It’s 2021, time to stop pandering to “oppressed” college students

Late last year, the “oppressed” students at $71,550-a-year Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, initiated a strike and demanded that their school “dismantle systemic oppression in the Bryn Mawr community” and end a crippling regime of “institutional racism, silencing, and instances of white supremacy.”

Unfortunately, how Bryn Mawr’s administration handled the strike bore too much resemblance to the behavior of so many other easily bullied schools.

Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy initially called for students to return to classes, citing “the significant financial sacrifices that students and families make for this education.”

“Education is our mission and our reason to exist,” Cassidy said. “The College made a legal and moral contract with its students, and their families, to offer classes. We have an obligation to honor this contract.” 

When reports multiplied of abusive behavior targeting students seeking to return to class during the strike, Cassidy spoke again: 

“Whatever the important goals of the strike and the demands, the College cannot countenance shaming, harassment, and intimidation of students or faculty to achieve them. The College cannot and will not tolerate a climate of fear where, amongst other examples, students are afraid to eat in the dining halls for fear of humiliation or for being seen as racist. The acts of intimidation that I am witnessing and that many students and faculty have described violate the [school’s] core principles. Students have a right to their education and should not have to endure shaming to attend class.”

Some emboldened faculty and students also publicly chastised the strike leaders.

A professor wrote on the student newspaper’s site: “The notion that because “You are a Black man, before anything else” and therefore must be in support of the strike or be socially ostracized and bullied by others online is the fundamental problem with the strike.” 

 A student wrote: “One can only hope the administration – which appears to have behaved with unusual grace and provided meaningful support – does not give in to this sad display of self-absorbed and (one is forced to say) childish acting out. Of competitive victimhood. I’m sure the students think they are justified, but with this behavior they have put themselves severely in the wrong. A university education is a privilege that they should get busy and try to deserve. They are lucky to be there and have no right to demand anything.”

The student was quickly slapped down by a classmate: “Racists have used the “lucky to be there” formulation for decades and centuries to suppress the aspirations and demands of people of color.”

The student newspaper tried to inject a little levity into the increasingly tense campus environment with a poll, “Which is your favorite breakfast potato:  Shredded potatoes, Sliced potatoes, Diced potatoes, Hash browns, Tater tots.” But the campus tumult continued.

So President Cassidy surrendered. Not only did she apologize for criticizing the strikers, she said she intended to fulfill a 24-page list of strike demands.

In doing so, Cassidy emulated other weak-kneed college administrators across the country who have caved to absurd demands by children and deserted their responsibilities as adults.

“We’re all gonna be here for only four, maybe five years, so nobody really gives a damn about Bryn Mawr in the long run,” a strike leader at a November 9th sit-in event said, according to a critical post written by the mother of a Bryn Mawr student. 

Of course, that’s the problem. College students are temporary occupants of classrooms and dorms, sort of like rental tenants. They don’t own the college’s past or future, even if they act like they do. 

In that vein, no serious academic committed to higher education, would embrace all the demands spelled out by the strike’s leaders (the group later changed its name to The Black Student Liberatory Coalition (BSLC) and invited students and faculty to “continue to disrupt the fucking order.”).

The Strike Collective’s demands, presumably to be paid for by the students’ already heavily burdened parents, are lengthy. Here are some. Read them and weep:

Trust the Collective, We got each other. 

DEMANDS

  • Search committees for new faculty hiring must include two students with voting power and a diversity representative committed to “executing an anti-racist framework.” (Teenagers voting on new faculty hires; PhDs would love that. Whats next – students voting on tenure?)
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion training for students, faculty, staff and administration, and the President must be mandatory. (Standard fare on all protest lists now, even there are serious questions about the effectiveness of such costly and time-consuming training)
  • A new position must be created to develop a process to remember protests, controversy, and dissension at Bryn Mawr. (To replace all the old racist statues with statues of today’s heroes who will be condemned 50 years from now?)
  • Bryn Mawr must create a “Reparations Fund” that would make a yearly allocation of funds and resources to Black and Indigenous students in the form of grants for summer programs, affinity groups, multicultural spaces, and individual expenses such as books, online courses, therapy, and any and all financial need beyond the scope of racial justice work. The fund should also be used to support local Black and Indigenous communities. (Ah yes, a call for reparations. A sure winner.)
  • All Open Letter writers to the student newspaper and Core Bryn Mawr Strike Collective organizers must be financially compensated in the form of a Radical Transformation Fellowship stipend at the value of $1000 by the end of Spring semester 2021. The Fellowship must continue to be instituted annually. (Of course, reward strike leaders who disrupted everybody else’s education.)
  • Bryn Mawr must pay all student employees who participated in the strike for all work hours missed during the strike. (God forbid kids who skipped their jobs to protest should lose any pay.)
  • Bryn Mawr must take an ACTIVE (emphasis in original) role in the abolition of Police and Penal institutions at local, regional and global scale and eliminate “investment in building harm reducing institutions.” (No more police, jails or prisons. Let ’em all out. That will make things better.)
  • Increase annual funding for the Black Cultural Center and residence from $10,000 to at least $100,000 to support college wide Center events, the food co-operative, aid request, and endeavours that celebrate the past, present, and future members of the Latin/x and African Diaspora in the Bryn Mawr “Community.” (Go ahead, raise student fees to pay for this. Our parents can afford it.)
  • The Strike Collective must be given immediate access to a comprehensive history (at minimum the past ten years) of Bryn Mawr’s investments with the intention of the Bryn Mawr Strike Collective (BSC) examining investments in all military and militarized institutions, including the U.S. Military, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and  military-contracting entities, including, but not limited to, the top five weapons manufacturers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics.
  • Bryn Mawr must “divest from corporations wrecking the environment, utilizing sweatshops and/or child labor, perpetuating violent and racist prison industrial complex, acting as operator to imperialism and colonialism through involvement in the military industrial complex, and executing an apartheid systems.” (This is demanding that the managers of Bryn Mawr’s investments  limit their investment options and prioritize political leftism over profit that supports the college.)
  • Bryn Mawr must invest 15% of the interest of its endowment in local Black social justice efforts with special attention to grassroot organizations without any precondition or restriction being applied on the organizations. (Just give them money, no controls, no audits? No thank you.)
  • Bryn Mawr’s Campus Safety team, which deals with security, fire safety, and parking, must be replaced with community organizers and social workers. (The next time there’s a sexual assault, robbery or car theft on campus, call your social worker.)

