February 28, 2010

ACORN’s Apparent Break-up Not News at AP

In a week where several news outlets recognized significant happenings involving the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Associated Press seems to have decided that none of them merit mention. A search on “acorn” at the AP’s main site returns the following:

APacornSearch022810

This search doesn’t eliminate the possibility that AP ran local or regional stories, but I didn’t locate any in a Google News search on “ACORN.”

What follows is a small sample of other coverage generated as a result of goings-on at ACORN during the past week. Readers can decide whether the wire service has decided that recognizing negative news about a scandal-ridden “progressive” organization is a bad idea:

AP has done stories with far less substantive raw material from elsewhere. Why not on ACORN?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Friday Debt Dump, Part 2: Government’s Net Worth Went Far More Negative in Fiscal 2009

TreasuryAnnualFSgraphicYesterday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted Fannie Mae’s $72 billion loss announcement and the ward of the state’s simultaneous $15.3 billion handout request.

Late Friday was also the occasion for the release by the Treasury Department of the “2009 Financial Report of the United States Government.” The report shows how seriously the government’s financial situation deteriorated during the fiscal year that ended September 30. The coverage of the report prepared by the Associated Press’s Martin Crutsinger demonstrated how weak the press’s communication of that seriousness is.

After presenting the first several paragraphs of Crutsinger’s composition for the purpose of providing the basic facts, I’ll concentrate on the AP writer’s three worst paragraphs that followed:

Report shows government’s liabilities surging

The federal government fell further into the red in 2009, with its financial position hitting a deficit of $11.46 trillion.

That figure is 12.3 percent higher than the previous year, according to a new report issued by the Treasury Department on Friday.

The annual report shows that the government’s big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are facing a deficit over the next 75 years of $45.88 trillion, an increase in that deficit of $2.9 trillion in just one year.

The $11.46 trillion deficit in the government’s net financial position in 2009 represents an increase of $1.25 trillion over 2008. The position reflects the government’s assets, such as cash, property and investments, minus liabilities, such as the federal debt held by the public.

Here is the first of Crutsinger’s three worst subsequent paragraphs:

Under the cash accounting system, the federal budget deficit for 2009, the budget year that ended on Sept. 30, soared to an all-time high of $1.42 trillion, surpassing the previous record of $454.8 billion set in 2008.

The trouble is the government isn’t using a purely “cash accounting system” in its routine reports.

One might be tempted to give Crustinger a pass on this, because Treasury made no effort to elaborate on what “prepared primarily on a ‘cash basis’” (the description on Page 7 of the 254-page Financial Report) means. But he doesn’t deserve one, because he was around when Treasury made a huge adjustment last April to previously released information from October 2008 through March 2009 that moved it away from “cash basis” in one critical area. In fact, he reported it on May 12, 2009:

However, the Obama administration said it was changing the accounting process to a “net present value” basis, which means it assumes that the government is getting an asset when it provides loans to the banks and auto companies. Based on the new accounting method, the size of the deficit from October through March fell about $175 billion.

If this change hadn’t been made, fiscal 2009′s reported deficit on a purely cash basis would have been at least $200 billion higher.

Here’s Crutsinger’s second weak subsequent paragraph:

The deficit surge reflects a deep recession that has cut into tax revenues and boosted spending on such programs as unemployment insurance and economic stimulus packages.

Beyond the fact that Crutsinger’s article at various points uses the word “deficit” to describe three very different things (negative net worth, accumulated actuarial obligations, and annual differences between receipts and outlays), more than likely leaving many readers hopelessly confused, the AP writer acts as if this inanimate thing known as “the deep recession” somehow “boosted spending,” even on the stimulus, all on its own. Uh, not exactly. Setting aside the issue of effectiveness or lack thereof, Congress and the Obama administration “boosted spending” on economic stimulus in response to the recession, and for that matter passed and signed off on spending programs in general.

The final weak paragraph concerns Crutsinger’s characterization of the Government Accountability Office’s report on the government’s financial statements:

The General Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, said it could not sign off on the government’s books because of serious financial management problems at the Defense Department and other financial shortcomings.

Crutsinger got the first word in the agency’s name wrong, but far more importantly, he mostly whitewashed what it had to say, as you can see from the first four paragraphs of its related press release (the full letter to the President, the Senate, and the Speaker of the House in PDF form is here):

Weaknesses Evident in Financial Management as Nation Confronts Long-Term Fiscal Problems & Financial Regulatory Weaknesses

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) could not render an opinion on the consolidated financial statements of the federal government (other than the Statement of Social Insurance) because of widespread material internal control weaknesses and other limitations.

“While financial management has improved significantly since the government began preparing consolidated financial statements, for the 13th year in a row now shortcomings in three areas again prevented us from expressing an opinion,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the United States. “I’m referring to serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD), the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between agencies, and the ineffective process the federal government uses to prepare the consolidated financial statements.”

Dodaro also cited material weaknesses involving improper payments estimated to be at least $98 billion, information security across government, and tax collection activities. He noted that four major agencies—DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and NASA—did not get clean opinions.

The material weaknesses discussed in GAO’s audit report hinder the government’s ability to (1) reliably report on many of its assets, liabilities, and costs; (2) accurately measure the full cost as well as the financial and non-financial performance of certain programs and activities; (3) adequately safeguard significant assets and properly record various transactions; and (4) have reliable information to operate efficiently and effectively.

