Monthly Archives: February 2005

Business News Reporting

For some time, I’ve had a project in mind. I plan to record the early day’s Wall Street news as reported by the AP as compare them to the day’s trading. Frequently, it’ll have stories that predict stocks will climb, only to see them nosedive during the early hours of trading. Or vice versa. The point is whatever reasons reporters give for the stock market movement or predicted daily trend, they are bogus. Nobody seems to be able to predict the daily swings. If they could, they’d be selling their advice for big bucks.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years working with business reporters. There are some good ones. Most of them work for the Wall Street Journal. The rest seems to be marking time until a hot political investigative beat comes open because they don’t seem to try to understand business.

And today, we have an example of how business reporters can’t even agree on what published data means. AP New York: Call your Washington bureau. Get your stories straight.

Next to each other on the business news section of my Yahoo home page are these two stories.

Dateline: Washington
Retail Sales Are Weakest in Five Months
Retail sales fell 0.3 percent in January — the weakest showing in five months — as a big drop in demand for cars offset strength at clothing and department stores. Spending was powered mostly by consumers anxious to use holiday gift cards.

The Commerce Department reported that last month’s decline in retail sales followed a huge 1.1 percent surge in December. Both months were heavily influenced by a swing in activity at auto showrooms.

In January, car sales fell by 3.3 percent, the biggest decline since last June. Car sales had surged by 4 percent in December as buyers had flocked to showrooms to take advantage of attractive incentive offers.

Dateline: New York
Stocks Push Higher on Strong Retail Data
Investors pushed stocks higher Tuesday, cheered by strong retail sales data, a possible acquisition in the retail sector and a market that has managed to hold on to its recent gains.

Wall Street welcomed the Commerce Department’s report that overall retail sales fell 0.3 percent in January, less than the 0.5 percent economists expected. Taking sluggish auto sales out of the equation, retail sales rose 0.6 percent, also better than expected.

Volume was light prior to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s congressional testimony on Wednesday and Thursday, when he’ll give his semi-annual report on the economy. But analysts said investors took comfort in the fact that the major indexes did not give back their gains over the past two weeks.

OK, which is it? “Weak Sales” or “Strong Retail Data”? The Washington story deals mostly with retail data as reported by the Commerce Department, whereas the New York story talks mostly about stock activity.

Maybe that’s why voters in November didn’t vote their pocketbooks. They couldn’t figure out from the news whether the economy was in good shape or bad shape. Seems business reporters themselves don’t know.

Why I Don’t Watch Local TV News

In the month leading up to last year’s presidential election, local television stations in big cities devoted eight times as much air time to car crashes and other accidents than to campaigns for the House of Representatives, state senate, city hall and other local offices, according to a new study to be released tomorrow.

…”I think most stations fear that covering politics is ratings poison,” said Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School and one of the lead authors of the study. “Interestingly, they don’t seem to fear that running a torrent of political ads hurts them with their audience.”

Mr. Kaplan, who hosts a weekly program on “Air America,” a liberal talk radio network, and his colleagues found that in the 11 markets studied, the hours of advertising by House candidates eclipsed actual coverage of those races by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Warner for President

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has a following at a web site call Draft Mark Warner. I’ll post the link on this page, not that I endorse him for president. The web site states, “The moderate wing of the Democratic Party must fight for a ‘New Generation of Leadership.’ This is crucial to winning future elections. This past election was our call to action to bring the Democratic Party back to the center.”

If the Democratic Party was to go back toward the center it would be moving left, in my opinion. Still, I’ll give the man his due. It’s just way to early for me to back anyone in particular.

The Big Lie

The Washington Post is certain to boil the red blood of Bush supporters with what appears to be a concerted effort to highlight the disingenuousness of the Bush budget plan. A series of articles and postings in the last two days go for the jugular.

Yesterday’s Outlook section had a commentary that suggested that the Bush administration is “Enronizing” the budget, although its first comparison is to the Boeing deal where the Air Force wanted to lease planes from the aircraft maker rather than buy them, despite the higher costs. Why? To reduce cost in the annual budget.

The president and Congress continue resorting to ever more smoke and mirrors to veil the truth about the costs and burdens that will be placed on American taxpayers. Moreover, they’re using precisely the sorts of gimmicks and tricks that we wouldn’t tolerate in the private sector.

