Rewriting history, tv news-style


More proof that a chimp of average intelligence could work in television news: A Louisville, Ky., television station reported earlier this week that the state’s last World War I survivor had died.

According to WLKY, “Many believe (Robley) Rex was the last living World War I veteran in the country.”

The station added that Rex, who was 107, enlisted in 1919 and served three years.

Can the writer who pulled this report together really be that ignorant of history, or is it just plain laziness?

World War I ended in 1918, and while some US troops did serve overseas in occupation roles for some time afterward, soldiers aren’t classified as combat veterans if they didn’t see action on or before Nov. 11, 1918.

In addition, there has been considerable national press over the past year or so regarding Frank Buckles, the 108-year-old West Virginian who is regarded by nearly everyone except WLKY and its sources as the last surviving American World War I veteran.

A better term for WLKY to use in referring to Rex would have been as a “World War I-era veteran,” but then television news isn’t always big on getting its facts straight.

Irony, thy name is stimulus


One of the more amazing (and discouraging) aspects of the federal stimulus program is the wide array of projects included on the ever-growing wish list.

The many thousands of projects nationwide include everything from infrastructure enhancement and economic development to broadband access and hazardous waste cleanup.

And while overall the entire plan is nothing more than generational theft masuarading as a government-mandated spending spree, at least one project brings a bit of irony with it.

In Arizona,  state transportation officials are getting ready to spend $1.5 million in stimulus money to replace metric signs along Interstate 19 with mileage signs, according to The Arizona Daily Star.

The signs marking kilometers instead of miles were first installed in Arizona the early 1980s when I-19 and a handful of other roads were signed in metric as the country considered a full conversion.

That conversion hasn’t happened, the paper helpfully adds.

Hey, it was a waste to put up the metric markers in the first place, and the ongoing stimulus program is a waste, albeit a much, much larger one, so the whole thing makes perfect sense.

Collexis continues to dilute stock


Columbia, SC, technology company Collexis Holdings Inc. continues to dilute its stock in an effort to generate enough money to stay afloat.

Collexis announced Wednesday that it had issued 26,142,857 shares of common stock at 7 cents a share in a private offering, representing an investment of a little more than $1.8 million in the company.

Earlier this month, Collexis announced it had issued nearly 13 million shares of stockand raised a little more than $900,000. That offering also priced Collexis’s stock at 7 cents a share.

That means the company has issued more than 39 million shares of stock in the past few weeks, substantially diluting the investment of existing shareholders.

Prior to the most recent sale, Collexis had 136.1 million shares of common stock outstanding.

According to information filed with The Securities and Exchange Commission, Collexis will use the proceeds from the most recent sale “to make installment payments required under the terms of our recent acquisition agreements and for working capital.”

Collexis appears to be in dire straits financially. It lost more than $4 million for the last six months of 2008 and the company’s independent accounting firm included an explanatory paragraph in Collexis’s annual report last October that expressed substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.

The NFL draft and bad economics


S.M. Silva has an interesting post on the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s blog about the curiosity that is the National Football League draft.

In the recently concluded draft, the Detroit Lions selected former University of Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with the first pick. The Lions and Stafford quickly announced an agreement that guarantees him at least $41.7 million in compensation before he plays a single game.

That means Stafford will have more money guaranteed to him then any other current NFL player, and represents a 20 percent premium over compensation guaranteed to Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, who was the first quarterback taken in last year’s draft.

As Silva points writes, “It’s a peculiar business model that guarantees eight-figure incomes to new hires who have yet to demonstrate any ability to perform in their positions. It’s even more peculiar when you examine the relationship between draft position and quarterback performance.”

Of quarterbacks selected in the draft’s first round, the recent evidence suggests at least a 50 percent failure rate, Silva writes.

“Taking the 16 quarterbacks selected between 2002 and 2006 – that is, quarterbacks with three full playing seasons since the NFL expanded to 32 teams – only eight are still with the team that selected them, and only seven are considered starters today. (And two of these seven may lose their starting jobs before the season begins.)”