As a growing list of colleges and universities cede to demands by aggressive student groups, there’s a growing need for adults in the room to stand up and resist actions that are undermining the quality of higher education.

Resistance shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of preening protesters. 

Want to see where identity politics is taking us?

Tucked into the massive year-end deal President Trump finally signed to fund the government and coronavirus relief are provisions to fund a National Museum of the American Latino and an American Women’s History Museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution. They will supplement more than 19 museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo the Smithsonian Institution already operates.

At some point, I guess, every sliver of the American population is going to get its own Smithsonian museum. 

At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama declared, “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” Not so much now. 

Now we are more a fragmented America that has shifted away from inclusion to exclusion and the proliferation of group identities. Maybe the members of each segmented group feel better about themselves, but it’s at the expense of national cohesion and productive discourse and too often leads to multiple categories of aggrieved, mutually antagonistic people. 

Look at how identity fixation has already led to unwarranted minor and extreme accusations of cultural appropriation and the obscene cancelling of people caught in the spotlight.

“Democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever-narrower identities, threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole,” wrote Francis Fukuyama, a prominent American writer and political theorist. “This is a road that leads only to state breakdown and, ultimately, failure.”

After we build American Latino and Women’s museums, are we going to be pressured to build separate museums honoring the contributions of German, Polish, Irish, French, Scottish, Puerto Rican, Dutch, Swedish, Chinese, Russian, Filipino, and Norwegian Americans? How about the contributions of men, the disabled or other yet-to-be-contrived categories of people?

There are already 11 Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries at the National Mall in Washington D.C., so finding space for two more on the mall will be hard. Finding room for 15 more will be impossible.

But arguing against more identity museums will be hard in the current climate, partly because politicians see advantage in pandering to special interests.. 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) tried to kill funding for the new American Latino and Women’s museums. “The last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups,”” he said. “At this moment in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and the Smithsonian Institution itself to pull us closer together and not further apart.”

His objection was met with withering criticism by other members from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) responded with high dudgeon, calling Lee’s objections to the Latino museum  “outrageous,” and saying Lee “…stands in the way of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of seeing Americans of Latino descent having their dreams fulfilled and being recognized.” 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) slammed Lee for trying to block a women’s museum “in a year where we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.” 

Members also cited the conclusion of a congressional commission formed to study the potential for an American museum of women’s history that, “America needs and deserves a physical national museum dedicated to showcasing the historical experiences and impact of women in this country.”

In the end, funding for both museums came through. Expected to stand on or near the National Mall, the proposed museums will be the first to join the Smithsonian since the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in September 2016.  

But will they really be cause for celebration?

The mob is not the rest of us

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When the demand went out from activists earlier this year to “Defund the police,” Portland, Oregon responded. 

In June, the City Council cut $15 million from the police budget, rewarding Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a key architect of the cut, with a big win. 

But when Hardesty pushed later for deeper cuts, she failed. At an Oct. 28 City Council Zoom call meeting, Hardesty proposed slashing the Portland Police Bureau’s budget by $18 million and shifting the money to other city services. When the proposal was tabled until a Nov. 5 meeting, Hardesty did not take it well. “I see it as a cowardly move to put this vote off until after the election,” she said. “I am a bit disgusted at the lack of courage on this council.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

Citing 156 nights of street protests as a call for action, Hardesty said, “It is shocking that my City Council colleagues don’t know why people are taking to the streets.”

Hardesty either didn’t know, or didn’t want to acknowledge, that the people “taking to the streets” in this and other protests, and generating a lot of overwrought media coverage, don’t necessarily represent the community at large. Too many other politicians and members of the public often make the same mistake.

A recent Gallup poll, conducted as part of a newly launched Gallup Center on Black Voices, found that, in fact,  a large majority—81 percent—of black Americans want the same or increased levels of police presence in their neighborhoods. Just 19 percent of black Americans said they wanted the police to spend less time in their neighborhoods. This is similar to the 67% of all U.S. adults preferring the status quo, including 71% of White Americans.

Previously reported Gallup findings show the vast majority of Blacks believe police reform is needed, such as improving police relations with the communities they serve and preventing or punishing abusive police behavior, but that’s not the “Defund the police” message seen on protester’s placards.

“The “defund the police” movement is backed by progressive activists and politicians, who in turn are funded by nonprofit social-justice organizations and money from corporations shaken down by agitator groups…which pose as community organizations, though they have little popular representation or membership,” Charles Blain, the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute, asserted in City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. “They champion the most adverse policies for the very citizens they claim to be fighting for.”

Linked to this is the pressure by some activists to eliminate the Transit Police that patrol TriMet’s transit system. 

Activists have aggressively criticized The Transit Police, alleging that say they focus on people of color and make members of marginalized communities fearful. In response, the Portland City Council has already voted to pull the Portland Police Bureau out of group on Dec. 31.