The Boeing deal was eerily reminiscent of corporate deals using the same kinds of long-term leases for exactly the same reasons. I still carry images in my mind of that imposing Enron headquarters building in Houston that we saw on the nightly news as the Enron scandal unfolded about four years ago. Guess what? Enron acquired that building by creating a special entity solely for the purpose of purchasing the building and then leasing it back to the company. Its reasons were the same as the Air Force’s in the Boeing deal — to avoid recording the full cost of the building up front, effectively keeping the purchase “off the books.”

You’d think the embarrassment of the Boeing deal, and the lessons of Enron et al., might have compelled the administration to cease and desist from the use of such accounting tricks. But in this new budget, they’re everywhere.

Then today, an A1 story carried the headline “After Bush Leaves Office, His Budget’s Costs Balloon.”

Congress and the White House have become adept at passing legislation with hidden long-term price tags, but those huge costs began coming into view in Bush’s latest spending plan. Even if Bush succeeds in slashing the deficit in half in four years, as he has pledged, his major policy prescriptions would leave his successor with massive financial commitments that begin rising dramatically the year he relinquishes the White House, according to an analysis of new budget figures.

Bush’s extensive tax cuts, the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and, if it passes, his plan to redesign Social Security all balloon in cost several years from now. His plan to partially privatize Social Security, for instance, would cost a total of $79.5 billion in the last two budgets that Bush will propose as president and an additional $675 billion in the five years that follow. New Medicare figures likewise show the cost almost twice as high as originally estimated, largely because it mushrooms long after the Bush presidency.

Finally, Terry Neal in his Talking Points online column writes

The one-year budget deficit will be so large in the next fiscal year that if the government stopped funding everything except defense, homeland security and entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the nation would still be $75 billion in the red.

Put another way, if the government decided this year to eliminate every education, school lunch, public health, housing assistance, space exploration, medical research, environmental protection, highways, national parks and veterans program, it would still run a deficit in 2005.

That’s because domestic discretionary programs that aren’t associated with defense or homeland security make up only about 20 percent of the federal budget. President Bush proposes spending about $352 billion for those domestic programs this year. The estimated budget deficit is $427 billion. The difference: $75 billion.

For all of the White House crowing about holding down spending, it is clear the government is not going to be able to cut its way out of this deficit — not without making drastic cuts that would completely redefine the role of the federal government.

Oh my, how Scott McClellan must be boiling!


A couple of stories review the moral agenda that is rapidly being approved by at least the House of Delegates. Some of those who are supporting these measures would give any progressive pause.

Democratic Whip Brian Moran (Alexandria) and Kris Amundson (D-Fairfax) voted for the internationally ridiculed “droopy drawers” bill, while conservatives Dave Albo (R-Fairfax), Vince Callahan (R-Fairfax)and Brad Marrs (D-Richmond) had the good sense to vote against it.

Dels. Chap Petersen and Steve Shannon, both Fairfax Democrats, voted for both the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and the abortion anesthesia bill while Republican Jim Dillard of Fairfax voted against them.

The contradiction of “small government” Republicans pushing their morals on the rest of us is being noticed by more and more folks.

“Never have we had the kind of avalanche we’ve had this year. Never,” said Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia, who said he has received calls from journalists in Canada, Austria and Mexico. “It really has garnered an awful lot of attention for Virginia, and not the positive kind.”

The largely conservative General Assembly poses a political paradox.

“When it comes to, say, guns, Virginia completely respects guns. When it comes to other subjects, individual liberty is not on the table,” Sabato said. “There’s a philosophical contradiction here if anybody thinks about consistency or lack of it in this session.”

Of course, the issues are irresistible to politicians. And they get play because of the media.

“While it may take up 5 percent of our time, it’s very alluring to the people in the media, I believe, so therefore it probably gets more attention than it occupies here,” said state Sen. Stephen D. Newman, R-Lynchburg.

The right makes no bones about future agendas.

“The right-to-life people are making inroads,” declared Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, who sponsored several abortion-related bills this year. “After they establish one beachhead, they march further on.”

Some think the likes of Marshall are just plain mean.

