Lawyers of Distinction Scam Resurfaces In 2022

Why’d you fall for it, Rex?

Lawyers of distinction is back with its advertisements congratulating its newest 2022 members. One of them is Rex White, Esq., a criminal defense and family law attorney in Salem, OR.

An Oct. 1, 2022 ad in the Sunday New York Times, “Congratulations to the Newest 2022 Lawyers of Distinction”, featured White and lawyers from 40 states, the District of Columbia, Australia, Canada, France, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and even one from Vietnam. Another ad in the same issue congratulated 39 “2022 Power Lawyers”. 

Impressed? Don’t be. 

About all that’s required to be named a “Lawyer of Distinction” is to apply yourself or be nominated, fill out some online forms and pay a fee. 

According to the Orlando, FL-based organization’s website, a Charter Membership, for $475 a year, comes with a “Customized 14″ x 11″ genuine rosewood plaque”. A Featured Membership, for $575 a year, brings the plaque and inclusion in a membership roster published in USA Today, The New York Times, The American Lawyer and the National Law Journal.

Then there’s the super-duper Distinguished Membership, for $775 per year (described on the organization’s website as “Most Popular”), which brings the rosewood plaque, the membership roster ads and an 11″ tall translucent personalized crystal statue.

All of it is for attorneys, including 24 in Oregon, who apparently want to embellish their credentials by deceiving the public.

It’s like diploma mills, companies or organizations that claim to be a higher education institution, but only provide illegitimate academic degrees and diplomas for a fee.

“There’s a sucker born every minute,” is a phrase often attributed to P. T. Barnum, an American showman. It’s apparently true with respect to the attorneys who pay for “Lawyers of Distinction” memberships as well as members of the public who are misled by them. 

The Lawyers of Distinction website describes the application review process: 

“Lawyers of Distinction Members have been selected based upon a review and vetting process by our Selection Committee utilizing U.S. Provisional Patent # 62/743,254. The platform qenerates a numerical score of 1 to 5 for each of the 12 enumerated factors which are meant to recognize the applicant’s achievements and peer recognition. Members are then subject to a final review for ethical violations within the past ten years before confirmation of Membership. Nomination does not guarantee membership and attorneys may not pay a fee to be nominated. Attorneys may nominate their peers whom they feel warrant consideration. The determination of whether an attorney qualifies for Membership is based upon the aforementioned proprietary analysis discussed above.”

Phew! Sounds complex and rigorous. 

Don’t believe it.

 Essentially, it’s just pay-for-play. It’s selling badges.  It’s paying for meaningless accolades. Apply, pay the annual membership fee and you’re in.

Conrad Saam, president of Mockingbird Marketing in Seattle, tested the membership vetting process by applying for membership as his child’s pet chicken, Zippy. “Surely their ‘rigorous review process’ would disqualify a 3 1/2 month old Golden Wyandotte,” he theorized.  

Saam started by getting an email address for Zippy through Yahoo. Then he used an alias to nominate Zippy DeShickeen. He quickly received notification that Zippy had been nominated, but he chose not to send in the membership fee.  

“Surely they wanted to know more information about Zippy.  What about the background checks?  Independent Research? and Zippys scholarly writings?  Verdicts… Settlements…. Bar Certifications?  Surely that would follow in the next phase of the process; at a minimum, LOD would want to know what state Zippy was licensed in? a bar number? or a release to perform the background check?  Some of her awards?  Some bio information? But alas, the application required nothing more than a name, address and a domain.”

According to the Florida Division of Corporations, “Lawyers of Distinction Inc.” is a private for-profit company with a principal address of 4700 Millenia Boulevard, Suite 175, Orlando, FL 32839. 

Robert B. Baker, at the same address, is listed as the President in the company’s 2020 Annual Report. 

Robert Baker

But don’t go to the office address expecting to be ushered into a space with a clean, modern aesthetic that communicates success. The address is only a virtual office.