The problem is research presented to TriMet’s board of Directors indicates there’s actually a high level of support for the Transit Police among TriMet riders. According to a TriMet survey, a lack of transit police makes half of all riders feel unsafe. The percent is higher for Blacks (67%), non-English speakers (58%), and people of color (54%). Just 24% of those surveyed said the presence of police makes them feel unsafe.

According to the TriMet survey, 61% of riders think the greatest threat to their safety isn’t the Transit Police,  but other riders who are too aggressive, perceived to be abusing drugs, or having mental health issues.

Then there are the Parlance Police who want to ram their word usage down our throats.

One of the best examples of these people in action is activists (including much of the media) pushing the public to embrace use of the term Latinx as a gender-neutral, pan-ethnic label to describe a diverse Hispanic or Latino population.

The term has come into wide use by entertainment outlets, magazines, corporationslocal governments, and universities to describe the nation’s Hispanic population. Politicians, in particular, have hopped on the Latinx trend. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for example, marked Hispanic Heritage Month by promising in English and Spanish to champion Latinx families.  

But there’s a problem. Recent work by the respected Pew Research Center found that only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have even heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves.

“Progressives, Hispanics are not ‘Latinx.’ Stop trying to Anglicize our Spanish language,” Giancarlo Sopo, a public relations strategist, wrote in a USA Today Opinion column. “Hispanic Americans face plenty of challenges as it is. The last thing we need are English-speaking progressives ‘wokesplaining’ how to speak Spanish.”

Progressives argue that Latinx fixes the gendered nature of Spanish,” Sopo wrote.” It is true that nouns are gendered in Spanish, but it is unclear what, if any, problem this poses to Americans. Taken to its logical conclusion, a push for gender-neutral Spanish nouns requires dismantling a language spoken by 572 million people across the world.” 

“The term (Latinx) makes me sad and angry — it represents another anglicism of my native language and a feeble attempt at gender inclusivity,”  Laura Phillips-Alvarez, a student at the University of Maryland, wrote in an Opinion column for the school’s newspaper, The Diamondback. “…America is obsessed with labeling things, and “Latinx” is just another attempt at categorizing a group of people who are so frustratingly difficult to categorize.”

And while we’re on the subject of mobs, let’s not leave out the college student activists who pressure campus administrators and intimidate the rest of the student body.

Recent events at Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania that charges $71,550 a year to attend, are a prime example of a student mob takeover that effectively shut down the campus and led to administration capitulation. 

After two Philadelphia police officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man armed with a knife, on Oct. 25, a group of Bryn Mawr activists “embraced the dubious claim that their extremely progressive campuses were actually contaminated by a dangerous climate of racism that (quite literally) threatened the survival of black students,” the parent of one student’s parent wrote in Quillette, an online magazine. “In many cases, the ire was directed not only at administrators and non-ideologically-compliant faculty, but also at any student suspected of not supporting the strikers’ apocalyptic rhetoric, dramatic postures, and inflated demands. Anyone who sought to attend class, go to the dining hall, or even turn in schoolwork was denounced as a “scab,” and often faced acts of bullying.”

The leaders of Bryn Mawr’s student strike, which began on October 28th, said their goals were “to dismantle systemic oppression in the Bryn Mawr community,” and end the apparently crippling regime of “institutional racism, silencing, and instances of white supremacy.” Their demands, which by mid-November were a dense 24 pages long, included implementation of a “Reparations Fund” for grants to “Black and Indigenous students in the form of grants for summer programs, affinity groups, multicultural spaces, and individual expenses such as books, online courses, therapy, and any and all financial need beyond the scope of racial justice work.”

This would presumably mimic an action students at Georgetown University took in 2019 when they voted to increase their tuition(likely paid by their parents) to benefit descendants of enslaved Africans that the Jesuits who ran the school sold nearly two centuries ago to enhance its financial future.

On Nov. 16, Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy surrendered, sending an email to Bryn Mawr students, faculty, and staff saying, ” I am in agreement with the areas for action laid out in the November 12 demands. I have attached a response that details how specific aspects of demands will be fulfilled, including timelines and our commitments to invest the resources needed.” 

At the end of the strike, Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy said The Bryn Mawr Strike Collective’s actions ” have been brave and bold.”

On November 21st, Cassidy sent an email to parents saying the strike was over. The strike leaders, now named The Black Student Liberatory Coalition (BSLC), invited students and faculty to “continue to disrupt the fucking order.” 

According to the parent-written Quillette article, some professors have agreed to accept “strike work”—conversations with friends and family about racism, diary entries, time spent watching anti-racism documentaries, and so forth—in lieu of actual course work, even in math and science programs. 

Activists have every right to press their agenda, but decision makers, the general public and the media need to be more careful about assuming the activists speak for the rest of us.

 It’s like relying on Twitter to interpret the public mood. A small share of highly active Twitter users – most of whom are Democrats – produce the vast majority of tweets from U.S. adults, according to another Pew Research Center report. The most active 10% of users were responsible for 92% of tweets sent between November 2019 and September 2020 by U.S. adults with public-facing accounts. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents accounted for 69% of these highly active Twitter users, while Republicans and GOP leaners accounted for 26%. 

Mobs are like that. They don’t speak for everybody.

These are difficult and dangerous times. Pandering to the mob makes things worse.

Enough! No more presidential shrines

Like a virulent virus, the scope and cost of shrines to ex-presidents keeps growing.

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in 1957, cost $1.7 million.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in 1979, cost $20.8 million.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, dedicated in 1991, cost $60 million.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in 2004, cost $165 million.

