News Media Are Awash In Misleading
Stories Based On Estimates And Polls

Regular readers of my offerings will know that I am a skeptic about (1) public opinion polls or (2) estimates of how many people are unemployed or have lost their homes because they can’t meet the mortgage payments they once promised to make or (3) any other of the multitude of estimate-based so-called news stories which regularly get major play in the news media.

So it was with some satisfaction that I read the Bloomberg News Report story which carried this subhead:  “A changeable electorate and differences in pollsters’ methods can lead to wide differences in results.”

The news story said a recent Bloomberg National Poll “showed” Democrat Obama with a 13-point lead in the presidential race over Republican Romney, while an Associated Press poll “found” that Obama held a three-percent lead and Pew Research Center had the president up by four points.

The Bloomberg poll, of course, didn’t “show” a 13 point lead for Obama and the AP poll didn’t “find” a three percent lead.  The most that could be said is that the polls suggested or hinted at such leads.

One Of Six Nebraska Families Didn’t Lose 25% Of Income

The president of the Washington-based Pew Research Center rationalized the differing poll results thus:  “Some differences in methods between reputable surveys can account for large differences in results of the surveys when voter commitment is still uncertain.”

If this is true, let me ask for the umpteenth time why the news media give so much prominence to polls which are questionable if not flatly unreliable indications of the feelings of all potential voters (which is the way the poll results are almost invariably reported to the public).

Then there are the stories appearing under headlines like this:  “One in six Nebraskans saw 25% drop in family income.”

The story gives absolutely no proof of such a reported drop.  Instead it uses estimates included in an “Economic Security Index” report from the Rockefeller Foundation at Yale University.  No proof, simply estimates based on computations of a Yale University-based research group.

The news story carelessly implied that one in six of all Nebraska residents—men, women and children—each lost 25% of their total income in 2010—a not untypical example of the careless journalistic use of estimates.

Average Household Didn’t Lose 39% Of Wealth

Then there was on the front page of USA Today, a story with this headline:  “Families’ wealth dives 39% in three years.”  There was this subhead:  “Richest gained 2% in financial crisis.”

The story started with the implication that the Federal Reserve had found that the average household lost nearly 39% of its wealth from 2007 to 2010.  The Federal Reserve simply has no way of calculating with accuracy the impact of the economic recession on all American households.

The story went on to say that most of the loss of “wealth” was in declining value of the average family’s residence.

It’s not clear as to how the Fed figured that tens of millions of mortgage-free apartment dwellers and house renters also lost an average of 39% of their wealth.

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The ‘Farm Bill’ Label Is Misleading;
Most Funds Go To Welfare Programs

I’m sure there is no federal law requiring “truth in labeling” on federal legislation.  Some of the labels which legislators attach to their bills are probably harmless although sometimes designed to dress up questionable legislation in a fancy package.

But I think there is a serious problem when it comes to the misleading labeling—unfortunately accepted by the news media—of the bill which is periodically passed carrying the label of “Ag Bill” or “Farm Bill.”

That particular mislabeling glosses over the fact that 68% of the funds appropriated in the multi-million dollar bill might better be described as funding welfare programs—specifically food stamps and reduced-price or free school breakfasts and lunches.

The misleading aspects of the reporting include also the fact that the major version of the bill is usually passed only in terms of more than one year.  Naturally the totals involved increase if you are talking about a bill, such as the one that is currently moving through Congress, that envisions 10 years of federal spending.  An annual breakdown of the costs would be more consistent with the way other governmental spending programs are described.

And, certainly, the provision of food stamps and school meals should not be considered as “Ag” or “Farm” aid in the same category as aid which does go for the direct benefit of farm operations.

Bill Properly Ends ‘Direct Payments’ To Farmers

The time had come to end “direct payments” to farm operators, subsidies designed to assist farmers in years when income had fallen below past levels.  In these days of $5.50 and up for a bushel of corn and $11.00 and up for a bushel for soybeans, there is clearly no justification for “direct payment” subsidies.

If a good many billions of dollars were not involved, it might be almost amusing to observe the way some of the “Farm Bill” sponsors describe the non-farm component—the 68% which goes for what amounts to welfare programs.

In a conversation with a staffer in the office of Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska (former Secretary of Agriculture), whenever I asked about the “welfare” component of the bill or used the expression “food stamps and school lunches,” the staff member responded by saying these were “food and nutrition” programs which would somehow justify there being included in a mislabeled (as I see it) “Farm Bill.”

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Let the record show that I own and manage a farm between Mound City and Skidmore in Northwest Missouri.  Most of the land is in the Conservation Reserve Program.  In the interests of conserving land, primarily on slopes and other areas subject to erosion, I intend to keep that acreage in the CRP.  I’ve been told that nationwide, about 20% of CRP land is being returned to crop growing as the 10-year CRP contracts expire.