Although DOD was the largest department that failed to get a clean opinion, it clearly wasn’t the only one; Crutsinger clearly misled readers into thinking it was. Additionally, his characterization of what GAO referred to as “widespread material internal control weaknesses,” “serious financial problems,” and a huge amount of “improper payments” as mere “financial shortcomings” significantly downplays a very ugly reality. At the very least, the AP reporter could have put the word “shortcomings” in quotes and mentioned that the government has never received a clean audit opinion.

The combination of the government’s convenient late Friday release and Crutsinger’s awful reportage will work to ensure that the most of the public will continue not to comprehend just how dangerously out of control Washington is.

For those who can’t carve out the time to wade through hundreds of pages, here is a summary table from the Financial Report capsulizing the continuing calamity:

USGovtAccrualBasisOverview093009

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Church to celebrate feast of American millionaire turned religious sister

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:40 am

From the Catholic News Agency:

Feb 28, 2010 / 04:48 am

On Wednesday, March 3, the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who abandoned her family’s fortune to found an order of sisters dedicated to serving the impoverished African American and American Indian populations of the United States.

Katharine was born November 26, 1858, into the affluent Philadelphia Drexel family. Despite their wealth, the family was very pious and Katharine was taught charity at an early age. Her mother opened up the family house three times a week to feed and care for the poor and her father had a deep personal prayer life. During the summer months, Katharine and her sisters would teach catechism classes to the children of the workers on her family’s summer estate.

The young heiress was considering a vocation to the contemplative life when she was given the opportunity to travel to Europe and have an audience with the Pope. During the audience, she asked Pope Leo XIII to send missionaries to Wyoming. He replied by asking her why she didn’t found an order to do exactly that.

Upon her return home, Katharine began working as a layperson for the improvement of the conditions and education of African Americans and Native Americans. Eventually her work led her to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament who are dedicated to sharing the message of the Gospel and the Life of the Eucharist with African Americans and American Indians.

During her lifetime, she oversaw the opening and maintenance of almost 60 schools and missions, mostly located in the western and southwestern United States. She is well known for founding Xavier University, in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925. …

Go here for the rest of the story.

February 27, 2010

Friday Debt Dump, Part 1: Shhh — Fannie Mae Lost $72 Bil in 2009, Needs Another $15.3 Bil in Cash

FredAndFanLogos1209After the closing bell on Friday, just in time for everyone to stop paying close attention, mortgage behemoth and ward of the state Fannie Mae (“Fan”) released its fourth-quarter and full-year financial results. Its press release (PDF) informs us that its $74.4 billion loss in 2009 (inclusive of dividends paid to the government) followed a $58.8 billion loss in 2008.

For those keeping score at home, Fan’s three-year losses of $137 billion, as reported by the Associated Press’s Alan Zibel yesterday evening, plus the roughly $80 billion lost in the same period at kissing cousin Freddie Mac (“Fred”), is over three times the highest-end estimate of $66 billion in total losses at household word Enron, and over four times the roughly $50 billion investors lost to household name Bernie Madoff. Enron and Madoff are history; Fan and Fred are just warming up, and a large portion of the public has no idea who they are.

Oh, by the way, Fan also told us yesterday that it will need another $15.3 billion in cash by the end of March. That would bring the total of Uncle Sam’s combined Fan-Fred cash infusions to $126 billion.

These outrageous results are made even more maddening by Zibel’s kid-glove treatment of the problems at the two entities in paragraphs 8 through 10 of his report:

Fannie and Freddie play a vital role in the mortgage market by purchasing mortgages from lenders and selling them to investors. Together the pair own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That’s about half of all mortgages.

“Through this prolonged stress in the housing market, we are helping homeowners across the country, supporting affordable housing, and providing financing to keep the residential markets functioning,” the company’s chief executive, Mike Williams, said in a statement.

The two companies, however, loosened their lending standards for borrowers during the real estate boom and are reeling from the consequences. At the end of last year, nearly 5.4 percent of Fannie Mae’s borrowers had missed at least one payment – dramatically higher than historic levels.

Geez, it’s as if the mortgage market couldn’t have functioned without Alan’s good friends “Fannie and Freddie.” Some of us can remember a time long, long ago — actually less than two decades — when the mortgage market worked quite well and actually better without Fan’s and Fred’s heavy-handed, market-distorting, taxpayer-betraying interventions.

Much worse, Zibel and most of the rest of the business press continue to ignore the high likelihood that Fan’s and Fred’s problems went well beyond incompetence and congressionally-mandated foolishness. A vastly underreported item noted in a column by Peter J. Wallison at the Wall Street Journal in late December informed us of the following (bolds is mine):

New research by Edward Pinto, a former chief credit officer for Fannie Mae and a housing expert, has found that from the time Fannie and Freddie began buying risky loans as early as 1993, they routinely misrepresented the mortgages they were acquiring, reporting them as prime when they had characteristics that made them clearly subprime or Alt-A.

In general, a subprime mortgage refers to the credit of the borrower. A FICO score of less than 660 is the dividing line between prime and subprime, but Fannie and Freddie were reporting these mortgages as prime, according to Mr. Pinto. Fannie has admitted this in a third-quarter 10-Q report in 2008.