Next up — the already controversial Barack Obama Presidential Center on a 20-acres site in Chicago. First expected to break ground in late 2018, and now projected to break ground in 2021, it was originally projected to cost $500 million. Now it will likely cost more.

Current design of the Obama Presidential Center Museum

The private Obama Foundation, not the government, will own and operate the center. The principal feature is expected to be a 235-foot-tall fortresslike museum tower with a likely granite facade, which will stand like one of the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” standing in the desert in Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias. It’s reminiscent of the still-preserved medieval monolithic rock-hewn churches in the 13th century “New Jerusalem” in the heart of modern-day Ethiopia.

A rock-hewn church in Lalibela, a small town cradled in the mountains of northern Ethiopia. Commissioned by King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela in the 13th century

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies  “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Adding insult to injury, Obama’s creation isn’t even going to have a presidential library. Artifacts and records from Obama’s two terms in the White House are being digitalized and organized by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and will be stored in existing NARA facilities. The only library planned for the site is a new branch of the Chicago Public Library in the museum tower.

This is all getting completely out of hand.

Though Congress approved the acceptance of the first presidential library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park in New York, in 1939, Congress didn’t formally authorize the Presidential Library System until 1955 with the passage of the Presidential Libraries Act. Then everything went gangbusters and the push for even more presidential shrines continues.

The $900 billion pandemic bill just sent to the president, for example, authorizes 93 acres of federal lands to be used for the construction of a Teddy Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota more than 100 years after his death. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation recently announced it had $100 million in commitments, successfully unlocking a $50 million endowment from the state of North Dakota, even though major digitized collections of Roosevelt’s papers already exist at the Library of Congress and Harvard University .[1] 

Maybe, just maybe, presidential libraries were once justified when they actually contained physical papers available to researchers, but over time the idea morphed into the construction of costly tourist-traps. As Politico has put it, “Presidential libraries are perfect examples of just how far presidents will go to control their own legacies. Since the first one was created in 1941, what were intended to be serious research centers have grown into flashy, partisan temples touting huckster history.”

And now, with the records of the Obama administration being digitized, there’s even less reason to build a complex that will be little more than a testament to egotism in architecture.

When will it end? Are we destined to see yet another shrine, a freakish billion-dollar Trump monolith and theme park, arising near Palm Beach?

The Trump Presidential Monument and Theme Park?

[1] The papers of Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), public official, author, decorated veteran of the Spanish-American War, governor of New York, and president of the United States (1901-1909), have already been digitized. The collection consists of approximately 276,000 documents (roughly 461,000 images), most of which were digitized from 485 reels of previously reproduced microfilm. Held in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, these papers constitute the largest collection of original Roosevelt documents in the world. There is also The Theodore Roosevelt Collection, housed in Harvard’s Houghton and Widener libraries. The collection started as a research library opened in New York City by the Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1923. It was presented by that organization (known since 1953 as the Theodore Roosevelt Association) to Harvard University, Roosevelt’s alma mater, in 1943.

Unemployment compensation: Oregon pays well, but too many states lag far behind

Congress patted itself on the back Sunday when it reached agreement on a pandemic aid plan including supplemental federal unemployment benefits of $300 per week, half the $600 a week delivered by the stimulus law enacted in March.

One of the conservative criticisms of the $600 payment was that it disincentivized people from seeking to return to work because itresulted in many people being eligible for more income while unemployed than they had made when unemployed. Some economists disagreed, asserting that the additional benefits did not deter job seekers. 

An analysis by three economists at the University of Chicago used government data from 2019 to estimate that 68 percent of unemployed workers who could receive unemployment benefits were eligible for payments that were greater than their lost earnings and that a substantial minority of those workers, particularly in low-wage professions like food service and janitorial work, ended receiving more than 150 percent of their previous weekly salary.

Surprisingly, the new $300 weekly supplement will also result in many recipients taking in more in unemployment benefits than they earned working. Estimates of the percentage, however, differ.

The Labor Department has said a $300 supplemental unemployment payment would give about 50% of workers at least the same amount of money through benefits that they earned while working.  The American Action Forum, a center-right policy institute, has estimated that 45% of recipients would receive at least full wage replacement with a $300 enhancement. University of Chicago economist Peter Ganong figured a $300 supplement would put 47% of workers above their prior earnings.

I find this appalling, but not for the reason you may think. I’m not all that concerned in these particularly difficult times about some workers collecting more in unemployment benefits than they earned when working. What raises my hackles is that the pandemic has shown how pitifully low so many American’s wages are and that many states pay abysmally low unemployment benefits in normal times.

That puts a significant number of unemployed Americans in peril.

A team of researchers at the Poverty Lab and the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the University of Chicago in partnership with the University of Chicago, implemented a seven-wave longitudinal survey between April and October 2020 that illustrates the issue. Their research showed that Americans are experiencing financial hardship due to the crisis. Among low-income households, 17 percent have missed a rent or mortgage payment and over a quarter have missed a credit card or a loan payment since the start of the pandemic. Across income groups, about 15 percent of the families in our sample have withdrawn from their retirement savings, potentially undermining their future financial stability. 

A current analysis shows that states with alarmingly low maximum weekly unemployment benefits include Alabama ($275), Arizona ($240), Florida ($275), Louisiana ($247) and the lowest, Mississippi, at ($235). Coincidentally, some of these same states have not taken steps to protect tenants with a COVID-19-related financial hardship from being evicted. In comparison, Oregon’s maximum is $648, Massachusetts’ is $823 for an individual and $1234 for an individual with dependents, and Minnesota’s is $740.

