Flint and Hillary Clinton’s race to the bottom

Flint, Michigan’s water is contaminated with lead. It’s an environmental, political and personal calamity. So where does Hillary Clinton go first? She casts it a racial issue.

“We’ve had a city in the United States of America where the population which is poor in many ways, and majority African-American has been drinking and bathing in lead contaminated water and the governor of that state acted as though he didn’t really care,” said a splenetic Clinton at a January 17 debate.

NBC News - Election Coverage - Season 2016

Hillary Clinton at the Jan. 17, 2016  Democratic Candidates Debate (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood)

And of course that liberal bastion, the New York Times, jumped on the bandwagon, noting that the majority of Flint’s residents are black and many are poor. “If Flint were rich and mostly white, would Michigan’s state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water?” the paper said.

It’s abundantly clear that Flint’s water situation is a result of failure at all levels of government, local, state and federal.

It’s equally clear that the economic catastrophe that is Flint, with its debt, high poverty rate, crime and depopulation, is the result of years of negligence by incompetent politicians.

But the left, by framing the current water controversy as a divisive civil rights issue instead, is embracing a long-standing pattern of exacerbating division to secure and maintain political power.

The mean-spirited racism charge makes reaching solutions harder while serving to distract the target audience from thinking about larger issues. As Christopher Lasch put it, if the commitment is to fomenting division, rather than to finding common ground, “…society dissolves into nothing more than contending factions, as the Founding Fathers of America understood so well–a war of all against all.”

America is being threatened from within by this conscious effort to carve up the electorate into antagonistic special interest groups every much as it is being threatened from without by religious zealots.

Enough.

 

 

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Our Oregon: shooting Oregon in the foot – Dems and unions want more money to spend on more “stuff”

 

Tax big business. “Yeah.. that’s the ticket! Yeah, you betcha!,” SNL’s Tommy Flanagan would say.

bloated-government-cartoon

A Better Oregon, a campaign organization operating under the umbrella of Portland-based Our Oregon, a coalition of unions and progressive groups, agrees.

A Better Oregon is promoting Initiative Petition 28 for the November 2016 ballot. The measure would raise the corporate minimum tax on Oregon sales of more than $25 million a year from the current minimum of $50,000 to $30,001 plus 2.5 percent of the excess over $25 million. The tax would be based solely on sales, not profit.

The Legislative Revenue Office estimates the corporate tax measure would raise $5.3 billion during the 2017-2019 biennium. Corporate taxes during that biennium under the current system are projected to reach about $1.1 billion.

In other words, the measure would increase corporate tax collections per biennium by a whopping 400 percent in one fell swoop.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), when endorsing the measure, said it would eliminate much of the constant need to choose between funding critical budget concerns each legislative session. “If that passes, we’ll have a lot of money to pay for stuff,” Greenlick said.

Otherwise, Greenlick said, most of the additional revenue in the economic forecast for the 2017-2019 budget would go to cover increased PERS liabilities and the state’s increased share of Medicaid funding, leaving little additional revenue for new stuff.

But not to worry, says Ben Unger, executive director of Our Oregon. The extra money won’t come out of your pocket. It will come mostly from large out-of-state corporations.

About 1,000 corporations doing business in Oregon, mostly multi-state corporations, would be affected by the higher taxes.

“This measure will make sure that large and out-of-state corporations do their part to fund the schools and services that will make Oregon thrive,” Our Oregon says on its website.

As long ago as I can remember advocates for higher taxes in Oregon have been making “out-of-state corporations” the bogeyman, the malignant beast that’s doing Oregonians wrong and needs to pay.

But as attractive a target as these corporations are, they’re not fools. They will find a way to avoid paying the taxes or they’ll pass on the added taxes to Oregon consumers as a stealth sales tax.

Moving a company’s headquarters to another state with a more congenial tax environment, as GE is doing with its recently announced shift from Connecticut to Massachusetts, won’t solve the problem, but there are always run-arounds.