An Alt-A mortgage is one in which the quality of the mortgage or the underwriting was deficient; it might lack adequate documentation, have a low or no down payment, or in some other way be more likely than a prime mortgage to default. Fannie and Freddie were also reporting these mortgages as prime, according to Mr. Pinto.

Investors and Fan-Fred shareholders were very likely systematically misled about the quality of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of mortgage-backed paper and mortgages kept in-house, respectively.

If Pinto is right — I haven’t seen any attempt to refute him — Fan and Fred perpetrated a fraud whose combined size is a double-digit multiple of Enron and Madoff, perhaps even of Enron and Madoff combined. Zibel and others in the press should spare us the bogus assertions about how “vital” Fan and Fred have been, and start talking about how deadly the continuance of the status quo is to the nation’s economic health.

Speaking of which, the Obama administration, which is constantly scolding us that the status quo in the best health care system in the world is unacceptable, seems perfectly comfortable with things as they are at Fan and Fred, and even with expanding their damage:

… the Obama administration put off the date when it plans to submit a specific proposal for overhauling Freddie Mac and its rival, Fannie Mae. The administration had promised it would reveal principles for reforming the companies by now.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told the House Budget Committee on Wednesday that the administration would not release legislation to reform the nation’s housing finance system until next year.

… Both companies have been spending money to carry out the Obama administration housing recovery plans, largely by rewriting mortgage terms to make the home loans more affordable for struggling borrowers.

This is the status quo that is unacceptable — and unsustainable.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Guilty Pleasure: Prank Caller Pretends To Be Team USA Goalie, Fools MSNBC’s Geist; Make-up Chat Takes Air Time from Matthews

Filed under: Business Moves,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 8:42 am

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx40/mmatters/Ryan MillerAlthough yours truly emphatically does not approve of the stunt, I have to acknowledge that whoever pranked MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Willie Geist Friday by pretending to be Team USA hockey goalie Ryan Miller (pictured at right) did the nation two small favors:

  • First, he embarrassed a network that seems incapable of being embarrassed by much of what its hosts and guests say on a daily basis.
  • Second, he kept Chris Matthews off the air for a precious few minutes, as Geist interrupted “Hardball” to conduct a brief make-up interview with the real Ryan Miller.

Chris Ariens has a brief story about the incident and Geist’s real Miller time at Media Bistro’s TV Newser site:

There was an embarrassing turn of events in Vancouver tonight.

MSNBC interrupted “Hardball” so that MSNBC’s Willie Geist could do a phone interview with Ryan Miller, the goalie of Team USA hockey. The reason: Geist had done an interview earlier this evening with a man who was claiming to be Miller. The interview caught the attention of friends and fellow NHL players when the fake Ryan Miller had predicted USA would win gold Sunday.

Geist: First and foremost, Ryan, please accept our apology. It’s a mistake that never should have happened. We misrepresented your name. We regret it deeply and I personally feel terrible about it.

Miller: No problem. I appreciate a good prank. But I do try to keep my reputation intact… I just want to clear up I will not be guaranteeing a gold medal. I look forward to a great game to compete for a gold medal, though.

Later, Miller told Geist he’s “pretty laid back” and wouldn’t have predicted such a thing.

…. “Well, I thought it sounded fishy at the time,” said Geist. I’m sorry I didn’t stop it sooner than we did.” Geist then tossed back to Chris Matthews who continued with “Hardball.”

Those who wish to indulge in the further guilty pleasure of seeing what the Miller impostor had to say can go to the transcript at Yahoo! Sports, where post author Greg Wyshynski observes that the caller’s voice “sounds everything like a cast member from ‘Jersey Shore’ and pretty much nothing like Miller’s, outside of being that of a male.”

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Is An Orchestrated Campaign Against Toyota in Overdrive?

ToyotaAndHatchets0210An unsettling set of events before its leaders’ congressional testimony points to just that.

_______________________

Note: This column went up at Pajamas Media and was teased here at BizzyBlog, with an important update about disparate treatment of Toyota vs. GM steering problems, on Thursday.

_______________________

On Sunday, Toyota learned what it was like to be one of Detroit’s Big Three in the days before they hit upon hard times and Uncle Sam formally entered the car business.

Some are treating what Toyota is going through in its fight to deal with the gas pedal- and floormat-related sudden acceleration issues raised by consumers and the government as a bit of a justifiable payback. After all, they argue, the company received kid-glove treatment from car quality reviewers for so many years, perhaps well after they truly deserved it.

To a small degree, they may have a point. Even before Japanese transplants Honda, Toyota, and Nissan began making cars in the U.S., there seemed to be a bias against Big Three cars in magazines like Consumer Reports. Prodded largely by its Japanese competitors, Detroit had left the worst of its quality problems behind by the mid-1980s, and generally began making very good cars, while quality reviewers occasionally seemed a bit over-enamored with foreign makers, particularly Honda and Toyota — companies which, despite their own very large size, were somehow perceived as underdogs to the big, bad Big Three.

I believe that Detroit has significantly narrowed the quality differences between its and others’ output to the point where in most cases it lags by so little that it’s mostly unimportant. However, the public’s perceived quality difference between Detroit and foreign makers, even of foreign makers’ U.S.-manufactured models, is far wider than it should be.

But one of the big reasons for that perception gap has to do with how the hard-news press, with substantial assistance from the plaintiffs’ bar, treated the Big Three during previous decades.

