The ‘serves ‘em right’ mentality (5×8 – 11/28/12)

The Little Falls shooting, Duluth goes silent on a racial incident, the fizzling FLEX plan, the Black Friday hall of shame, and ‘not right now, boss, I’m watching the lunar eclipse.’


1) FIGHTING THE SERVES-‘EM-RIGHT MENTALITY

This isn’t the first time I’ve used that “headline,” as veteran NewsCut readers will attest. But it’s in fashion again with a series of news stories about the deaths of people who some other people think had it coming.

Authorities are still piecing together the events in Little Falls, where two teens are dead. They may have broken into a man’s home and he killed them after first subduing them. Today, the Star Tribune reports the two high school students may have broken into another home hours earlier.

Some comments on various sites have said the kids shouldn’t have broken into the home — if they, indeed, did — if they didn’t want to end up dead.

But there’s another story — this one in Georgia — where an habitual criminal is dead after he was tackled by three Walmart employees and held down in a chokehold until he was dead. He had stolen a DVD player.

“I don’t think that it should’ve happened,” the man’s wife told CBS News.

A commenter responds:


Mr. Calloway had options and could have been arrested peacefully. This seems like a case of contributory negligence on Mr. Calloway’s behalf. The outcome did not have to result in his death.

As for Mrs. Calloway, her husband chose to steal the DVD players, run from security, and fight the security guards. What more needs to be said?

Emotion in debating these stories is a difficult thing to suppress, especially when the law is an unemotional thing.

But it’s entirely understandable. Watch this video…

What would you like to do those intruders?

In many ways, the strength of law is its ability to set aside such emotions.

2) DULUTH GOES SILENT

The Duluth News Tribune is calling out the city’s residents over an effigy of President Obama that was hung from a prominent billboard three weeks ago, another in a line of racial incidents in the city.

In an editorial today, the DNT says someone must have seen whomever hung the effigy, but they’ve said nothing:


Cars had to be driving by as the president was hung in effigy in Duluth on Nov. 6. Lights along the nearby freeway were shining brightly, or perhaps the sun was already up. Surely someone had to have seen something. Even more surely, someone knows something. They can come forward so those responsible can take responsibility, too — or face legal consequences.

Such incidents are occurring with disturbing frequency. Even more disturbing is the prospect that some in our community may be willing to look the other way.

3) THE FIZZLING FLEX

WCCO appropriately points out a problem on the doorstep of people who participate in flex plans, which allow people to set aside pre-tax money and pay out-of-pocket expenses and other medical expenses. As of the first of the year, people won’t be able to set aside more than $2,500, a drop in the bucket at a time when more insurance plans come with higher co-pays.

It’s not an out-of-the-blue situation — MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki first reported on it two years ago — but the new health care law has been an abstraction up to now. In her story, Stawicki pointed out that the people who use the FLEX provision most tend to be those with chronic illnesses.

4) THE BLACK FRIDAY HALL OF SHAME

Those stories about record-spending on Black Friday (MPR carried one via the AP, for the record)? They were bogus, The Big Picture‘s Barry Ritholtz writes today.

It’s an example, he says, of how journalists are using assertions from press releases without checking to see if they’re true. The claim of record spending comes from the National Retail Federation, which has a track record of being wrong about its estimates.


We know from both academic studies and experience that people are very bad at forecasting their own behavior. We also have a years of history to look at what these NRF surveys claim and what actually sales data looks like. In 2005, the NRF forecast a 22% increase in holiday shopping gains for the Thanksgiving weekend. The results? Up just 1 percent. 2006: An 18.9% forecast, versus reality of 5%. 2007 NRF forecast a 4%versus an “unexpected” drop of 0.4% — the weakest holiday season since 2002. In 2008, they somehow forecast gains of 2.2% — sales actually fell 6%. In 2010, Black Friday weekend sales rise were estimated at 9.2%; they rose 5.5%.