Stafford’s fat payday, and the risky gamble that the Lions are making, is a product of the draft itself, Silva writes:

“By voluntarily restricting intra-club bidding for incoming players, owners simply drive up the price they have to pay for top selections like Stafford. In theory, Detroit could have selected Stafford and refused to sign him to a contract, keeping him out of the league entirely. But from a customer-relations standpoint, this would have been intolerable. Fans expect teams to sign top draft choices. Nor could Detroit change its mind and pursue another top-caliber rookie if post-draft negotiations with Stafford failed. The draft produces scarcity where none need exist.”

Of course, given the pathetic nature of the Lions, who completed the NFL’s first 0-16 season last year, Stafford is likely going to be earning a good bit of that $41.7 million the hard way. Still, it’s not a bad salary for someone just out of college.

Tolerance: Do as I say, not as I do


The beauty of tolerance and inclusiveness was in full bloom last week when an Auburn, Ala., councilman decided he didn’t like the idea of small Confederate flags being placed on the graves of Civil War veterans and began pulling them up.

Councilman Arthur L. Dowdel, who is black, said he was picking up his daughter from Auburn Junior High School near the cemetery when several people told him they “had a problem” with the flags. He drove to the cemetery and started pulling up flags from private plots, he told The Opelika-Auburn News.

“It’s offensive to me,“ he said. “To me, it represents the Ku Klux Klan and racism.“

Mary Norman claims Dowdel pulled the flag from her great-grandfather’s grave and snapped in half, a charge Dowdel half-refuted.

“It might have snapped itself,” he told the paper. “If it did, so what? If I had my way, I would have broke them all up and stomped on them and burned them. That flag represents another country, another nation.”

The United Daughters of the Confederacy placed the flags earlier in the week, as they have done for 50 years, in preparation for Confederate Memorial Day, which was celebrated as a state holiday in Alabama Monday.

As might be expected, Dowdel’s action caused a firestorm of reaction.

Sadly, though, many in the area supported his actions. It’s sad because no matter what one’s views on the Confederacy, there’s something deeply disturbing when a segment of any society no longer respects the rights of others to honor the dead in the manner they wish.

First Community posts mixed results


First Community Corp. of Lexington, SC, is feeling the effects of the worsening economy, even if it’s bottom line has improved recently.

The parent of First Community Bank earned $744,000 during the quarter ended March 31. That’s a marked improvement over the $559,000 loss the company posted during the last three months of 2008, but still represents a sharp drop from first quarter 2008, when it earned more than $1.1 million.

First Community saw its non-accrual loans jump to nearly $7 million during the first three months of 2009, compared to $642,000 a year ago, and total non-performing assets were $8.7 million for the three months ended March 31, up from $862,000 in 2008, according to information filed with The Securities and Exchange Commission.

Even analyzing the linked quarters shows sharp increases in non-accrual loans and non-perfoming assets. As of Dec. 31, 2008, First Community had nearly $1.8 million in non-accruals and nearly $2.6 million in total non-performing assets, signficantly less than at the end of the most recent three months..

Also, net charge-offs jumped from $5,000 at the end of the first quarter of 2008 to more than $1 million for the most recent three-month period.

First Community’s stock has rebounded some over the past few months. It closed Tuesday at $7.50 a share, up from a low of $5.05 in early February. However, its 52-week high is $15.

The State’s circulation dips below 100,000


Daily circulation at The State newspaper in Columbia has fallen below 100,000, possibly for the first time since the 1960s, according to the most recent information released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

For the six months ended March 31, The State had an average daily circulation of 96,737, down 4 percent from a year ago, The Charlotte Observer reported Tuesday.

According to “Palmettos and Oaks: A Centennial History of The State,” the paper’s circulation first broke 100,000 in 1967 and does not appear to have dipped back below that mark until the most recent six-month period.

The State’s Sunday circulation suffered even more, falling 12 percent, to 122,539, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported.

By comparison, the paper’s daily circulation was nearly 140,000 and Sunday circulation topped 160,000 approximately 20 years ago, shortly after it merged with The Columbia Record.

The past year has not been an easy one for The State. In March, it announced its second round of layoffs in less than year, cutting 11 percent of its workforce – 38 positions – and implementing wage reduction of between 2.5 percent and 10 percent for the rest of its employees.