Yes, to name just a few examples, Ford Pintos had serious problems with exploding gas tanks. Yes, GM equipped some of its vehicles with transmissions that turned out to be suitable only for the flattest of terrains, and a few of its cars and trucks would pop into drive while idling. But as much as the tort bar would like to convince pliable juries that big companies, except for their unwillingness to spend a little money, can achieve perfection with every product that comes off the assembly line, it just isn’t so.

The legal and media narratives in many of the lawsuits that arose from these and other matters almost inevitably morphed from “the company made a serious mistake and should pay for it” to “this evil company and its evil executives were perfectly okay with seeing people continue to die, so they need to be sent a message, and empty their coffers as punishment.” Meanwhile, at least until the late 1990s, trial lawyers tended to leave foreign makers alone, at least partially because U.S. CEOs supposedly imbued with excessive capitalist greed made better targets for sympathetic jury verdicts than supposedly less corrupt and more accommodating foreigners.

But going after the Big Three, or at least two of them, isn’t what it used to be. During the last half of the decade, the financial viability of each was often in serious question. Now that the government has effective control of GM and Chrysler, any trial lawyer trying to go after either now knows that he or she will be facing a defendant backed by potentially unlimited resources and with lots of potential dirty tricks up its sleeve — tricks that it didn’t hesitate to use during the course of the two companies’ respective encounters with bankruptcy.

Thus, that Toyota would eventually become a target of choice is not surprising.

Let’s be clear: If the company is proven to have seriously erred and knowingly compromised driver and public safety, it should be made to pay an appropriate price. But the developments of the past weekend seem much more sinister, supporting the idea that the goal of many critics is really to drive the company’s public perception, and perhaps the company itself, into the ground.

On Sunday, the Detroit News “somehow” got its hands on an internal company presentation from June 2009 that had been handed over to congressional investigators. The News’s David Shepardson, who seems not to have even recognized that the 10 pages he received did not comprise the entire presentation (uh, the broken page number sequence of the documents sort of gave that away, Dave), reported that the presentation’s sterile wording somehow showed that company had “bragged” about saving money on recall costs. The Associated Press’s Ken Thomas, whose go-to word was “boasted,” picked up on that theme with amazing speed. By late Sunday, the theme had become a meme in the establishment press.

There’s only one problem, which anyone familiar with Japanese culture would recognize: It frowns so harshly on bragging that it almost never happens. If you’re an American making a presentation to a Japanese executive, which was the situation in this case, you don’t brag either — at least if you think you have a future with the company. Even the word “win,” which was employed several times and which Shepardson and Thomas relied on as evidence of gloating, only means “favorable development” — and most certainly not “victory” — to the Japanese.

Monday brought news that Toyota’s government and activist opponents are piling on to a degree the Big Three may never have experienced, as “federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into the company’s safety problems and the Securities and Exchange Commission was probing what the automaker told investors.” I don’t recall any Big Three executive or employee being subjected to a criminal trial relating to a product liability problem, but that possibility now appears to loom at Toyota — just in time to rattle its executives ahead of their congressional testimony.

Finally, it’s more than a little interesting that Department of Transportation spokesperson Olivia Alair was available on Sunday night to tell the press that the Toyota presentation in question was a “very telling” indicator that the company might be placing its bottom line ahead of safety. What’s really “telling” about the kind of people Toyota faces is that as Barack Obama’s Ohio campaign director in 2008, Alair registered to vote in the Buckeye State even though she doesn’t live there, and was apparently ready to cast an election ballot until a county prosecutor threatened to drop felony charges on her and 12 other Obama campaign workers.

I do hope that the folks at Toyota fully appreciate the ugliness they’re up against.

Positivity: C-FAM pledges to counter ‘radical feminist’ agenda at UN conference

Filed under: Life-Based News,Positivity — Tom @ 7:38 am

From New York City:

Pro-life supporters from around the world will “give a witness to life” on Monday in New York when they protest at the annual U.N. Conference on the Status of Women. The yearly gathering will be attended by delegates who made a strong push for international abortion rights 15 years ago at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women.

“On Monday morning, 6,000 radical feminists will descend on New York City,” Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) told CNA. “They are also celebrating what they call Beijing +15, which is the 15th anniversary of the huge women’s conference in Beijing during the Clinton years.” Ruse noted that Hillary Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Beijing conference, and that “they tried mightily to get an explicit international right to abortion.”

However, a coalition of pro-lifers from around the world who worked closely with the Vatican and Muslim countries defeated the abortion provision.

“But they’ve never given up,” Ruse said. Throughout the last 15 years, the pro-abortion lobby has tried again and again to make legalized abortion an international priority. It is expected that Monday’s conference will see another attempt to do the same.

However, on Monday, “they will be met by a determined group, a small group but a determined group, of pro-lifers from the United States, Europe, Africa, Latin America,” said Ruse. “And we will be there to give witness to life and family as it is properly understood.” …

Go here for the rest of the story.

February 26, 2010

Good News, Less Impressive News in 4Q09 GDP Revision (to an Annualized +5.9%)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:20 am

The good news, obviously, is that growth in the fourth quarter was revised from the advance estimate a month ago of an annualized +5.7% to +5.9%.

Less impressive is that the inventory component of reported growth, which had been 3.39 points out of the advance estimate’s 5.7 in January’s rendition, is now 3.88 out of 5.9. Growth not related to inventory buildup narrowed from 2.31 points to 2.02.