I did not forget 2009: The NRF’s 2009 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey for holiday shopping reflected an awe-inspiring drop of 43% versus 2008. Sales actually rose about 3%.

The data supports the theory: There is zero correlation between what people say their gift shopping intentions are on these surveys, and what they actually spend.

This might lead you to think that the media to be somewhat circumspect in reporting the breathless nonsense from an industry PR group. That merely reprinting a press release is not actual journalism. Perhaps if you don’t understand basic math, than financial reporting is not for you.

However, you would be wrong.

A quick review of some of the media that should know better, with a special shout out to two media people who should know better: 60 Minutes / CBS anchor Scott Pelley, and Bloomberg.com. They both stunk the joint far below their usual commitment to excellence. The rest of the Hall of Shame are simply the usual suspects.

Ritholtz believes the bogus numbers are intended to use social pressure to get people shopping, in the fear that they’re missing out on whatever everybody else is doing. That’s what marketers do; journalists shouldn’t be co-conspirators.

5) NOT RIGHT NOW, BOSS. I’M WATCHING THE ECLIPSE

A lunar elipse today coincides with a full moon. The online Slooh Space Camera is providing live views of the penumbral lunar eclipse from New Zealand and Hawaii begins starting at 8:15 (CT) this morning.

Go here.

Bonus I: Good reading. The Pioneer Press looks at the posthumous memoir of Paul Gruchow, who took his own life in 2004. I had no idea he was a former MPR news director.

Bonus II: This documentary on the cross-country team from Perham — posted today — confirms what I’ve believed since high school: The coolest kids in high school are the cross country kids.

About the Journey from Brent Hanson on Vimeo.

TODAY’S QUESTION

National anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist is urging Minnesota Republicans to hold the line against tax increases that DFL legislative leaders may seek. Today’s Question: Should tax increases be on the table in Minnesota’s coming budget negotiations?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The future of American diplomacy.

Second hour: Rethinking the legalization of marijuana.

Third hour: Obama, business leaders, and the fiscal cliff.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Pen Pals lecture by Salman Rushdie about his memoir, “Joseph Anton.”

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Political Junkie.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - An elderly couple fell on hard times after a construction project in front of their restaurant cost them business. They had equity and were planning to sell their home until their lender made several offers of a modification. Each time they filled out the paperwork only to have the lender stall or renege on the offer. The delays led to them losing their home to foreclosure and walking away with nothing instead of selling and walking away with their equity. MPR Jess Mador will have their story.

  • derek

    bummer, the eclipse watch has been cancelled because of poor weather.

  • Brian Hill

    Thank you for this. New favorite quote of the day and maybe week from Barry Ritholtz “Perhaps if you don’t understand basic math, than financial reporting is not for you.”

  • Kevin Watterson

    We tried elevating the cutback in Flex accounts when we started to hear from parents of special needs children who utilized the accounts. I regret we couldn’t do a better job of bringing more attention to it, but like you said, it’s one thing when it’s an abstraction and another thing when it is about to kick in.

  • David

    The Flex news is bad news for my family. Both my wife and I set aside 5k and use that 10k to pay for part of our yearly daycare costs for our two kids.

  • Bob Collins

    Two separate things, I believe. The setaside for day care and the setaside for health expenses are two different accounts. I’ll have to check, but I don’t believe the health care bill has any effect on daycare.

  • Aaron

    Even if we lived by an “eye for an eye” motto in our country or state, stealing or breaking and entering doesn’t qualify for the death penalty.

  • David G

    Daycare and health are separate, and the daycare set aside is not affected, per the info packet we just received for the next year.

  • ML

    I think the ‘serves ‘Em right’ mentality is reflected in the “stupid people” brand of reporting, where a radio announcer will read a news story and then rail and take calls about how stupid the people in the story were who are now hurt/dead, as if disparaging them inoculates us from making our own mistakes.