of the Associated Press managed to hang the same label on totally opposite political positions in their report on the situation in the stock market late this afternoon.

According to the AP pair, Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate win in Massachusetts was due to a “wave of populism,” at the same time as President Obama is supposedly planning to use “populist attacks” to save his party’s congressional majority in the fall elections. One of those employments of “populism” has to be wrong.

Additionally, they write that it’s Scott Brown’s type of populism that caused investors to sell heavily in the middle of last week, but that it’s Barack Obama’s type of populism that caused it to plunge even further during its remainder.

Got that?

Look at the bright side: As you’ll see, the wire service at least got the headline right.

Here are the first five paragraphs of the AP pair’s schizophrenic report, followed by a few later ones (bolds are mine):

Obama share scare: Market drop shows vulnerability

It was the fat cats’ fault before. But now it’s becoming Obama’s.

With the unemployment rate stubbornly high, people were already shifting blame for their economic woes to President Barack Obama one year into his presidency. Last week, investors joined them.

For 10 months, the stock market climbed at breathtaking speed. But the Dow Jones industrial average suffered its worst week since dropping to a 12-year low in early March. It fell 552 points Wednesday through Friday, including 216 on Friday.

One big reason investors scrambled to sell: Fear over a wave of populism that swept a Republican to an upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race on Tuesday. When Obama responded on Thursday with a broadside against big banks, the market plunged. On Friday, investors feared mounting opposition in the Senate could derail Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s reappointment. Disappointing corporate earnings and concern that China will slow its economy added to the jitters.

The question now: If the bad news continues, will Obama, who is trying to win votes in the fall elections with his populist attacks, end up losing them instead? Put another way, can Obama win over Main Street by vilifying Wall Street if people fear opening their 401(k) statements again?

Last Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the indexes hit 18-month highs in anticipation of Republican Scott Brown’s likely victory in the race to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts. Health insurance and pharmaceutical companies led the gains because a Brown victory endangers the massive health care bill favored by Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress.

But stocks began falling fast on Wednesday when China announced plans to slow its economy. They fell again the next day after Obama’s speech calling for limits on the size of banks and their risk taking.

The coup de grace for the market came Friday. In a nod to voter anger at Wall Street, a few Democrats said they wouldn’t vote to reappoint Bernanke, whose term ends Jan. 31. But many investors have faith that Bernanke has the tools, the know-how and the political backbone to reel in the unprecedented amount of money pumped into the economy during the financial crisis and avoid a crushing round of inflation.

How Condon and Paradis can alternatively blame Brown for both the market’s Tuesday rise and its fall during the remainder of the week (strongly implied in the fourth excerpted paragraph) is quite a mystery.

How the pair can call both the Brown campaign’s positions (which included a ringing denunciation of the “Bank Responsibility Fee” the president proposed the previous week) and Obama’s attacks on the banks “populist” at the same time. My suggestion: Brown reflects a genuine form of populism that wants the states and the people to have more control over their lives, and the federal government to have less, while Obama’s “we want our money back” rhetoric and his desired limits on what banks can do and how big they can be — limits that can’t be imposed on the rest of the world and would likely make U.S. banks less competitive in the world marketplace — is sheer demonization and demagoguery that has nothing to do with genuine populism.

The “blame Ben Bernanke” gambit being undertaken by some senators has little or nothing to do with “voter anger at Wall Street”; if there’s major evidence of that, I haven’t seen it. It is instead an attempt to distract the public from the truth about who is really responsible for the housing, mortgage-lending, and general financial services messes that came to a head in the summer and fall of 2008. That list of the blameworthy, not necessarily in order, would include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Timmy Geithner, Henry Paulson, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the Congressional and Senate majorities, and Democratic Party-inspired legislation going back decades such as the Community Reinvestment Act. If Big Ben even belongs on the list, he would be at or near its bottom.

Towards the end of their report, Condon and Paraidis threw out this howler:

The vote in Massachusetts scared all incumbents. It’s now every man and woman for himself or herself in Washington.

Give, me, a, break. All incumbents? Who can possibly believe that sensible, principled conservatives like Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn have been quaking in their boots during the past week because of Scott Brown’s win?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Follow-up: WWF Glacier Claim ‘Regret’ Statement Inaccessible at Its U.S. Web Site (See Update)

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At NewsBusters last night, Noel Sheppard posted about a UK Daily Mail report that “A scientist responsible for a key 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warning Himalayan glaciers would be completely melted by 2035 has admitted that the claim was made to put political pressure on world leaders.” Noel also noted that U.S. media coverage of this damning admission has been sparse.

