November 20, 2010

‘Name That Party’: AP Adds a Race Card to the Mix in Prince George’s Co. Md. Corruption Story

JackJohnsonPGcountyMD1110namethatpartyA couple of NewsBusters posts during the past week — one from yours truly and another courtesy of Ken Shepherd — have pointed to the press’s reluctance to identify the Democratic Party affiliations of indicted Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson (pictured at right) and his also-indicted wife Leslie, who is a County Council member.

Today, the Associated Press’s Brian Witte “>kept up the wire service’s tradition of either not naming the party of an indicted Democrat or deferring that identification until very late in the report (in the apparent hope that subscribing outlets picking up the story won’t use it). Jack Johnson’s party affiliation was saved for the 19th paragraph; Witte never identified his wife’s party affiliation. Witte further quoted a Republican who commented on the situation in Paragraph 10, and noted that said Republican “ran against Johnson in 2002″ in Paragraph 11, leaving it vague as to whether it was a primary or general election contest.

Finally, Witte gave voice to someone who believes that the Johnsons and ultimately other county officials are being targeted based on their African-American ethnicity — in county where two-thirds of its residents are African-American.

Here are selected paragraphs from Witte’s report:

Corruption charges disturb residents in Md. county

In two years, Prince George’s County residents have seen a former schools superintendent sent to prison and corruption charges brought against a senior state senator and the county executive and his wife.

The latest case is the stuff of movies or late-night TV jokes: Authorities say County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife were arrested Nov. 12 after he accepted $15,000 from a developer and federal investigators tapping his phone reportedly heard him tell her to flush a $100,000 check down the toilet and hide $79,600 in her bra.

The string of scandals has left residents angry, frustrated and wondering who will be next. Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein described their arrests as “the tip of the iceberg.”

… Prince George’s, a suburb of Washington, D.C., is the nation’s wealthiest majority-black county, according to the census. The county, which has about 834,000 residents, is 66 percent black with a median annual household income of $71,696.

(paragraphs 10 and 11)

… Audrey Scott, a former County Council member who chairs the Maryland Republican Party, said she used to hear about officials expecting developers to go beyond what was required to, say, build a playground or refurbish a senior citizens center.

“There were certain elected officials who felt that developers owed something more – above and beyond what was required in the zoning application process, in the permitting process,” said Scott, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive against Johnson in 2002.

(paragraphs 18 and 19)

… Some residents can only shake their heads when asked about the scandal, walking away and muttering words like “depressing” without saying anything more.

Johnson, a Democrat, now comes to work as the county’s chief executive near the end of his second term with an electronic monitoring device. His term ends Dec. 6, when he will be succeeded by a Democrat who had twice run against him unsuccessfully.

… Marva Henry, who lived in Prince George’s County for 29 years and only recently moved away, said she questions why prosecutors seem to focus on African-American officials. Her husband, Winston, also expressed frustration that prosecutors seem to be focusing more on Prince George’s County than other localities. But both said they were angry at Johnson over the allegations.

Well, if the Henrys have evidence that nearby counties also have serious corruption, they ought to present it (and Witte should have demanded they present it) before just putting a race bias charge out there with no support. One of the reason that there may be seem to be a bit of a focus on African-American officials is probably because roughly 2/3 of the County’s Council is African-American. The county’s Superintendent of Schools and about 2/3 of the Board of Education are also African-American. All other things being equal, the odds are that if corruption is occurring in Prince George’s County, there will be a good chance that African-Americans are involved, and racism on the part of investigators and/or prosecutors has nothing to do with it.

You can’t make this up: The county web site’s “welcome” page still features a message from the indicted Johnson, and another page contains a glowing bio of Johnson, which includes this sentence:

Mr. Johnson has transformed Prince George’s County into Gorgeous Prince George’s.

At this point, that assertion is highly debatable at best, and sick joke at worst.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Kaus Lists Issues With GM’s IPO

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:11 pm

Kaus criticizes as only Kaus can, so I don’t have to (with line breaks added by me):

1) Suckers: GM found a lot of them, even though —
a) by its own admission, it lacks “effective internal controls” over its finances;
b) it’s still saddled with the UAW, which is already pledging ‘no more concessions’ and even making some trouble;
c) its Opel subsidiary is hemorhaging money at a rate of billions a year;
d) a high Opel official declared the IPO “premature” while noting that “there is still too much red tape and inefficiency;”
e) it has surrendered a majority stake in its promising Chinese joint venture to its Chinese partner
f) its bailout plan assumes it will maintain a market share of 19 percent, but its share most recently fell to 18.3 percent, part of a decades-long decline;
g) who knows what accounting gimmickry was used to dress up the books;
h) the government has intervened in GM’s decisionmaking more than it’s let on;
i) we don’t know if GM’s new products (like the Chevrolet Cruze) will have traditional GM reliability–the company better hope not; and
j) the name “General Motors’ is now so tarnished that the company is removing it from auto show displays, hoping buyers will not associate “Buick” or “Chevrolet” with such a negative brand ….

… 2) It’s all about China: Even if GM is now a solid investment, that might have very little to do with its future North American operations and everything to do with Chinese operations. Simply put, the most obvious route to big profitability isn’t selling American-made Buicks to the Chinese, or even Chinese-made Buicks to the Chinese. It’s selling Chinese-made Buicks in the United States–and all over the globe. Let the UAW try to organize the workers in Shanghai.