There were a lot of small swings in both directions that made up that non-inventory decline. The ones that caught my attention that were not so helpful were:

  • Net exports of goods and services dropped from contributing 0.50 points to 0.30.
  • State and local government investment dropped from deducting -0.03 points to -0.23.
  • Personal consumption’s contribution dropped from 1.44 points to 1.23. You have to wonder if consumers are interested in buying from the inventories that have been built up.

The biggie on the plus side is something I pointed to in last month’s post that came in even better this time. It’s the “information processing and software” component of private investment. It contributed a whopping 0.90 points to GDP, up from 0.60 points in the original estimate. That’s the item I’ve pegged as the potential recovery’s “Windows 7″ element. It also explains why I missed the mark in January when I predicted that GDP growth would be revised downward, as I didn’t expect that the info processing number could possibly get better.

This one item, which, referencing Table 3 at today’s release, only makes up 4.5% of the economy ($589 billion divided by 13.161 trillion), comprised over 15% of reported GDP growth (.9/5.9) and a jaw-dropping 47% of the increase in “final sales growth” GDP (.9/1.9).

The rest of gross private investment other than in inventories and “information processing and software” deducted 0.15 points from GDP (From Table 2, 4.63-3.88-0.90), not much different from the 0.17 points in January’s advance estimate (3.82-3.39-0.60).

My reaction to this is not good as it relates to the likelihood of longer-term, sustainable growth at an acceptable level.

It seems that businesses in general have decided that forcing existing operations to remain profitable is paramount–hence the spending on productivity-enhancing software, helped along by the first good operating system from Microsoft in a long time and Apple’s increased market share. The idea of actually expanding in what the Wall Street Journal has called the Uncertainty Economy, and which I have been calling the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) Economy, isn’t in the cards for most. All of this would not appear to bode well for improvements in the employment picture, especially since productivity improvements in the absence of expansion opportunities often lead to employees being released.

Positivity: Crash survivor reunited with doctors who saved him

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:59 am

From Hamilton County, Indiana:

Updated: Feb 25, 2010 5:38 PM

Fishers – Just over one year ago, a blinding snowstorm led to a chain-reaction crash on I-69 in Hamilton County.

It involved 33 vehicles. Two people died. Eleven were taken to hospitals, including a Michigan man who was trapped in his vehicle for almost an hour and a half.

Thursday. 62-year-old Don Hayden returned to the scene of the accident. It was a trip he had to wait a year to make.

Joined by his wife, brother and sister-in-law, Hayden walked into the Fall Creek Community Room at 116th and Brook School Road to the applause of several dozen people.

“I see a lot of smiling faces,” he said, his own lighting up the room.

Hayden returned to Fishers for an emotional reunion with the men and women who saved his life.

Looking at the firefighters, officers, paramedics and medical personnel surrounding him, he said, “I’m the one who should be applauding you. It means a lot to see you. It’s been a long road.”

On February 4, 2009, Hayden was headed from Michigan to Missouri to visit his son, when near white-out conditions led to a pile-up. Hayden’s SUV was crushed between two semi-trucks.

Holding up an X-ray of his pelvic area, he pointed to the hardware and said, “The the metal is how they repaired me.”

Then looking at pictures of the crash, “I knew I was in a bad wreck, but I’ve never seen these before. It’s hard to imagine anyone surviving that.”

Paramedic Kelly Elder was one of the first to reach him.

“I thought the worst when I saw that vehicle and the damage,” Elder said. “I turned left and saw him wave and he said, ‘I’m over here.’ I was amazed.”

Several on the scene doubted he would survive, including the doctor who treated him.

Ethan Wagner, an emergency physician working at St. Vincent Medical Center Northeast that day, treated Hayden.

Wagner said, “It’s a complete and absolute miracle he’s able to walk because his extremities were so badly damaged.”

Wagner brought his family to the community center to meet Hayden saying such reunions were rare.

“This is the kind of story you tell your kids and grandkids about,” he said. …

Go here for the rest of the story.

February 25, 2010

AP Misses Likely Reason Why Pew Poll Shows ‘Millennials’ Abandoning the S.S. Obama and Dems

PewResearchLogo0210Earlier this afternoon, Tim Graham of NewsBusters noted how NPR’s Robert Siegel and Pew Research pollster Andrew Kohut spoke approvingly of “Millennials” as being “less ‘militaristic’ and less religious” than their elders.

At end of his post, Graham noted that Siegel and Kohut “somehow” forgot to discuss the key political finding in the poll, namely that the demographic’s 32-point favoritism towards Democrats (62% to 30%) has declined by more than half (to 54% to 40%) in just one year of living in Obamaland. Shoot, if that trend continues for another nine months, it will be almost all even by Election Day in November.

Why is the meltdown occurring? Get a load of the answers the Associated Press’s Hope Yen identified in an early Wednesday dispatch (HT to Mark Levin, who mentioned this on his Wednesday evening show):

Dem youth support waning amid gov’t gridlock

Whither the youth vote? A year after backing Barack Obama by an overwhelming 2-to-1 ratio, young adults are quickly cooling toward Democrats amid dissatisfaction over the lack of change in Washington and an escalating war in Afghanistan.

A study by the Pew Research Center, being released Wednesday, highlights the eroding support from 18-to-29 year olds whose strong turnout in November 2008 was touted by some demographers as the start of a new Democratic movement.