Maybe some businesses will change their ownership form to get sales in Oregon under the $25 million trigger. Others may institute some special, higher regional pricing.

Some creative companies may become benefit corporations. Our Oregon thought it was being clever and supportive of the “good guys” when it inserted a provision in its initiative to exclude benefit companies under ORS 60.754 from the higher taxes. But this opened a loophole ripe for exploitation.

The liberal coalition behind Initiative petition 28, recalling their success in a tax increase battle in 2010, may be figuring they have a sure thing again with another measure targeting big business, but hopefully Oregonians in their wisdom will see this  proposal is a reach too far.

 

 

The State of the Union: who cares?

Americans are getting bored with President Barack Obama.

A pitifully low number of Americans watched Obama’s January 12, 2016 State of the Union address.

U.S. President Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington

U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool

According to Neilsen, just 31.7 million of 323 million Americans, less than 10 percent, watched the president’s address live on 13 networks and tape-delayed on Univision. For comparison, the AFC Championship football game on Sunday got 42 million viewers.

The rating for Obama’s address was the lowest since Nielsen began recording viewership in 1993. About 53.4 million watched his first State of the Union address on February 24, 2009.

Obama does have one thing to be thankful for. Americans’ lack of interest in his State of the Union address probably wasn’t as bad as viewer disregard for S.C. Governor Nikki Haley’s Republican Party rebuttal.

As Politico put it, “…the rebuttal’s viewing audience is comprised almost entirely of members of the press, who are forced to watch the stupid rebuttal as part of their jobs…”

Penn, El Chapo and Rolling Stone: throwing journalistic ethics to the wind

Mexican photojournalists hold pictures of their murdered colleague Rubén Espinoza during a demostration held at the Angel of Independence square in Mexico City. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Mexican photojournalists hold pictures of their murdered colleague Rubén Espinoza during a demostration held at the Angel of Independence square in Mexico City. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Rubén Espinosa, 31, a photographer for the Mexican investigative magazine Proceso, was killed in a Mexico City apartment in August, along with four women. Each had been beaten, tortured, and shot in the head.

Espinosa was the 13th journalist working in Veracruz to be killed since Governor Javier Duarte from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) came to power in 2011, according to Article 19, an international organization defending freedom of expression and information.

But what does Sean Penn care about that? His interest is in self-aggrandizement. Tossing humanity aside, he arranged to do a secret, exclusive interview of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a murderous drug cartel leader known as El Chapo, that was published January 9 by Rolling Stone.

Sean Penn (L) greets El Chapo

Sean Penn (L) greets El Chapo

This is the same paragon of journalistic ethics that published the since discredited story of a gang rape of a student at a University of Virginia fraternity. A report by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism reviewing Rolling Stone’s pursuit and coverage of that story said the publication didn’t follow “basic, even routine journalistic practice”.

The same criticism applies to Penn’s story, a stream of consciousness essay that reads like something written by a drug-addled Hunter S. Thompson, requiring the reader to suffer through over 4000 words about the derring-do involved in getting to El Chapo before Penn even meets him.

“I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as protecting criminals, nor do I have any gloating arrogance at posing for selfies with unknowing security men,” wrote Penn. “But I’m in my rhythm.” So why consider “…those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike…” who’ve died at El Chapo’s hands? Journalistic glory awaits.

Besides, as Penn wrote, El Chapo doesn’t engage in “gratuitous kidnapping and murder”. He’s “…a businessman first, and only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests.” Well, that explains it.

You might be surprised that, as a former reporter, I’m not too concerned about the ethics of Penn interviewing El Chapo, even though he’s clearly a drug lord who has committed murder and mayhem. Any good reporter would try to do the same.

I also don’t think Penn doing the interview and not advising law enforcement of his contact with Guzman, and where he could be found, is an ethical error.