“These Orlando virtual offices are perfectly located on Millennia Blvd., offering a fantastic office location and recognisable (sic) business address without the cost of renting a full-time office space.,” its website says. “Virtual office users benefit from a local phone number, receptionist call answering services, and a mail handling facility, and can even visit the premises for meeting room rental or day office usage whenever the need arises.”

Robert “Robbie” Brian Baker, a member of the Florida Bar (Bar #992460), is also the founder and owner of Baker Legal Team at 2255 Glades Rd., Ste 330-W, Boca Raton, FL 33431. According to the Baker Legal Team website, he has a degree from Boston University School of Law in 1989 and a B.A. from Ithaca College. 

As an aside, the firm’s website has the chutzpah to highlight that it’s a member of Lawyers of Distinction. 

Lawyers of Distinction’s website says it currently has over 5000 members. If 5000 lawyers sign up for the Distinguished category at $775 this year, the organization will rake in $3.9 million. Quite a haul.

Lawyers of Distinction tries to quell doubts about its legitimacy by including on its website a section headed, “Is Lawyers of Distinction A Scam? With Over 5000 Members, See What Lawyers Have To Say.” But all the section contains are a few member comments and ratings, such as, “Andre L. Pennington – June 20, 2022, I love the opportunities that this honor provides. I highly recommend!”

It’s likely that few attorneys have been duped by Lawyers of Distinction, lured into believing they’ve been selected for a rare honor based on their legal work. They must figure that impressing potential clients is worth the chronic mendacity and deception.

But the widespread use of Lawyers of Distinction by American attorneys really just represents the decay of honest professional representation. If the American Bar Association  and state bar associations really cared about lawyers’ clients they would be cracking down on such misleading marketing ploys.

And if an attorney ballyhoos their selection as a Lawyer of Distinction to you, beware. They are living in a world of unearned praise.

Portland’s Charter Reform Proposal: An Elaborate, Unworkable Mess

Proponents of Portland’s charter reform proposal (Measure 26-228) try to make it sound so simple and straightforward; just a good government initiative that will transform the city.

Not so. The proposed radical change in how city officials would be elected is a convoluted jumble that few probably comprehend. 

The current system is simple: the person with the most votes wins.

Under the reform proposal, not one but two voting systems would be employed. 

First, the Mayor and the Auditor would be elected at-large using a flawed method of ranked choice voting (RCV) known as instant runoff voting.

This is how the reform proposal describes the system: 

 “If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the initial round, subsequent rounds are counted in which (i) candidates retain the number of votes counted for them in the first and any subsequent rounds that already occurred; and (ii) the candidates having the fewest votes are successively eliminated in rounds and their votes are counted as votes for the candidates who are ranked next on the ballots that had been counted for the eliminated candidates. The process of eliminating candidates and transferring their votes to the next-ranked candidate on ballots repeats until a candidate has a majority of the vote.”

Got that? 

In RCV, voters need to have a high level of information about all the candidates in order to choose preferences. You can’t just vote for the person and ideas you like. You must also educate yourself about all the other candidates in order to elevate, or dismiss, the ones you don’t. 

If you only vote for the candidate you prefer and don’t rank all the rest, you are effectively disenfranchised if your candidate doesn’t come in first in the initial ballot count.

The fact is, the more people a voter ranks the longer a ballot works for the voter. If there are five people on a ballot, you vote for only one and that one is eliminated in the instant runoff, your ballot is exhausted and has no impact on the race. It simply won’t factor into the final outcome.

On the other hand, pressure to rank all the candidates can lead to support for somebody you really don’t like. In RCV, your vote for a candidate you dislike can actually help that candidate move up. 

Jeff Jacoby, an award-winning columnist for the Boston Globe, calls the RCV process “democracy on the Rube Goldberg model”, where  ideas that supposedly simplify people’s lives wreak havoc instead.

“Perversely, (ranked choice voting) enhances the influence of the candidate who comes in last when the ballots are first counted, by shifting that candidate’s voters to their second choice.,” Jacoby says. “Just as perversely, the system pushes voters to decide on who their third-, fourth-, and even fifth-favorite candidates are — or face the prospect of their vote being nullified if multiple rounds of tallying are required.”