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Pool Purchase Sparks ‘Sports Complex’ Dream,
Also Raises Some Very Big Questions

Availability of a slightly used but still very usable Olympic-sized swimming pool purchased for a million dollars has inspired two energetic Omahans to start promoting a multi-sport indoor facility to be called the Omaha Multisport Complex.

Mike Cassling of the CQuence Health Group and Lisa Roskens, CEO of the Burlington Capital Group, raised a million dollars to acquire the pool, which is being used as a warm-up pool for the United States Olympic swimming team competition trials held this week in Omaha.

Cassling and Roskens see the acquisition of the pool as sparking a campaign for an indoor complex which would include the pool, a soccer field and an eight-lane running track.

Price tag and location unknown, although the promoters have their eyes on the possibility of land belonging to the University of Nebraska at Omaha on the former Chili Greens Golf Course.

The questions which, as I see it, need to be answered are, in order of priority:

The need for such a complex—not the desirability, but the need.

Would improvement of Omaha’s present indoor tennis facilities, for example, meet the need in a less grand, expensive manner?

What would be the cost to build and, very importantly, to operate such a facility?

What would be the source of the funds?  (It should be kept in mind that there is some limitation as to how much the philanthropic community of Omaha can provide for new projects.  Efforts are under way, for example, to raise $200 million for the proposed cancer treatment and research center on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus.  And Joslyn Art Museum may be in need of a major capital funds infusion)

Where would be the site?  Cassling and Roskens have said a central location would be desirable, and I say “Amen!” to that.  If the target is UNO land south of Center Street on the former Chili Greens Golf Course land, I think the community should insist that consideration be given first as to whether that land might be needed for academic and research facilities and possibly student housing for UNO.

Incidentally but importantly, UNO has talked of an outdoor soccer field on what was formerly the on-campus Al Caniglia football field.  (And soccer is primarily an outdoor, not an indoor, sport).

If there is any need for an eight-lane indoor running track, complete with a “chute” allowing for straight-away running of the 100-meter dash or the 120-meter high hurdles, I have not been aware of it.

Due credit to Cassling and Roskens for the enthusiasm which gives Omaha a chance to consider the possibility—and, most importantly, the feasibility—of a multi-sport indoor complex.  It’s time now for answering the need and feasibility questions.

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Smorgasbord Spotlight Is On Touching CWS Story,
Traffic-Clogging Bikers, Cost of Swim Trials

Today’s smorgasbord, which starts with an especially appealing item:

–The College World Series offers a good many moving human interest stories, but none that tops the story of the two-year-old Korean orphan who was adopted by a California couple.

That young fellow grew up into a strapping college baseball star for the University of Arizona.  Proudly carrying his adoptive family name, Robert Refsnyder was named most valuable player in the College World Series.

A CNN television crew told this touching story:  When her adopted son goes to bat, Mrs. Refsnyder touches above her heart and says, “I love you, son.”

On each appearance at the plate, the adopted son makes a similar chest-touching gesture to indicate his love for his parents.

–“Bikes may get a roadmap” read the headline over a World-Herald editorial.

I would say bikers need some kind of a roadmap before they too often dominate the streets and highways.

The 2012 Nebraska Legislature passed a law specifying that drivers must give bikers a three-foot margin of safety as the bikers drive down the streets and highways.

If you figure the bikers will take at least three feet by using the outside lane, then add three feet to that, you have a recipe for traffic jams behind bikers.

Such consideration for a biker peddling along the outside lane of West Dodge Street during rush hour, for example, would create a massive traffic jam of drivers not able to give up six feet of West Dodge and keep traffic moving in the westbound outside lane.

Another example:  We were driving home from Eppley Field the other morning and a cyclist was taking up four or so feet of the outside lane of the two-lane strip of Abbott Drive which leads south from the airport.  This meant a string of cars piling up behind the biker until they could safely temporarily squeeze into the inside lane and speed around the biker.

–The headline said:  Swim Trials could move from Omaha.”

I think it is certain that they move from Omaha after two successful pre-Olympic Games team-selection years here.  Understandably, the U.S. Olympic Committee is throwing the 2016 Olympic Trials swimming competition open to all bidders, and the winning city’s bid will be predictably very high, as I see it.

A little-publicized fact about this year’s second-in-a-row Olympic Trials extravaganza in Omaha is the fact that Omaha civic leaders had to come up with $3 million dollars to give Omaha the opportunity to play host.

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Tiger Needs Better Play, Better Temper Control

Bear with me today as I retell the story of how, unlike Tiger Woods, I learned to stop throwing golf clubs.  Actually, Tiger’s display of temper involves tossing his club in disgust, but he realizes he has a gallery and is on national television.  I had no such restraining influences.

It was on the difficult-to-putt 17th green at the Omaha Country Club.  After three-putting, I threw my putter high and wide in disgust.  It stuck in a tree and my threesome and I had to stand by as three foursomes played through while the caddy worked to retrieve the club.

I never threw another club.  Time will tell whether Tiger somehow learns to control his temper.  Hitting fewer bad shots would help.

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