Adding insult to injury, though most states pay unemployment compensation for a maximum of 26 weeks, subject to prevailing state unemployment rates, some are more miserly. The maximum number of weeks is 20 in Arkansas, South Carolina, Michigan and Idaho, 14 in Georgia, 13 in Missouri and 12 in Florida and North Carolina. In all, 29 states pay a maximum weekly benefit of $500 a week or less.

The 2020 Federal Poverty Level (FPL), a measure of income issued every year by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is $26,200 for a family of 4, or $503.85 a week. In other words, maximum unemployment compensation in 29 states is less than the federal poverty level of income for a family of 4. In Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, maximum unemployment compensation is about half of the 2020 federal poverty level for a family of four.

David Lloyd George, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, called unemployment torture “…with its injustice for the man who seeks and thirsts for employment, who begs for labour and cannot get it, and who is punished for failure he is not responsible for by the starvation of his children.”  

With that in mind, surely this nation, this shining city on a hill, can do better.

Is Portland losing its luster?

“A standoff between the police and protesters over a mixed-race family’s eviction in Portland, Ore., is stirring up old ghosts of segregation and redlining from the 20th century,” the New York Times declared on Friday morning, Dec. 10.  “…barricades constructed with orange traffic cones, plywood, overturned dumpsters and wooden doors blocked vehicle access to the area around the house in all directions. Protesters dressed in black sat at the barricades, some warming themselves at makeshift fires.”

Neighbors walk past the protester-erected barricades, Dec. 10, 2020 on North Mississippi Ave. in Portland.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

By late Saturday evening, a gofundme account, Save The Kinney Family Home, had raised $308,257 from 5,900 sympathetic donors, even though the story of what was going on with the house and its residents was constantly shifting. Meanwhile, neighbors seethed as the protest spread over several blocks and fears grew of clashes between activists and Portland Police.

 A sheriff’s office news release says 81 calls for service were made in the area between September 1 and November 30, because of fights, shots fired, burglary, thefts, vandalism, noise violations and threats by armed individuals. Meanwhile, accounts of open hostility to journalists covering the turmoil increased, including physical assault.

All this turmoil came after residents of Portland’s Laurelhurst neighborhood homes had gotten sick and tired of the steady growth in homeless camping in the area in blue tarp-covered tents and RVs, the trash, the garbage, needles everywhere, feces on their property, people urinating openly in their yards.

Homeless campsite at Laurelhurst Park, Portland, OR

On Nov. 19, the City of Portland finally responded to constant complaints when workers and volunteers began sweeping the encampment, removing the campsite construction and cleaning up the surrounding area. 

News of the sweep spread locally, regionally and nationally, adding to the long list of stories appearing across the country about the problems in Portland, Oregon during the year. Protests initially sparked by the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned into violent tear gas-filled clashes with police that turned fatal in late August when an antifa supporter shot and killed a counter-protester. 

Police use chemical irritants and crowd control munitions to disperse protesters during a demonstration in Portland on Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Protests, riots, vandalism, intimidation, shootings, murders, tear gas, arrests, looting, indiscriminate destruction dominated news about Portland for much of 2000. The turmoil may have been primarily in certain hotspots, but the perception has grown nationally that all of Portland, the liberal utopia, is a hot mess, a metropolis of mayhem.

You can’t help but think it has diminished Portland’s reputation and caused potential newcomers from other parts of the country to have second thoughts.  

Until recently, Portland has been among the most popular urban magnets for migrating Americans, particularly the young and educated that modern cities covet.

Migration data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 5 year American Community Survey showed that Portland was one of the places attracting the most young adults age 25-34 during 2012-2017. Seven metropolitan areas, Houston; Denver; Dallas; Seattle; Austin; Charlotte; and Portland exhibited annual net migration gains for young adults that exceeded 7,000. The Portland Metropolitan Area’s gain was 7,203, of which an astonishing 41% were college graduates.

In 2018, based on data from the Census Bureau’s 2018 one-year American Community Survey, the Portland Metro Area dropped off the list. Instead, the top seven metro areas attracting millennials were Seattle, with a net migration of about 11,300, followed by Denver, Austin, San Antonio, Charlotte, Houston, Nashville.  Phoenix, Paradise NV and Columbus, Ohio. Portland didn’t even make the top 10.

All the negative publicity Portland has been getting lately may have pushed its desirability down even further. 

Portland’s reputation as a popular hub for millennial renters certainly appears to be slipping as other up-and-coming cities nationwide take the top spots. According to one real estate analysis, Portland ranked 13th overall among the top millennial hotspots for renters, on average, for the years 2015-2020. But in 2020 alone, the Rose City dropped to 22nd, behind such up-and-coming places as Washington, D.C., Memphis, TN and San Antonio, TX.

An increasing number of millennial renters are choosing more affordable areas, such as Austin, TX, the number 1 hotspot for millennial renters in 2020. The rapidly developing area saw both its employment offerings and its residents’ incomes swell in recent years, while still maintaining a lower cost of living than other major business centers. 

Homebuying in Portland is getting tougher for millennials, too. In October 2020, the median sale price of a Portland area home rose to $435,000 and there’s a widening gap between median home prices and median household incomes. To secure a 20% down payment for a median-priced home, millennials would need to save $87,000. And that’s just the down payment. 

Portland’s appeal probably isn’t helped by the fact that in 2020 Portland became the city with the highest personal income taxes in the United States. The news was delivered in testimony to the Oregon Legislature. The State Tax Research Institute reported that state and local income taxes in Portland total nearly 14% — a rate that’s higher than San Francisco or New York.

Even tourists are getting less enchanted with Portland. A headline in a story in The Oregonian said recently, “Tourists’ views of Portland turn sharply negative, another blow to hospitality industry.”   