Things get even weirder when you apply RCV to an election for multiple positions.

As noted earlier, not one but two voting systems would be employed under Portland’s charter reform proposal. In the races for mayor and auditor, there would be only one final winner in each. In the district council races, each of four districts would be electing three Councilors to create a 12-member city council, guaranteed to lead to gridlock at times because of the even number.. 

The Councilors of each district would be elected using a proportional method of RCV known as “single transferable vote” (STV). In this system, voters rank the candidates and if a candidate gets more votes than needed be elected the extra, or surplus, votes get transferred to he voter’s next choices. The charter reform proposal is so convoluted it takes almost 300 words to explain how it would work (See below for complete text)

Under this system, a candidate running for a seat in a multimember district could win a position on the Council with as little as 25% + 1 of the vote. One consequence could be a Councilor able to remain in office by consistently satisfying just that smaller segment of eligible voters.

Because STV is a complex system, understanding it demands a high degree of literacy and numeracy. It can also heighten the power of small minority coalitions and fragment political parties because it can cause members of a party to compete against each other as well as against their ideological opponents.

Although organizations such as the City Club of Portland, the League of Women Voters of Portland and the ACLU of Oregon have endorsed the reform proposal, it’s hard to understand why given that its complexity potentially endangers its legitimacy in the eyes of the general public.

Charter reform proponents cite a Portland Governance & Electoral Reform Survey conducted in March 2022 by Baltimore, MD-based GBAO, which does survey research and strategic consulting for Democratic and progressive campaigns, that showed strong support for RCV and multimember districts.

The polling questions did not, however, explain the intricacies of how RCV would work with multimember districts and application of the single transferable vote concept.

Probably realizing that all this is confusing as hell, the charter reform proposal calls for voter education. “The City must conduct periodic voter education campaigns to familiarize voters with the ranked choice voting methods described above,” the proposal says.

Try explaining all this in a 30-second tv spot, a tweet or a digital ad.

Good luck with that.

__________

Charter reform’s explanation of how “single transferable vote” (STV) would work: 

“Councilors of each district are elected using a proportional method of ranked choice voting known as single transferable vote. This method provides for the candidates to be elected on the basis of a threshold. The threshold is determined by the number of seats to be filled plus one, so that the threshold is the lowest number of votes a candidate must receive to win a seat such that no more candidates can win election than there are seats to be filled. In the initial round, the number of first rankings received by each candidate is the candidate’s vote count. Candidates whose vote counts are at least the threshold are declared elected. Votes that counted for elected candidates in excess of the threshold are called surplus. If fewer candidates are elected in the initial round than there are seats to be filled, the surplus percentage of all votes for the candidates who received a surplus are transferred to the next-highest ranked candidates in proportion to the total numbers of next-highest rankings they received on the ballots that counted for the elected candidate. If, after all surpluses have been counted in a round, no additional candidates have a vote count that is at least the threshold, the candidates with the lowest vote counts are successively eliminated in rounds and their votes are counted as votes for the candidates who are ranked next highest on the ballots that had been counted for the eliminated candidates, until another candidate has a vote count that is at least the threshold or until the number of candidates remaining equals the number of seats that have not yet been filled. The process of transferring surpluses of elected candidates and eliminating candidates continues until all positions are elected.”

It’s Not the College Grads Who Need Help; It’s the Dropouts

Most of the discussion about the wisdom and impacts of President Biden’s college loan cancellation announcement is focusing on college graduates.

I maintain that college graduates, certainly including couples with annual income of $250,000, are in the strongest position to pay back their student loans. The students who got screwed the most are those who took out loans and failed to graduate. They got stuck with the costs of college, but none of benefits of a college degree.

Accordion got the Social Security Administration, men with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more. Men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.

An estimated 38.6% of the 43 million student debtors in the United States — roughly 16.6 million people — have debt but no degree six years after first entering college, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data. 