“The forces of reaction are arrayed against us,” said the Rev. Robin Gorsline, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond, which serves the gay and lesbian community. “They’re scared. They’re really scared that we’re now being viewed as citizens of society. They’re scared, and it’s making them mean.”

Some of these bills are sure to be ruled unconstitutional, according to Aimee Perron Siebert, the ACLU’s legislative director.

Citing the school prayer measure as one example, she said the bill would change the state constitution to allow religious expression in public places – including prayer in schools – despite more than 50 years of Supreme Court rulings that establish the practice as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.

“The U.S. Constitution trumps Virginia’s constitution,” Siebert said.

Similarly, a conservative-backed bill that would prohibit gay and lesbian clubs in high schools also is firmly established by a Supreme Court ruling that allows Bible clubs to be held on school grounds, Siebert said. “If you allow one, you have to allow them all. It’s that simple. They know that. It’s not our imagination. We are in their cross hairs. Personal religious views are infiltrating every nook and cranny of the General Assembly.”

…A break on state taxes for corporations that give money to scholarship funds for private schools, which is aimed at getting more students from poor families into private schools. Cobb said it is a foot in the door for future efforts to expand the use of tax dollars to support private schools. Critics said it might violate a clause in the state constitution prohibiting public money being spent on private schools.

Other conservative efforts this session include a ban on state money being spent on stem cell research and an attempt to cut all state funds to Planned Parenthood, even if that money is not used for abortion counseling.

These bills, in one form or another, add up to an attempt by the right to use government to legislate morals. That’s the message that needs to be emphasized because it is a contradiction of the stated Republican desire for smaller government.

Gay Bashing

Read Margaret Edds column.

I have sometimes wondered how unthinkable actions against minorities take root in civilized societies. Now I think I know. It happens cumulatively. Drip, drip, drip. Nice people sit by and say nothing while the bar on the rhetoric and the discrimination inches higher and higher.

Dirty Words, Like Love

I‘ve written before about how the right uses language to soften the impact of policies that are destructive to the middle class or that obfuscate the discrimination their policies promote. The Virginian Pilot has commentedon this issue, with evidence that now the right thinks “love” is a dirty word.

Though it may be no surprise to our critics, we must say we were surprised to find that a few things we consider virtues were part of an effort to brainwash America.

If only we’d known.

According to some people with an expanding fixation on other people’s sexuality, words like “tolerance” and “diversity” are nothing more than nefarious code.

…”‘Love’ is one of the Trojan horses for the acceptance of homosexuality,” said Focus on the Family’s Melissa Fryrear, who describes herself as a “former” lesbian. She made her comment in an e-mail to the Baptist Press. “The problem, though, is their definition of ‘love’ is carefully camouflaged to mean more than Cupid ever meant it to mean. Their definition is meant to mean the acceptance and the celebration of homosexuality.”

While I understand the sincere religious opposition to homosexuality and abortion, it is the fervor with which such opposition is pursued and the apparent lack of any compassion with which the arguments are made that give me pause and which make me suspect that for many of the most vocal opponents, religion is a smokescreen for hate.

It’s not just Democrats, progressives or churches who actively cater to homosexuals that need to speak up. We need mainstream churches to condemn the extremists and redefine tolerance and love, although it baffles me that we need to redefine it in the first place. In fact, tolerance is generally not tolerated tolerance in the right’s world view, which calls for strict morality.

In Strict Morality, the Strict Father is the Moral Authority, determining right from wrong, and protecting the family from a world that is chaotic and threatening. Evil is a major force in the world that must be fought using Moral Strength, which has the highest moral priority. Evil is both external and internal. Internal evil is fought with self-discipline and self-denial to achieve “self-control.” “Weakness,” and the tolerance of it, is immoral since it implies being unable to stand up to evil. Punishment is required to balance the moral books: If you do wrong, you must suffer a negative consequence.

Guns at the Capitol

Heat packers aren’t satisfied with bringing guns into rec centers and restaurants. They’ve sued to be allowed to bring them into the state Capitol, perhaps to silence their critics there. Read all about this group here and see who supports them. The site conveniently lets you see how delegates and senators voted on the bills this group supports or opposes.