Perception clearly matters. As Elaine Lindberg tweeted in response to The Oregonian story, “Every Portland-related post I put on my Facebook page seems to elicit an “I’ll never go to that dangerous city” reply. They think the whole huge city is a riot zone and that every resident is an anarchist. It’s SO frustrating and sad; I worry that our businesses can’t recover.”

Dear Harry and Meghan – I just don’t care

Why are American media paying so much attention to Harry and Meghan?

It’s not like Harry is close to the throne or anything.

In fact, he’s way back, sixth in line to the throne held by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. And he’s not only behind his father, Prince Charles and his brother, Prince William. He’s also behind William’s three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis according to the British rules of succession.

As far as royalty goes, he’s a minor player, much moreso since he chose a  self-imposed exile from the Royal family.

“In Britain, they were a powerful force,” royal biographer Christopher Wilson wrote in the Express, a daily newspaper in the United Kingdom. “But when Harry walked away from royal duties he broke the magic thread which binds royalty to the people. It’s taken a long time for the penny to drop, but Harry has discovered he is no king of the high seas but a castaway stranded on a desert island.”

In La-La Land , things are different, but that isn’t stopping the couple from aggressively seeking attention, despite their earlier claims that they wanted to secure their privacy.

Prince Harry’s biographer, Angela Levin, writing in Tatler, characterized the behavior of the Sussexes as “increasingly self-centered,” with their decision to decamp to Los Angeles as proof. “Their choice of priorities smacks more of spoilt defiant teenagers than adults in their mid and late-thirties,” Levin said. 

In the Netflix hit The Crown, Prince Charles, frustrated over the lack of praise he receives, says pleadingly to his mother, Queen Elizabeth, “I am not just a symbol. I have a beating heart. A character. A mind and a will of my own. I can lead not just by wearing a uniform or cutting a ribbon, but by showing people who I am. Mommy, I have a voice.” The queen replied acidly, “Let me let you into a secret. No one wants to hear it. No one.”

That’s apparently not the case with Prince Harry.

The Sussexes quickly signed with the the Harry Walker Agency, which also represents the Obamas and the Clintons, to arrange paying speaking engagements. The British Sunday Times reported in Feb. 2020 that JP Morgan paid the Sussexes over $1 million to attend an investment summit in Miami at which Harry spoke;  Page Six , a gossip column for the NY Post, reported they were paid “around $500,000 plus expenses.”

The Sussexes showed no signs they wanted to avoid the glare of the public eye when they followed the lead of Barack and Michelle Obama and signed a mega-deal with streaming giant Netflix. The deal, thought to be worth more than $100 million, is to make documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming. When the deal was announced on Sept. 2, 2020, the New York Times observed in a somewhat snide tone, “It is unclear how much Harry and Meghan will be paid, given their lack of producing experience.”

The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, reported on Nov. 20, 2020 that Harry and Meghan have also discussed with Netflix making a documentary that would center on the couple’s first year after splitting from the Royal Family, their new life in California and the reasons why they fled Britain.

Meghan Markle on her own hasn’t been a shrinking violet either. In a Nov. 25, 2020, the New York Times ran an Opinion column by Markle, “The Losses We Share.” Markle, identified as “a mother, feminist and advocate,” disclosed she had a miscarriage in July 2020. Media across the board jumped on the story and it was featured on network and cable news shows. 

“Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, reveals she had a miscarriage in July, calls for compassion in a polarized world,” ran the Washington Post headline.

The media almost uniformly characterized the Opinion column as brave and emotional; I thought it was gauche and self-promotional.

Even moreso because it came after the disclosure on social media on Oct. 1, 2020 that Chrissy Teigen, wife of singer John Legend, had suffered a miscarriage the day before. Markle’s November column about her miscarriage three months earlier in July came across as, “Hey, look at me, too.”

In Craig Brown’s book, “Ninety-nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret,” he describes Margaret as “wanting to be treated as both equal and superior.” I think we’d all be better off if the media treated Harry and Meghan as equals, just regular folks, and spared the rest of us the breathless reporting on their every move and word.

After all, the United States has long rejected according nobility high rank. Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution specifically states: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.”  Alexander Hamilton wrote, “Nothing need be said to illustrate the importance of the prohibition of titles of nobility. This may truly be denominated the corner stone of republican government; for so long as they are excluded, there can never be serious danger that the government will be any other than that of the people.”

The Duke and Duchess were mildly interesting and entertaining before. Now, as Rhett Butler said to Scarlett o’Hara in Gone with the Wind in response to her tearful question: “Where shall I go? What shall I do?”, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”

Cancelling student debt: Another bad idea from the “free stuff” crowd

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities. Thousands of Oregon college graduates in the class of 2019 probably felt the same way.

After years of hard work, they had finally earned their degrees. But 54% graduated with student loan debt. The average debt – $27,542. If it was any consolation, they were not alone. About 45 million Americans (13.7% of the U.S. population) are dealing with federal and/or student loan debt that totals about $1.7 billion.

But fear not, debtors, liberal politicians have been falling all over themselves with plans to help bail you out.

In May 2020, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) called upon House Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to prioritize long- term relief in any future COVID-19 response in the form of at least $30,000 in one-time student loan debt cancellation for all federal student loan borrowers 

In September 2020, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a resolution  outlining a plan for the next president to use existing authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in individual federal student loan debt for Federal student loan borrowers.

Before the Nov. 3, 2020 election, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris called for student loan forgiveness of up to $10,000, and if a student found a job that paid less than $125,000 after graduation, all their student loan debt would be forgiven.

And then there are all the progressive think tanks, unions and special interest groups lined up behind the debt cancellation idea.

