It can happen here: Gannett/GateHouse deal will diminish American media

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Two of America’s media giants, Gannett and GateHouse Media, announced on Aug. 5, 2019 that they planned to merge.

If this goes forward, it will not end well.

Completion of the deal would mean the creation of a massive media company with 263 daily media organizations across 47 states and Guam, plus USA TODAY and hundreds of weekly and community papers.

Newspapers across the country may be struggling, but this deal isn’t the best solution. It will lead to centralized editorial control, stifle local creativity, guarantee additional pressure to impose draconian cost cuts and bring brutal widespread layoffs.

Both companies have already said the merger affords an opportunity to realize savings of $275 – $300 million annually across the combined company, with most of the savings coming in the first 24 months after the merger.

GateHouse, owned by the private equity firm New Media Investment Group (NYSE: NEWM), already has a reputation for aggressive cost-cutting and layoffs at properties it owns.

In Oregon, multiple rounds of layoffs have taken place since GateHouse took over The Register-Guard in Eugene on March 1, 2018,

“What’s happening with the Guard isn’t unique to the Guard,” Tim Gleason, former dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, told the Eugene Weekly.”It’s what’s happening all over the country as these venture capital firms buy newspapers and then largely gut them,”

In May 2019, Gatehouse laid off staff at a wide swath of papers it owns, including The Columbus Dispatch, the Lakeland (Florida) Ledger, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram & Gazette. the Providence Journal and The Beaver County (Pennsylvania) Times.  The Times newsroom had 60 staffers in the early 2000s; it is now down to 12 to put out a three-section paper six days a week.

Robert Kuttner and Hildy Zenger lay much of the blame for the evisceration of local newspapers on private equity companies like GateHouse.

“The malign genius of the private equity business model…is that it allows the absentee owner to drive a paper into the ground, but extract exorbitant profits along the way from management fees, dividends, and tax break,” they wrote in The American Prospect., a progressive political and public policy magazine.

“By the time the paper is a hollow shell, the private equity company can exit and move on, having more than made back its investment.”

It’s not a pretty picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Much ado about nothing: Joaquin Castro and Trump campaign contributors

Well, cry me a river.

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This past Tuesday, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D – TX), brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, posted on Twitter the names of 44 San Antonio, TX residents who have contributed the maximum allowed under federal law to President Trump’s reelection campaign.

“Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders,’ “ the tweet said.

From the firestorm of criticism that erupted, you’d think Castro paid a group of Antifa thugs to attack conservative journalist Andy Ngo.

“Democrats want to talk about inciting violence? This naming of private citizens and their employers is reckless and irresponsible,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “He is endangering the safety of people he is supposed to be representing.”

“People should not be personally targeted for their political views, period,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot and during a Congressional baseball game two years ago, posted on Twitter.  “This isn’t a game. It’s dangerous, and lives are at stake. I know this firsthand.”

Seven Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus, which includes many of the more conservative House Republicans, have even called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Castro for his Twitter post.

“Posting a target list of private citizens simply for supporting his political opponent is antithetical to our principles and serves to suppress the free speech and free association rights of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the Ethics panel Friday.

“Joaquin Castro shared personal info on Trump donors. Despicable!,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a text message to the president’s supporters.

Cry me a river!

The fact is all the information Castro tweeted is readily available to the public.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) guidelines provide that individuals can contribute up to $2,800 to federal candidates per election, with a primary and general election counting as separate elections. That means a donor can give $5,600 combined. Cash contributions of $50 or less can be anonymous.

Once contributions add up to more than $200 during a two-year cycle to a particular candidate, campaigns are required to report the donations to the FEC. Reports must include the amount donated, the date of receipt, and the contributor’s name, address, occupation, and employer.

All that data is then posted on the FEC’s website, which can be easily accessed by me, you, Tim Murtaugh, Steve Scalise, the House Freedom Caucus,  Donald Trump Jr. and anybody else, even the Russians.

