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Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Sloppy Times

The New York Times attempts another smear of John McCain, and fails. Of course, because of some sloppy writing, some liberal bloggers are outraged. Here's the key portion:

Mr. Diamond finally bought the land for $250,000 in 1999. He obtained an unusual guarantee from the Army that provided a generous water allowance outside the standard allocation process — a bonus that continues to rankle municipal officials on the dry Monterey Peninsula.

“Those guys got a sweetheart deal,” said Michael Keenan, whose family bought the housing complex from Mr. Diamond for nearly $30 million two years later. Mr. Diamond acknowledged turning a profit of $20 million.

Not surprisingly, some have read that passage to mean that Diamond turned $250,000 into $30 million, while others have read it to mean $250,000 into $20 million. But if you sell something for $30 million and you profited by $20 million, then what was your original cost, class? That's right, $10 million. You see, the $250,000 was the purchase price on a completely different transaction. The Times mentioned the purchase of the housing complex a page earlier in the story:

Tipped off by a fellow Tucson developer, Mr. Diamond had snapped up a housing complex there that had been built on land leased from the Army, giving him the inside track to buying the land when the base shut down.

Did they fool anybody? Kevin Drum:

Indeed. A "constituent matter." McCain's pal managed to snag this prime coastal land — complete with special water rights — for $250,000 and then sell it two years later for $30 million.

Captain Ed has more on this issue, pointing out that the Sierra Club, which lauded some of the transactions at the time, is now bleating about how unfair they were.

In the events, McCain’s legislation had broad support from both business interests and the environmental community. The Sierra Club endorsed both bills at the time, although Rutenberg has them complaining now. The Tucson Audubon Society supported the 1994 bill, which makes the pygmy owl issue rather moot (McCain has supported the protection of the pygmy owl). The National Parks and Conservation Association also backed both bills.

See also Tom Maguire, who points out that the Fort Ord land was not quite as attractive as the Times makes it sound:

Progress toward production of new workforce housing has been slow. Barriers to housing development such as complex regulatory procedures and approvals, antiquated infrastructure on the former Fort Ord, and environmental contamination and costly building removal have made the reuse of Fort Ord a particularly difficult challenge for any kind of development, including workforce housing.

Also, note that when you look at these transactions carefully, the Times' narrative doesn't make any sense. Diamond bought the housing units for $10 million in order to get the inside track on a piece of land worth $250,000? That's the tail wagging the dog.
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