In November, a coalition of 236 mostly progressive groups, including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, sent a letter to President-elect Biden calling on him to cancel student debt using his executive powers on the first day he takes office. Casting their lobbying as a racial justice issue, the letter said, “The ​disproportionate impact​ of student debt on borrowers of color exacerbates existing systemic inequities and widens the racial wealth gap.” 

The progressive Roosevelt Institute, adopting the “No crisis should go to waste” philosophy,  is calling for the cancellation of student, housing, and medical debt as part of a massive covid-recovery plan. Framing student debt as “a product of and a contributor to our country’s shameful racial wealth gap,” the Institute wants student loan forgiveness to go hand in hand with a commitment to funding tuition-free public colleges and universities.

That’s what the most ardent advocates of student loan cancellation are really pushing for – free college, with somebody else, usually simply called “rich people,” covering the cost.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) argued on Nov. 17, 2020 that forgiving student loans would be the “single biggest stimulus we could add to the economy” in these difficult times. And the New York Times said, “Both sides of the debate acknowledge that tackling the $1.7 trillion in student debt nationwide, which is spread among more than 43 million borrowers, would go far toward jump-starting the economy.” But a lot of economists don’t agree. 

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says the stimulus benefits would be minimal and aimed at those who least need the help. Total student loan debt may be atrociously high, but borrowers often pay back their loans over 10, 15, or even 30 years, so debt cancellation would increase their available cash for injection back into the economy by only a fraction of the total loan forgiveness. “Stimulus dollars that are spent rather than saved provide a stronger boost to near-term economic output,” the Committee has said. 

Continuing current student debt relief policies, including deferring payments and interest, are preferable, as well as income-driven repayment programs under which monthly payments are determined based on a borrower’s income, not the amount of debt. After 20 to 25 years, the remaining debt is forgiven.  

Recently released data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that the national default rate (A federal student loan is considered to be in default if payment is late by 270 days) for FY2017 was 9.70%.  Massachusetts had the lowest loan default rate – 5.83%; Mississippi had the highest –  15.19%.

Oregon had 6,477 borrowers, 10.71% of the total, in default. The Oregon schools with the highest default rate, 7.80%, were Eastern Oregon University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The Brookings Institute is predicting a “looming student loan default crisis” that could see 40% of student loan borrowers nationally in default by 2023.

Yes, some of this debt has accrued because of lax government lending standards. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 23, 2020. “The government lends more than $100 billion each year to students to cover tuition at more than 6,000 colleges and universities. It ignores factors such as credit scores and field of study, and it doesn’t analyze whether students will earn enough after graduating to cover their debt.”

But subsidizing people who run up large college loan debts penalizes those who took their responsibility seriously and acted responsibly, James B. Meigs wrote in City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a free-market think tank. That leaves a lot of people feeling like chumps, he says. “…the chumps of modern America feel that the life choices they’re most proud of—working hard, taking care of their families, being good citizens—aren’t just undervalued, but scorned,” Meigs wrote. As Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist put it, “…a massive bailout of borrowers would be unfair to countless families that saved and worked to pay for college, to say nothing of those who responsibly repaid their loans.”

Then there’s the “moral hazard” of cancelling student debt. It might encourage students to continue running up risky big loan balances on the assumption that their debts will be forgiven at some point. That would cause a distortion of borrowing decisions, making them insensitive to the ability to repay. 

Of course, what if higher education institutions see that it makes sense to continually raise prices because the government will absorb any losses down the road. But that’s another problem.

Measure 110 was misguided liberal activism posing as philanthropy

Measure 110 was a seriously flawed ballot measure written and bankrolled by outsiders that deserved to be defeated. Instead, Oregon voters approved the measure 58.5% – 41.5%. 

Now come the problems.

The measure, which will go into effect on Feb. 1, 2021, removes criminal penalties for individuals caught in unauthorized possession of controlled substances in amounts reflecting personal use and instead will impose a maximum fine of $100 or completion of a health assessment. That alone raises a lot of red flags. 

One likelihood is that the implementation of Measure 110 will eliminate a major deterrent to trying and using drugs, likely fueling more, not less, drug use and addiction.

“If you don’t pay the hundred-dollar fine, what are the consequences for that?” David Sanders, a Portland Police Bureau officer, told the Journal. “There are no consequences. That will not act as a deterrent and is essentially worthless. Every cop will tell you that.”

Of equal concern is the measure’s requirement that the state establish new addiction recovery centers. 

Easier said than done.

“Oregon, like so many states, has suffered from high numbers of drug overdoses, and people who want to get treatment but can’t find it or can’t afford it,” said one Measure 10 supporter during the campaign. “This measure would start to address treatment and interventions in a sustainable and systematic way in order to get people the help they need and deserve.”

A laudable thought, but treatment won’t happen if it’s not available.

 “…people experienced in dealing with drug addiction say Oregon isn’t prepared to offer treatment to anyone caught in possession of an illegal drug, especially in the midst of a pandemic that makes in-person treatment harder at the same time that overdoses are rising,” the Wall Street Journal reported today.

Rebeka Gipson-King, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority, told the Journal the process of starting a new treatment center would usually take at least 12 to 15 months, more time than the state has to create a network of treatment centers. “There’s a dearth of qualified service providers in Oregon,” she said.

Oregon is going to have to deal with these problems, not the national advocacy groups and wealthy out-of-staters who picked up much of the tab for the Measure 110 campaign on the 2020 ballot. 

In a classic case of misguided liberal activism posing as philanthropy,  the key backer of Measure 110 was  Drug Policy Action, a New York City-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit advocacy group. The organization supports marijuana legalization and more lenient punishments for drug possession, use, and sale. 