My gripe is about something Rolling Stone admitted right up front, without any apparent shame: “Disclosure: … an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication.”

Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s publisher, even told the New York Times. “I don’t think it was a meaningful thing in the first place.”

The problem is that’s a massive breach of journalistic principles.

It also raises legitimate questions about the contents of the article. Wenner said El Chapo didn’t ask for any changes, but how can the reader trust that? Admitting that the subject was given a pre-approval opportunity invites a lot of speculation about the truth.

Wenner compounded the problem by telling the Times, “We have let people in the past approve their quotes in interviews.”

That’s a bad move, too. It’s OK to go back to sources to clarify facts, to avoid making errors, but not to give them quote approval.

Politico argues that pre-approval was no big deal. “It was only common sense for El Chapo to demand story approval lest a geographically revealing detail get folded in and lead to his capture. In other words, the El Chapo story probably would not have been granted without the pre-publication concession—and without having a swaggering celebrity amateur to report and write it.”

Saying it’s OK to grant pre-approval if that’s the only way to get a story done is a cop out if there ever was one. That’s a slippery slope that can justify all sorts of ethical compromises to get a story.

And that’s where trust in journalism is lost.

Gun safety training: another feel-good solution to shooting deaths

Umpqua Community College candlelight vigil

Umpqua Community College candlelight vigil

After every shooting rampage, whether at Umpqua Community College, San Bernardino, or Sandy Hook, voices are raised across the country calling for “something to be done”.

The latest solution to escalating firearms deaths, put out there on Jan. 9 by the New York Times, is government-mandated gun safety training. The fact that it would have little impact on gun deaths, except, perhaps, to make suicides more efficient, is apparently irrelevant.

“…since we’re awash in firearms anyway, we’d be better off if people knew how to use them without hitting anything other than their target,” The New York Times argued in a Jan. 9 editorial.

Sounds good, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of firearm deaths aren’t caused by bumbling undertrained shooters inadvertently blasting people. Instead, most gun deaths, roughly 6 of every 10, are suicides. This has been the case since at least 1981.

Training potentially suicidal people how to handle a gun better is unlikely to prevent them from blowing themselves away.

As homicides by firearms have been declining, the share of all gun deaths by suicide has been growing.

In 2010, for example, there were 31,672 deaths by firearms, including: 19,392 suicides (61%) compared with 11,078 homicides (35%).

In 2013, there were 33,636 deaths by firearms, including 21,175 suicides by firearm (63 %) compared with 8,454 homicides by firearms (25%).

Mandated safety training of potentially homicidal folks (including criminals, if they are so inclined) is also unlikely to sway them from their murderous intent. And if the New York Times’ objective in calling for required gun safety training is greater accuracy by shooters, does it make sense to insist on homicidal nutcases learning how to aim better?

I’m no gun-rights evangelist, but this push for government-mandated gun safety training to cut down on gun killings sounds to me like an attractive, but flawed and costly, tactic more symbolic than anything else.

If gun control proponents really want solutions, they should be realistic about what tactics will cost in time and money and whether they are capable of actually accomplishing anything meaningful.

The long, slow, agonizing death of The Oregonian

newspaperdeath 

Top veteran reporters leaving. Circulation shrinking. Local bureaus closing. Regional papers consolidating. Daily print editions disappearing. Morale sinking.

It’s come to this at our once-proud and prominent newspaper, The Oregonian.

Founded in 1850 as a four page weekly, its first issue printed in a log shack on SW First and Morrison, The Oregonian has a long and storied history.

The headquarters of The Oregonian from 1892 to 1948.

The headquarters of The Oregonian from 1892 to 1948.

In June 1948, The newspaper moved to a new building on Southwest Broadway.

In June 1948, The newspaper moved to a new building on Southwest Broadway.

Daily newspapers like The Oregonian were once pervasive throughout the United States, with many communities having both a morning and evening paper, and sometimes a weekly local paper as well.