The findings are significant because they offer further proof that the diverse coalition of voters Obama cobbled together in 2008 – including high numbers of first-timers, minorities and youths – are not Democratic Party voters who can necessarily be counted on.

While young adults remain decidedly more liberal, the survey found the Democratic advantage among 18-to-29 year olds has substantially narrowed – from a record 62 percent identifying as Democrat vs. 30 percent for the GOP in 2008, down to 54 percent vs. 40 percent last December. It was the largest percentage point jump in those who identified or leaned Republican among all the voting age groups.

Young adults’ voting enthusiasm also crumbled.

So it’s all about gridlock and the war in Afghanistan? Give. Me. A. Break. To invoke James Carville from 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Pew’s own report (a very big PDF) fails to support Yen’s yearnings, particularly this paragraph from Page 39 (page 46 of the PDF; bold is mine):

A Pew Research Center survey in 2006 found that half of all 18- to 29-year-olds were employed in full-time jobs. Then came the Great Recession. In our 2010 survey, as a battered economy struggles to rebound, about four-in-ten (41%) people in the same age group say they are working full time—a decline of 9 percentage points. In contrast, about the same proportion of older adults reported working full time in both the 2006 and 2010 surveys.

That statement would almost seem to indicate that Millennials have borne a very disproportionate share of the pain associated with the economy’s decline.

It’s interesting how Pew failed to reveal data more recent than four years ago that might have told us how much of the decrease in full-time employment has come more recently. What it looked like a year ago would tell us how much of the might be pegged to the overall economy, while a two- or three-year lookback would provide a clue as to how much of the decline is tied to federal and state increases in the minimum wage. Given that 2006 and 2007 were pretty decent years for the economy, it wouldn’t surprise me if almost all, all, or even more than all of that nine-point drop occurred in the past couple of years.

Yen waited until her 19th and final substantive paragraph to note the following:

About 37 percent of young adults are unemployed or out of the workforce, the highest share among this age group in more than three decades. A record share – 39.6 percent – was enrolled in college, and one in 8 millennials ages 22 and older say they had “boomeranged” back into their parents’ home because of the recession.

Regardless of initial political inclinations, that’s not a formula favoring whoever happens to be in power.

That certainly didn’t come through in the NPR interview Tim Graham cited, nor in Ms. Chen’s AP report. I’ll bet the folks at the DNC and RNC have figured it out anyway.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

New Homes Sales Decline; the ‘U-Word’ and ‘S-Word’ Appear Again

surpriseThe adverb that begins with a “U” made yet another appearance yesterday in connection with an economic report. The related noun that begins with an “S” came along for the ride.

The news concerned sales of new homes. They fell “Unexpectedly” to their lowest level since 1963, when the U.S population was about 40% lower. The decline was a “Surprise” to economists, who had predicted an increase.

It continues to fascinate that the “Unexpected” news that came as a “Surprise” to economists during a large portion of the Bush 43 administration more often than not was to the upside, while the trail of “Unexpected Surprises” during the current administration is littered with downers.

Ahead of the news, the Associated Press appeared ready to play up what it thought would be good news, and then exiled its reports to remote corners when things didn’t go as expected.

In a Thursday afternoon story on the small rise in the Case Schiller home price index, the AP’s Adrian Sanz was talking of recovery, while inventing a new economic concept (bold is mine):

Home prices rise 0.3 percent in December

Home prices edged up in December, the seventh straight monthly gain and another sign the housing market continues its bumpy recovery.

for homeowners who currently owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth, rising prices will rebuild equity.

…Home sales data for January, out later this week, are also expected to show gains over year-end levels as buyers took advantage of low interest rates and temporary tax credits.

I hate to break it to you, Adrian, but if you’re underwater on your mortgage, rising prices, especially given the tiny one you reported, serve almost entirely to reduce negative equity. To “rebuild” equity, you first have to have some.

The next morning, an unbylined AP report also anticipated the home sales gain:

New home sales likely posted a rebound in January but economists are worried that the housing recovery could be headed for tougher times once government support ends.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect sales of new homes rose 5.3 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 360,000 units. The Commerce Department will release the report on new home sales at 10 a.m. EST Wednesday.

Out came the report (the PDF press release is here), and the AP moved the news into a brief “Summary Box,” the kind that I suspect doesn’t get picked by subscribing outlets as often as regular narratives:

RECORD LOW: Sales of new homes plunged 11.2 percent to an annual sales pace of 309,000 units in January, the lowest level on government records going back to 1963.

The “S-word” made its appearance in a multi-item “Business Highlights” summary:

Sales of new homes plunged to a record low in January, underscoring the formidable challenges facing the housing industry as it tries to recover from the worst slump in decades.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that new home sales dropped 11.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 309,000 units, the lowest level on records going back nearly a half century. The big drop was a surprise to economists who were expecting a 5 percent increase over December’s pace.

Reuters (HT Karl at Hot Air) pitched in with the “U-word”:

Sales of new homes unexpectedly fell to a record low in January while demand for loans to buy homes hit a 13-year low last week, fanning fears of renewed weakness in the housing market.

Interestingly, the Reuters paragraph just excerpted differs from what Karl found there when he did his post:

Sales of newly built single-family homes unexpectedly fell to a record low in January, according to government data on Wednesday that hinted at potential trouble for the fragile housing market recovery.