The basis for the now-discredited claim was “a 2005 report by the environmental campaign group WWF (World Wildlife Fund).” Further, the WWF report contained a basic math error causing it to assert that “one glacier was retreating at the alarming rate of 134 metres a year should in fact have said 23 metres.”

The Daily Mail reported that “Friday, the WWF website posted a humiliating statement recognising the claim as ‘unsound’, and saying it ‘regrets any confusion caused’.”

The statement must be humiliating, because if its text is anywhere on a WWF web site, it seems to be well-hidden, and perhaps deliberately so. (See Update below)

The most recent entry at WWF-US’s Climate Blog is an announcement that “Earth Hour” is returning this year in March (oh boy) dated January 21 at 6:55 a.m.

As you’ll see from the left side of the graphic that follows, the list of Recent Blog Posts shows that four other posts have been created since the Earth Hour post. The right portion of the graphic shows what happens when you click on the “After Slipping on Himalayan Glaciers, IPCC Reaffirms Commitment to High Standards and Thorough Review” in the Recent Blog Posts list:

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I even became and then logged in as a registered user in an attempt to work around the access denial. Nothing changed.

Now it’s true that two of the other three more recent posts are also inaccessible. But the “National Scientist Telepresser Audio MP3″ link works fine, as does the audio when you go there. I did not get access denials on several older posts I clicked on at the WWF’s Climate blog.

Multiple attempts to search the WWF’s UK site for anything relevant to the statement of regret using various word strings came up empty. (See Update below)

A Google search on ["regrets any confusion caused" glaciers] (input as indicated between brackets) came up with no WWF links, nor did a similar search using “glacier” in singular form or replacing “glacier” with “WWF.”

It seems more than a little convenient that WWF’s “humiliating” statement of regret is inaccessible. I wonder if and when it will ever reappear? Further, I wonder how the establishment press would handle a conservative organization that had a humiliating statement acknowledging its mistakes hidden from view?

Maybe they should rename it the Worldwide Weasels Fund.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

UPDATE: NB commenter Locutus has located WWF-UK’s statement. I was unable to locate it earlier today because my searches at the UK site used the word “regrets” instead of “regret” based on the Daily Mail’s reported quote.

WWF’s U.S.-based Climate Blog still denies access to its related Himalayan glacier post, supporting the notion that it would prefer that as few people as possible in the U.S. learn of their grievous error. With the help of the U.S. establishment press, they will probably largely get their way.

Positivity: American volunteer in Haiti makes ‘transition from teacher to relief worker’

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 8:09 am

From Biloxi, Mississippi and Port-au-Prince, Haiti:

Jan 23, 2010 / 07:58 am (CNA).- An American volunteer in Haiti has stepped up to the challenge of helping the country cope with the aftermath of the massive earthquake that flattened the city of Port-au-Prince last week. Elissa Kergosien, of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, returned to Haiti just before the earthquake hit and feels herself to be “in the center of God’s will.”

Kergosien, a recent college graduate, was interviewed by the Diocese of Biloxi’s Gulf Pine Catholic just days before the 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti.

She told the newspaper that her decision to spend a year at the Louverture Cleary School as a volunteer teacher wasn’t a difficult one. Her parents had involved their family in missionary work for a long time, from countries in Eastern Europe to the Dominican Republic.

Though she had worked with the poor before, “It was still kind of shocking to see the poverty that exists in Haiti. It was shocking to see all the malnourished children in the neighborhood surrounding the school. They’re happy children, but they have bloated stomachs and it was shocking to know that it’s just a 90-minute plane ride from Miami and people are dying from malnutrition.”

During a brief visit to the U.S., Elissa spoke at her home parish and raised $1,500 for the school in Haiti. “It’s a school that completely supported by U.S. parishes and donations and it’s doing incredible work in Haiti,” she said. “It’s raising up a generation of leaders in Haiti who are going to help to rebuild the country. …

Go here for the rest of the story.

Reuters Unemployment Claims Story Headlines ‘Admin Issues,’ But Ignored Them Last Year

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A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the recovery this week: The U.S. Department of Labor reported on Thursday that Initial claims for unemployment benefits jumped “unexpectedly” by 36,000 to 482,000, when analysts had predicted a slight drop.