When Advance Publications bought The Oregonian in 1950 for $5.6 million, its daily circulation was 214,916. The Portland Metro Area’s population that year totaled 704,829.

Coincidentally, a significant challenge to the newspaper industry’s business model, dependent on print advertising, also began about this time. Although there’s a tendency today to attribute the decline of newspapers to the Internet, it might better be tied to the advent of television, which sucked away advertising dollars that covered costs and generated profits.

In 1950, five years after the advent of commercial television in the United States, television penetration of U.S. households was only 9.0%. By 1955 it was up to 64.5% and by 1960 87.1 percent. As TV penetration grew, newspapers’ share of ad revenue shrank.

Newspapers commanded 37 percent of all U.S. advertising revenues in 1950. By 1960, that share had shrunk to 31 percent, the first downward shift in newspaper advertising since the depression. During that same 10-year period, TV’s share of total advertising rose from 3 to 30 percent.

I joined The Oregonian as a business reporter in 1987. It was a robust, well-respected paper then, with a proud past and a much-anticipated future. Daily Monday-Friday circulation was 319,624; Sunday circulation 375,914.

When I left the paper 10 years later in 1997 to take a corporate communications job, Daily Monday-Friday circulation was 360,000, Sunday circulation 450,000. We were on a roll.

Much of that success has been attributed to Sandra Mims Rowe, who came on as editor in 1993 and tried to energize the newsroom with a hiring spree, bringing on reporters and editors from around the country. Under her leadership, the newsroom grew from about 280 to more than 400 and distinguished itself by winning five Pulitzers.

But the paper wasn’t able to escape the tumult of the newspaper business during her tenure. By the time she retired from The Oregonian in Dec. 2009, she had to cut staff, salaries and benefits as circulation and revenue declined.

In 2009, The Oregonian’s daily circulation sat at 268,572 and Sunday circulation at 344,950, causing the paper to lose its position as one of the top 25 Sunday circulation papers in the country. That same year, the paper announced a long-term policy that protected full-time employees from layoffs for economic or technological reasons would end.

By 2012, daily circulation sank to 228,599, only slightly higher than circulation in 1950, and the declines have continued.

The Oregonian’s footprint will shrink further later this month when three of its Washington County weeklies, the 143-year-old Hillsboro Argus, the 4-year-old Forest Grove Leader and the 3-year-old Beaverton Leader, will meld into one publication, the Washington County Argus. Their consolidation will mean even less local media coverage and impact.

Meanwhile, talented reporters have been fleeing in droves, some pushed out, others motivated by buy-outs. Some have decamped to other papers, others to corporate and government communications jobs. At the same time the once powerful paper has seen its clout diminish as it has abandoned rural Oregon and 7-day-a-week print distribution.

The Oregonian’s enhanced focus on digital news delivery is showing real signs of life, but it’s not maintaining the paper’s prestige and power. Digital numbers on OregonLive.com are up impressively (6,339,000 unique visitors in Jan. 2015). But with the average visitor to a newspaper website only staying on the site for three minutes per visit, many digital visitors to OregonLive.com are short-termers and aren’t loyal Oregonian readers.

In addition, new digital advertising revenue at newspapers across the country is substantially less than the print revenue that is being lost. In 2005, U.S. newspaper ad revenue totaled $49.4 billion, $47.4 billion from print and $2 billion from digital. By 2014, print ad revenue had shrunk by about two-thirds to $16.4 billion, but digital ad revenue had only grown to $3.5 billion, according to the Pew Research Center.

So here we are. A once mighty paper hollowed out and  humbled. A growing population served by a smaller paper. A weakened paper that no longer drives the daily discussion at the proverbial water cooler (or over a latte). A diminished, editorially impotent presence with a dwindling ability to hold powerful interests accountable.

None of this is good news if you want an educated, informed public in a position to make wise judgments about public policy.

“The way to prevent irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1787.

That is as true today.