Item g) was partially covered by yours truly earlier this week (“GM’s IPO: Uncle Sam’s Pump and Dump?”).

Item j) explains why Mr. Goodwrench, the GM brand’s repair guy, has gone the way of the Pontiac.

It’s still Government Motors.

AP Dresses Up a Housing Confidence Index’s Tiny Rise From Near Rock-Bottom

APabsolutelyPathetic0109On Thursday, I noted (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) that the Associated Press’s Marty Crutsinger and Chris Rugaber worked very hard to gloss over October’s horrid housing market news as reflected in the Census Bureau’s reports on housing starts and building permits.

That’s bad enough. But a Tuesday report covering the latest release of the Housing Market Index (HMI) by the National Association of Home Builders demonstrates how utterly determined the wire service is to put gobs of lipstick on a very ugly pig.

For context, I’ll show readers the complete 25-year history of said index (scroll down to the Table 2 link here to download the Excel file):

NAHBhousingMktIndexHistoryTo1010

Given the history, can anyone reasonably claim that an index increase from 15 to 16 justifies anything resembling positive coverage–especially when you realize that September’s original reading of 16 was revised down to 15 in October? It is, if you’re the AP’s Alex Veiga, who also conveniently saved his subject matter expert’s quote for the last paragraph, perhaps so it would end up on the cutting room floor in most subscribers’ relays of the story (bolds are mine):

Homebuilder sentiment index rises in November

U.S. homebuilders battered by the worst summer for home sales in a decade are already looking ahead to spring, saying they feel somewhat more optimistic about the prospect for an uptick in sales.

The National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday its monthly index of builders’ sentiment edged up in November to 16, the highest reading since June.

The index sank to 13 in August and September, the lowest level since March 2009. It rose to a revised reading of 15 last month, but continues to reflect an overall grim industry outlook.

Readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment about the market.

… Many builders are not seeing a dramatic improvement in the number of potential buyers visiting their model homes, but those who do drop by appear to be more serious about buying in the near future, said Bob Jones, the NAHB’s chairman.

“Though the gains have been incremental, the fact that builder confidence has improved over the past two months is encouraging,” he said.

… The index measuring current sales conditions was unchanged this month from October at 16, while the reading for foot traffic from prospective buyers rose one point to 12. But the index for sales expectations over the next six months inched up two points to 25 after improving from September to October by five points.

(final two paragraphs)

The index’s reading for improved sales expectations over the next six months is subjective and should be taken with a grain of salt, said Ticonderoga Securities analyst Paul Przybylski.

“The market is not going to have a significant improvement going into next year,” he said. “It’ll probably be 2012 before we get off the bottom.”

“Grain of salt”? Try a truckload.

The AP’s Veiga “somehow” forgot to tell readers that the NAHB’s “highest since June” reading was really “the same as June.” In historical context, saying something good about October’s result is like getting excited when an 0-12 NFL team finally wins a game — in overtime, because the refs blew a call that cost the other team the game.

What the history chart above shows is that builder sentiment has never really gotten up off the mat since its trough in late 2008 and early 2009. Instead of letting the market recover relatively quickly on its own (see early 1991 by comparison), the Obama administration has extended the pain through government-led attempts at artificial stimulation, with all too predictable poor results. As seen above, once the homebuyers’ credit ended in April (after some extensions into the next several months to allow for deal closures), builder sentiment went straight into the tank again.

Other than to carry out its apparent unspoken mission to prop up the administration’s pathetic economic performance at any cost, including its own credibility, how can the AP possibly justify blowing 570 words on a one-point increase in an economic index that is still near rock bottom, while trying its best make it appear as if it means anything other than the housing industry is still in the deepest of doldrums?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: British, Welsh bishops announce plans to receive ex-Anglicans into the Church

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:14 am

From Westminster, England:

Nov 19, 2010 / 02:41 pm

Five Anglican bishops who announced earlier this month that they are quitting the Church of England, will be the first to join a new “personal ordinariate” established by the bishops of England and Wales this coming January.

The bishops unveiled their plans for the new ordinariate, or jurisdiction, in a Nov. 19 statement.

They said that Pope Benedict XVI will formally establish the ordinariate and name a bishop to lead it in early January 2011.

Pope Benedict invited Anglicans to join the Church last year under special provisions that would enable them to retain their own forms of worship and their tradition of permitting married priests.

In their announcement, the English and Welsh bishops said the new procedures for accepting Anglican converts have been worked out over the past year in cooperation with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Under the timetable they laid out, the three former Anglican bishops who are not retired will be ordained to serve as priests in the new ordinariate. The other two bishops, who are retired, will be ordained by Lent 2011.

“This will enable them, together with the ordinary and the other former Anglican Bishops, to assist with the preparation and reception of former Anglican clergy and their faithful into full communion with the Catholic Church during Holy Week,” the bishops said.

In addition, the statement envisions that Anglican clergy who have decided to convert will begin “a period of intense formation for ordination as Catholic priests.”

At the same time, individual Anglicans and congregations together with their pastors will be enrolled as candidates for the ordinariate.

It is likely, the bishops said, that they will be received into the Church and confirmed either during Holy Week, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday or during the Easter Vigil. …

Go here for the rest of the story.