Other major Carolinas’ papers also saw sharp circulation declines for the six months ended March 31:

  • The Charleston Post and Courier saw a 4 percent drop in daily circulation, to 96,005, and a 4 percent drop in Sunday circulation, to 106,192.
  • The Charlotte Observer lost a staggering 11 percent of its daily circulation, to 187,633. 
  • The Raleigh News & Observer’s daily circulation also fell 11 percent, to 156,909.

The Charlotte paper tried to put a good spin on the most recent numbers by pointing out that the combined print/online index – which reflects traffic to the newspaper’s Web site – was up 8 percent year to year to 1.07 million.

The index measures the combined audience of the newspaper over a seven-day period and the past 30 days of unique visitors to the paper’s website. Charlotte ranked eighth highest in growth in the nation in the combined index, the paper reported.

While newspaper circulation has largely been falling in the Carolinas and across the nation for some time, at least some of the decline can be attributed to papers dropping delivery to outlying areas.

Sacramento-based McClatchy Co., which owns The State, The Charlotte Observer, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Rock Hill Herald, The Myrtle Beach Sun News, The Hilton Head Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, reported advertising revenues off 31 percent at its Southeast newspapers in the first quarter, The Charlotte Observer reported.

GM bids Pontiac, independence adieu


As General Motors prepares to offer the Treasury Department more than 50 percent of its stock to absolve itself of $10 billion in government loans, it seems difficult to believe that this is the same company that decades ago made one of every two cars sold in the US.

The automaker has also proposed that the United Auto Workers take GM stock for at least half the $20 billion the company owes to a union-run trust that will assume retiree health care expenses starting next year, The Associated Press reported.

Combined, the union and government would own 89 percent of the century-old automaker, which has been bleeding red ink and is saddled with more than $62 billion in debt, according to The Associated Press.

This comes as GM announced it will eliminated its storied Pontiac brand after more than 80 years. The move comes just five years after General Motors phased out its Oldsmobile brand.

Fewer marque brands and tacit nationalization; William Durant must be rolling over in his grave.

Tidelands sees losses grow


Tidelands Bancshares’ losses during the first quarter of 2009 nearly tripled from the previous year, to $630,000 from $233,000, the company reported.

The Mount Pleasant, SC-based company attributed the difference largely to the fact that subsidiary Tidelands Bank had to set aside $2.1 million for potential loan losses.

Tidelands’ total nonperforming assets increased to $20.8 million at the end of first quarter 2009 from $1.7 million a year earlier, according to information filed with The Securities and Exchange Commission. Nonaccrual loans jumped to $16.9 million from $1.6 million during the same period.

Curiously, Tidelands’ shares jumped nearly 30 percent Monday, up 89 cents to $3.90.

Capitalism and Renaissance Florence


Richard Goldthwaite has written an interesting book on Renaissance Florence, which enjoyed a reputation as a center of European trade and finance, particularly after the middle of the 14th Century.

Goldthwaite’s book, The Economy of Renaissance Florence, recounts the grandeur of the Italian city and offers a persuasive account of early capitalism, according to a review in The Economist.

“(Florence’s) principal resource was the river, the fast-flowing Arno, which provided power and water for industry and access to the sea for imports and exports,” according to the review. “But an even greater source of strength was the enterprise and ingenuity of its merchants, who set about transforming a healthy local wool industry into an international business by importing large quantities of better-quality wool, from England and later Spain, to manufacture the fine, light worsted woollen cloth that was in demand all over Europe.”

The new-found wealth of Florentines brought with it a desire to show off the fruits of their labor, according to The Economist:

“They certainly knew how to spend. In Renaissance Florence greed was good. The rich lavished their wealth on luxury goods for their palazzos, and on shameless dressing up. This encouraged an outburst of great work by artisan painters, sculptors, architects and decorators. The art market in Florence at that time was not as big as in Antwerp and Bruges, and there were only a third as many painters as in Bruges. Florentine artists were kept busy by local commissions. There was, however, a trickledown effect on taste which created a market for inferior art from the Low Countries. A 16th-century art historian, Giorgio Vasari, remarked that ‘there was not a shoemaker’s house in the city that did not have a Flemish painting.'”

Today, four centuries after Florence’s role as the pre-eminent hub of European finance began to wane, its beauty remains, a testament to the vibrancy of the early capitalism practiced by many of its Renaissance-era residents.