What’s more, it turns out that data reported in previous weeks was understated because of “administrative issues” relating to paperwork processing during the holidays. In other words, things have been a bit worse than originally portrayed during the past several weeks.

Not unexpectedly, Reuters seized on the “administrative issues” excuse in an attempt to minimize the damage. Reuters’ primary headline (“Jobless claims rise on administrative issues”) seemed specifically designed to tell readers that “Hey, it’s really no big deal.”

The headlines and excuse-making are all the more galling because the same administrative problems occurred at the same time last year — and almost no one in the press headlined it.

Let’s start with Reuters’ report from January 22, 2009 (i.e., a year ago), starting with its excuse-free headline (bold is mine):

Jobless claims increased sharply last week

The number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose by a more-than-expected 62,000 last week, government data on Thursday showed, as a year-long recession continued to chill the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits increased to a seasonally adjusted 589,000 in the week ended January 17 from a revised 527,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said.

It was the highest level of initial claims since a matching reading in the week of December 20. The last time claims were higher was in 1982, when they notched a weekly rise of 612,000. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 540,000 new claims versus a previously reported count of 524,000 the week before.

A Labor Department official said administrative delays in reporting claims during the year-end holiday season by some states may have contributed to the large increase in claims.

The large volume of new jobless claims as companies lay off workers has strained the capacity of some states’ employment centers.

A Google News Archive search on “initial jobless claims delays” (not entered in quotes) for January 15-31, 2009 came back with eight primary results, only two of which are relevant to this post. One of them does link to an Akron Beacon Journal item headlined “Jobless Claims Up More Than Expected, Analysts Partly Attribute Increase to Holiday Delay.” But the other primary link goes to 35 related articles, none of which cited the delays in their headlines.

This year, the story is different. Here is the primary headline and first few paragraphs from the January 31, 2010 Reuters report. Note how the emphasis is on how the problem “was administrative and not economic”:

Jobless claims rise on administrative issues

The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance unexpectedly rose last week as claims delayed from the year-end holidays were pushed through, government data showed on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 482,000 in the week ended January 16, the Labor Department said, rising for a third straight week.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dipping to 440,000 from a previously reported 444,000. The weekly claims data covers the survey week for the Labor Department’s January payrolls report, which is scheduled for release February 5.

A Labor Department official said the rise in claims was administrative rather than economic as claims that were not processed over the holidays were now being attended to.

In addition, because of Monday’s Martin Luther King holiday, some states had failed to meet the deadline to submit their estimates, resulting in the department having to make estimates for some states.

“There is a bit of a backload from the prior weeks. There were more claims than expected, it’s not an economic thing, but an administrative thing,” the official said.

You would think the administrative problems might not be as significant this year because the volume of claims is 15% or so lower than they were in 2009. But it seems that making that inconvenient point would have distracted from the “admin issues” narrative.

A Google News Search on the first clause of the Reuters report (“The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance unexpectedly rose last week”; entered in quotes, sorted by date with duplicates included) came back with 49 results. 17 of them use the headline noted above, including the Washington Post, the Financial Post, and Canada.com. The most telling evidence of the wire service’s intent is that its PR release of the report through U.S. Daily contains the “administrative issues” headline.

Though the Associated Press has shown a bit of improvement in its business coverage this month (examples here and here at NewsBusters; here and here at BizzyBlog), it was still a bit of a surprise that the third paragraph of Christopher Rugaber’s report on the topic actually handled the “administrative issues” matter properly:

Rise in jobless claims signals bump in recovery

WASHINGTON – A surprising jump in first-time claims for unemployment aid sent a painful reminder today that jobs remain scarce six months into the economic recovery.

The surge in last week’s claims deflated hopes among some analysts that the economy would produce a net gain in jobs in January and help fuel the recovery.

A Labor Department analyst said much of the increase was due to holiday-season-related administrative backlogs at the state agencies that process the claims. Still, economists noted that that would mean claims in previous weeks had been artificially low. Those earlier declines had sparked optimism that layoffs were tapering and that employers would add a modest number of jobs in January.

Finally, even given the 15% or so drop in claims from a year ago, I’m wondering why the analysts who watch these things closely didn’t anticipate the possibility that similar administrative issues might be occurring this year when previous weeks’ numbers came in unexpectedly better. After all, we haven’t seen a lot of “unexpectedly better” news for quite a while.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.