The non-partisan non-profit Center for Responsive Politics also aggregates the FEC data in multiple formats on the website Open Secrets.

So, if you want fake political news, here it is.

Is TriMet “riding the winds of change”? Not really.

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Think TriMet’s New Electric Buses Run on Wind Power? Think Again.

By Rachel Dawson

TriMet unveiled five new battery-electric buses (BEBs) in April 2019, the sides of which all donned images of windmills and sweeping gusts of wind. The BEBs each cost around $1 million, nearly twice as much as a traditional diesel bus. And these buses are just the beginning: The TriMet board voted last year to replace the entire fleet with battery-electric buses for $1.18 billion by 2040, a $500 million premium over a diesel fleet.

TriMet has been hailed an environmental hero for “riding the winds of change.” TriMet Spokesperson Roberta Altstadt claimed that TriMet was the first in the United States to “operate an electric bus on 100% renewable energy.” Without further research, it would be easy to think that TriMet’s new buses ran on clean wind energy. And that is exactlywhat TriMet is hoping you would think. But you would be wrong.

If the buses don’t run on 100% wind power, how is TriMet able to get away with saying they do?

TriMet spends $228.75 per month on what are known as renewable energy certificates (RECs) from PGE. RECs are a tradable commodity sold by renewable energy facilities (such as wind farms) to the wholesale market, that purport to represent the “environmental amenities” of certain renewable energy projects. By purchasing the RECs, TriMet has bought the legal right to claim it is using renewable energy; however, the agency has not purchased any energy itself.

This would be like my paying someone else to exercise at the gym for me, and then telling my family and friends I go to the gym. The person I pay reaps both financial and physical benefits while I merely get to pretend I have them.

Supporters of RECs claim the certificates offset fossil fuels and pay for the generation of new renewable energy. However, these claims are not entirely accurate. According to Daniel Press, a Professor of Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz, “RECs do little to reduce emissions in the real world because they have become too cheap to shift energy markets or incentivize businesses to build new turbines.” The income generated from RECs does not come close to the millions needed to construct more wind turbines, which means that RECs themselves don’t offset fossil fuels.

Despite its claims, it would be impossible for TriMet to run on 100% wind power unless it disconnected from the regional mixed grid and hooked up to its own personal wind farm. Even then, TriMet would be forced to rely on other backup power sources due to the volatility of wind generation.

While a wind turbine may be available to produce energy around 90% of the time, the average wind farm in the United States in 2018 had a capacity factor of only 37.4%. The capacity factor refers to the amount of energy produced in a year as a fraction of the farm’s maximum capacity. Wind farms produce electricity when winds reach about nine miles per hour and stop at roughly 55 mph to prevent equipment damage. If the wind isn’t blowing (or isn’t blowing strongly enough), little to no power can be generated.

This poses problems, as the electrical grid requires constant equilibrium or blackouts will result—power supply must meet energy demand. Every megawatt of wind power has to be backed up by an equal amount of traditional, “non-green” sources like coal and natural gas to account for times when wind energy isn’t generated. This would be like keeping a car constantly running at home in case the one you’re driving on the road fails.

Instead of a wind farm, TriMet receives its electricity from Portland General Electric, the same mixed grid your home is likely powered by. In 2020, this mixed grid will be made up of 37% natural gas, 28% coal, 18% hydro, 15% renewables, and 2% purchased power (power purchased on the wholesale market). Since wind only makes up a portion of renewables used by PGE, less than 15% of the electricity used by the “wind” buses is powered by wind. A greater percentage of the electricity used by TriMet’s BEBs comes from coal plants than wind farms.

If TriMet were honest with its riders, it would replace the windmills on the sides of the new buses with coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric power plants. In the name of accuracy, TriMet could place a windmill in the corner, demonstrating the small percentage of power generated by wind farms.

So instead of riding the “winds of change,” keep in mind that you’re just riding a really expensive bus.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.