Karl’s questions in response to what he saw still stands, though in revised form. His question was, “Potential trouble? Really? Mine, in light of the revision, would be, “Renewed weakness? When did the weakness ever stop?”

The new home sales news is nowhere to be found in the AP’s current video rotation at its business stories. Oh, but there is an item with a smiling picture of the president about how foreclosures have declined (could they possibly have gotten any worse?). Additionally, consistent with what I noted three weeks ago (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), seven of the 11 vids in AP’s rotation are about Toyota’s troubles.

One would hope that the economists who continue to get their predictions wrong, and the media outlets that carry them, are going to recognize that what the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily have been referring to as “the Uncertainty Economy,” and which I have personalized by calling it the “POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid” economy” has cast a pervasive pall over the entire economy, and must be considered in some way when formulating predictions.

Until it is, we’re going to keep seeing “Unexpected Surprises.”

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Latest Pajamas Media Column (‘An Orchestrated Campaign Against Toyota in Overdrive?’) Is Up (UPDATE: Comparing Two Steering Problems)

ToyotaAndHatchets0210It’s here.

It will go up on Saturday morning here at BizzyBlog (link won’t work until then) after the blackout expires.

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UPDATE: In a Monday press release I was not aware of when I wrote the column, Edmunds.com weighed in on inconsistencies at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) on what it takes to trigger investigations (HT GOP Counterculture; bold is mine; internal links were in original) –

Edmunds.com Questions NHTSA Inconsistencies, Compares Chevy Cobalt and Toyota Corolla Steering Complaints

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — February 22, 2010 — Edmunds.com, the premier online resource for automotive consumer information, has obtained and reviewed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) complaint and defect investigation database and determined that there are seemingly unexplainable inconsistencies in the vehicle recall process.

“Edmunds.com’s analysis of NHTSA data shows no clear pattern in terms of the number of consumer complaints that trigger an agency investigation. As few as five complaints have triggered an investigation; other investigations haven’t started until 1,500 complaints had accumulated,” noted Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs in her report “NHTSA on the Hot Seat: What is Standard Operating Procedure?” on AutoObserver.com.

The report points out that between 2005 and 2010, steering problems on Chevrolet Cobalt were the subject of 1,157 complaints while Toyota Corolla steering problems were the subject of 84 complaints. According to Edmunds.com’s reading of the steering complaints on both vehicles, the complaints about the Cobalt’s steering are far more serious and more dangerous than are the complaints about the Corolla’s steering. NHTSA recently opened official investigations of both vehicles.

Krebs’s report has these details supporting the press release’s contentions:

Complaints against the Cobalt go back to the 2005 model-year version. The official investigation was launched early February of this year. The bulk of Corolla complaints are on the recent 2009 and 2010 model-year versions.

Complaints on the Cobalt appear far more serious, including total loss of steering, than do the complaints against the Corolla, which involve steering that wanders or veers in one direction or another more often than total steering loss.

Here is a table Edmunds prepared comparing the two steering issues:

NHTSAChevyCobaltToyotaCorollasteeri

As noted, NHTSA finally began investigating the Cobalt in early February. That timing, coming well over three years after serious problems were obvious, has the appearance of a “see, we’re tough on both guys” rear-end-covering move.

Meanwhile, it appears that pressure may be building on Toyota to do a steering recall based on the relatively puny numbers above. If Toyota does a “voluntary” recall in this instance (nothing is totally “voluntary” when there is a private entity v. government relationship involved), and GM never does one on the Cobalt — even though there are millions of them still on the road from the earlier years listed — we’ll know without a doubt that there is selective safety enforcement in the government.

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Related Posts by Others:

  • Feb. 24, via Jeff Poor at NewsBusters — “CNBC Notes Tough Questioning from Michigan Legislators on Toyota; Even MSNBC’s Shuster Warns Congress to Be Cautious”
  • Feb. 24, via Danny Glover at Hot Air — “Toyota vs. Government Motors.” Money quotes: “Toyota’s handling of the recall has been miserable. … But the evidence that the federal government’s recent entrance into the car business has influenced its antagonizing approach to the Toyota recall is quite convincing … Toyota may not be the good guy, but given the choice between incompetent government and a private company with a solid track record, I pick the government as the one to wear the black hat.”

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Previous BizzyBlog Posts:

  • Feb. 22 — Possible Orchestration of Anti-Toyota Campaign Makes DOT Spokesperson’s ACORN-y Background ‘Very Telling’
  • Feb. 22 — The False Toyota ‘Brag’ and ‘Win’ Memes Turn Into a Swarm
  • Feb. 22 — Politico Gets Its Own Set of Leaked Toyota Docs, Also Pretends They Are Complete, Also Takes Bogus Swipes at the Company
  • Feb. 21 — Detroit News, AP Take a Numerically-Challenged, Mind-Reading, Culturally Tone-Deaf Hatchet to Toyota
  • Feb. 13 — Labor Protest and Campaign Against Toyota Get Kid Gloves from AP, Fair Coverage from Oakland Trib
  • Feb. 6 — AFP Asks: ‘Is US bullying Toyota on recall?’ Rest of Media Indifferent
  • Feb. 4 — Piling On: 6 of 12 Vids in AP’s Web Site Rotation are About Toyota

Lickety-Split Links (022510, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 5:58 am

Wow“There are 10 people in East Ohio who want Zack Space’s job in Congress and eight who want the seat held by Charlie Wilson.”