The group is the advocacy and political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit that was also behind Oregon’s 2014 measure legalizing recreational cannabis.

The Drug Policy Alliance has received major funding from billionaire investor George Soros, who has long been involved in pushing for an end the legal war on drugs. 

Drug Policy Action contributed $1,574,788.00 to the Measure 110 campaign, making it by far the largest single contributor to the group in Oregon fighting for the measure’s passage, “More Treatment for a Better Oregon: Yes on 110”. 

The next largest contributor was the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) of Palo Alto, CA, which donated $500,0000.   The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a charity established and owned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chanzuckerberg.jpg
Mark Zuckerberg (L) with Priscilla Chan.

“This issue-based advocacy work is led by teams on CZI’s Justice and Opportunity Initiative , which tackles systemic barriers in society that hold people back from reaching their full potential,” the initiative explains on its website.

The website had no suggestions on how Oregon should deal with the budget issues raised by Measure 110.

The Sheriffs of Oregon pointed out in the 2020 Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet that Measure 110 would shift millions of dollars of marijuana tax revenue from schools, mental health and addiction services, state police, cities, counties, and drug prevention programs. Instead, these funds would be redirected into a Measure 110 fund.

“The funding promised by Measure 110 is not ‘free’ money that is unallocated and sitting in state coffers waiting to be spent,” Crook County District Attorney Wade Whiting wrote in the Central Oregonian. “Marijuana tax revenue is currently being used to fund schools, police, mental health programs and existing addiction treatment and prevention programs. Measure 110 will divert dollars from these essential services.”

Coming to a screen near you: The Georgia Star News, a new conservative digital newspaper

The Georgia Star News

Georgians are about to get a new online news site aggressively pushing a conservative agenda.

With all eyes on the January 5, 2021 elections in Georgia that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate, Star News Digital Media, a right-leaning collection of five digital newspapers, obviously sees an opportunity to grab some eyeballs, revenue and influence with a new product, The Georgia Star News.

“…we are working hard to get The Georgia Star ready for launch later this week!,” Christina Botteri, Executive Editor of the online news sites, told me in an email today (Nov. 16, 2020).

Star News, based in Nashville, TN, launched its first title, The Tennessee Star, in February 2017. Its current digital news outlets include: The Virginia StarThe Ohio Star |The Michigan StarThe Tennessee Star and The Minnesota Sun.

A look at the Nov. 16, 2020 Virginia Star conveys the tone of all the Star News titles, with headlines such as:

·       The Empire Struck Back, but MAGA Will Strike Harder

·       Voting Software Was ‘Designed to Rig Elections,’ Trump Attorney Sidney Powell Tells Maria Bartiromo

·       Antifa/BLM Terrorists Viciously Attack Women, Children, and Elderly Following Saturday’s #MillionMAGAMarch

Further reflecting Star News’ leanings is a comment made in a Nov. 18, 2020 Virginia Star commentary by Conrad Black, a former media mogul who was jailed after being found guilty of conspiring with fellow executives to siphon off funds from the sale of media businesses. President Trump pardoned Black in May 2019 after he wrote a book praising the president.

“The Trump campaign to overthrow the political establishment may have stalled, but even if it is narrowly evicted from the White House, and even if the election result is not evidently based on fraudulent dumps of invalid ballots, Trump is not going away,” Black wrote in his commentary. “His following is unlikely to defect to anyone else, and so non-galvanizing a leader as Biden at the head of so fissiparous a coalition will not easily deflect the 73 million Trump voters or their formidable convener-in-chief from continuing the battle after no more of a hiatus than Trump’s enemies gave him four years ago.”

The CEO & Editor-in-Chief of Star News is Michael Patrick Leahy, an early tea party activist, Breitbart contributor and talk radio broadcaster.

In a 2018 Politico story, one of the company’s founders, Steve Gill, a conservative commentator and radio host, agreed that “Breitbart of Tennessee” would be a fair description of The Tennessee Star site.  Breitbart is a far-right syndicated news, opinion and commentary website. Gill left Star News in August 2019.

Steve Bannon – an outspoken rabble-rouser and one of the driving forces behind Breitbart – became Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President following Donald Trump’s election. He left the White House in August 2017, succumbing to power struggles with senior advisors to Trump.

Star News’ news sites are just one segment of a slew of rapidly expanding partisan outlets endeavoring to infiltrate our lives.

The Portland Courant, for example, looks like a legitimate news site serving Oregon. If you slide down to the bottom of the home page and click on “About,” you’ll discover it is put out by Metric Media LLC. 

New York Times investigation published on Oct. 18, 2020 found that Metric Media is “a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country…The network, now in all 50 states, is built not on traditional journalism but on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public-relations professionals.”

While Metric Media’s network is conservative, liberals are financing other “news” outlets such as Courier. This is a network of eight sites started by Acronym, a liberal political group that began covering local news in several states in 2019. Those sites, and others focused on North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, are part of the Courier Newsroom network

So get ready Georgians. You’re next. Star News has you squarely in its sights.

Addendum, Nov. 19, 2020

The Georgia Star News debuted on Nov. 19, 2020. The digital newspaper has no connection with The Georgia Star, which bills itself as “Northeast Florida’s, Oldest, Largest, Most Read African American Owned Newspaper” or with The Star-News, which serves McCall, Idaho and the mountain communities of West Central Idaho. 

Media Matters, a left-leaning media watchdog, has already criticized the site: “The organization’s explicit aim is to deliver pro-Trump propaganda to residents of battleground states, coating local news in the same grievance- and conspiracy-filled vernacular as is used by outlets like The Daily Caller and Breitbart.