Space (OH-18) and Wilson (OH-06) each have a Democratic challenger. Nine Republicans are facing off to run against space, while three GOP members want to go up against Wilson.

This is the kind of competition you usually see when a seat is open. Maybe that’s because these two seats, for all practical purposes, actually are.

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The recent Quinnipiac poll shows Ted Strickland leading John Kasich 44-39. The was even three months ago.

As to why, you can believe this pathetic spin, or consider my suggestion: Blame it on ORPINO (the Ohio Republican Party In Name Only).

The good news in the poll is that Strickland owes his lead entirely to a 15-point edge with women. Kasich has a 7- point lead with men, and I don’t see any reason why that would shrink. He should be able to erase the gender gap by getting Mary Taylor out there prominently after addressing what should be minor concerns brought up during my coverage of the Kasich-Taylor announcement.

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Three days ago, I was going to mention a few things on the 30th Anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union’s supposedly invincible skaters in Lake Placid, but things intervened. Here they are anyway:

  • Amazingly, ABC was not able to carry the game live — The New York Times reported on why:
  • NYTonABChockeyCoverage0280

  • U.S. Coach Herb Brooks really did give the “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here” speech.
  • Brooks was a bit of a walking contradiction (link is to a slow-loading PDF). He said he was not pleased at much of the public’s reaction to the victory, emphasizing that it was a triumph of “athletes over athletes, not one way of life over another.” Yet he still supported the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow: “I identify with the athletes, but I favor the boycott. … We are members of the free world first and athletes second.”
  • The U.S. victory is considered the greatest upset in sports history here and here.

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Speaking of anniversaries missed — Five years and three days ago this set of posts started things here at BizzyBlog. Intense thanks to all who have visited, read, advertised, commented, tipped, linked, and contributed.

February 24, 2010

Lickety-Split Links (022410, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 9:18 am

Scott Brown votes for “jobs” bill cloture (Michelle Malkin has the roll call) — There’s a reason I wrote that on the night Brown won that “there are valid concerns about Scott Brown, one of his major backers and his party that cannot and should not be ignored.”

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Oh, George “RINOvich” Voinovich voted for it too, when he got a “promise” from Harry Reid “that he will bring the reauthorization of a multi-year surface transportation bill to the floor for a vote this year.” The faux “fiscal hawk” strikes again.

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Via Hot Air“Limbaugh: Romney’s endorsement of McCain is suicidal.” We should be so lucky.

Allah at Hot Air also utters an immutable truth about 2008 that the talkers have a tough time acknowledging — “It’s amusing to watch talk radio start to turn on their favored candidate from 2008 this early.” Amusing, yes, but here’s hoping it continues.

Some talkers, including Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, were Romney cheerleaders for months (in the two years since, Hannity has never stopped). Rush Limbaugh didn’t openly express a preference until it was down to McCain and Romney, but then he picked by far the worse of the two candidates.

BizzyBlog’s Rose has more.

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Given subsequent events, I see that a timely repetition of Michael Graham’s assertion I excerpted last week is in order –

If Bill Delahunt had done his job, three Alabama families wouldn’t be in mourning today. Period.

Graham isn’t backing down, despite a vague threat against him by John Kivlan, a former Norfolk Country assistant district attorney (i.e., a likely Delahunt hack).

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Via an Instapundit reader “NBC Nightly News last night led off with 11 straight minutes on the Toyota story. 11!” My light blogging yesterday was related to putting together a Pajamas Media column on what looks ever more obviously like an orchestrated campaign to wreck Toyota’s reputation, and perhaps take down its entire business.

Given the type of person in charge, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Awwww, Mitt Romney Hearts John McCain For Re-Election…

Filed under: Activism,Taxes & Government — Rose @ 8:26 am

As if we didn’t already know enough about the true nature of Mitt Romney

Romney backs former rival McCain for re-election
By GLEN JOHNSON, AP Political Writer Glen Johnson
Tue Feb 23, 1:53 pm ET

BOSTON – Mitt Romney is endorsing former rival John McCain as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee fights to keep his Senate seat.

Romney said in a statement Tuesday the Arizona senator’s “record of service and sacrifice for America is honored by all.” The former Massachusetts governor added, “It’s hard to imagine the U.S. Senate without John McCain.”

Stop. Really, Mitt? Let’s try…
- No “Gang of 14″
- No “McCain-Kennedy (and Bush) Amnesty”
- No “McCain-Lieberman Global Warming Tax”
- No McCain-backed Bush bail-out?

And last but not least, we’d be without the most egregious violation of free political speech in our nation’s history, “McCain-Feingold.”

…McCain replied: “Gov. Romney is among the brightest and most dynamic leaders in our party, and I am proud to have his support.”

…McCain’s former vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, also has endorsed him. She and Romney are potential rivals in the 2012 presidential race.

Wish I had WMD’s “BS Meter.” I briefly caught Rush Limbaugh – a Romney hack – last week defending Palin’s endorsement of McCain naming “loyalty” as the culprit. Lol…whatever gets you to sleep at night, Rush. I think it’s playing in the good old boys’ sand box, but if it was indeed loyalty, I understand the phrase “loyal to a fault” a little more, now.

The whole thing is here. I’m not sure what game is behind the lovey-dovey sentiment among the retreads lately, but whatever the game is, I hope they lose and that we are spared from their resurgence.