At the University of Oregon, 27.4% of the students seeking bachelors degrees in the class of 2015 had still not graduated 8 years later.  Of these 1,730 students, 25 were still working towards their degree, 1,148 had transferred to a different institution, and the remaining 556 are assumed to have dropped out. 

At Oregon State University,  there were 6,316 bachelors degree candidates in the class of 2015 . After 8 years, just 63.8% of this class had eventually their degree. Of the remaining 2,288 students, 79 were still working towards their degree, 1,406 had transferred to a different institution, and the remaining 802 are assumed to have dropped out. 

The institutions with the highest dropout rates are historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). HBCUs have an average graduation rate of just 35%, according to Best Colleges.  

When The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education surveyed 64 of 100 historically black colleges and universities, only 5 of those schools surveyed graduated more than 50 percent of their students:

Spelman College, 69 percent graduation rate;
Howard, 65 percent;
Hampton, 59 percent;
Morehouse, 55 percent;
Fisk University, 52 percent.

At half of the HBCUs surveyed, the black student graduation rate was 34 percent or lower. And there were seven HBCUs in which fewer than one in five black students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a Washington D.C.-based, nonprofit organization that represents 47 public HBCUs, attributes much of the high non-completion rate to the HBCUs accepting a lot of students with low standardized test scores and GPAs, students encountering time-management and behavioral issues, and a lack of financial literacy.

Some black students failing at HBCUs, just like some other college dropouts, would also be better off if they had chosen, instead, two-year schools, one-year associate’s degree programs, community colleges, trade schools and the like.

“It seems we’re telling our kids that if you don’t go to a four-year school,” Taylor said, “then you are wasting your mind.”

In a recent interview with Newsweek, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R – North Dakota) took a dim view of college dropouts and was disinclined to give them any help with college debt. “If you look at the statistics of freshmen who don’t finish college, but they take out student debt in order to experiment with college—if you start forgiving that first $10,000 for people, that just enhances these reckless decisions,” he said.

I disagree. With no degree, they’re the ones least able to benefit from their college experience and the most likely to need a leg up now.

Memorial Trees: Donor Beware

In the Umpqua National Forest

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

 Robert Louis Stevenson

Inspirational thoughts about trees are ubiquitous. It’s natural that one would think of planting a tree in memory of a treasured family member or friend. 

When looking for an obituary of a former work colleague who recently passed away, I quickly found myself on Legacy.com,  a U.S.-based website which hosts obituaries from newspapers for more than 70 percent of all U.S. deaths and is said to attract more than 30 million unique visitors per month.

But Legacy.com isn’t simply an obituary posting service. It also tries to exploit the inclination of people to want to memorialize the departed by driving the grieving to pay to have trees in their name. “Plant a tree in memory of a loved one,” says its website. “Let their legacy live on.” The cost? $90 for 10 trees, $165 for 50, $265 for 100.

“By planting memorial trees, you not only honor the life and legacy of your loved one — you also help to preserve our beautiful national forests for generations to come,” says Legacy.com’s website.

Responding to an inquiry, a Legacy.com Support & Solutions Specialist said all the trees planted would be saplings, young trees with a slender trunk.

If the purchaser doesn’t choose a planting location from among several offered up when ordering, the trees will be planted by arborists in a forest in need. “The current project is the Mississippi Alluvial Valley,” the Specialist said. “The other current location choices are: Oachita National Forest (in both Arkansas and Oklahoma), Econfina Creek (in Florida) and Manchester State Forest (in South Carolina). Since we started the program, we have not offered any locations in Oregon.”

Sounds good. But there’s something left unsaid. Legacy.com is far from a sympathetic, supportive helping hand in difficult times. It is, instead, a giant private profit-hungry company based in Evanston, Illinois. Founded in 1998, it was acquired by Pamplona Capital Management , a a private equity firm, in  2017.

If Legacy.com was a non-profit or a public company, it would have to disclose its finances. As a private company it has no obligation to do so. 

Thankfully, there are a lot of great alternatives to Legacy.com’s profit-seeking memorials.Impactful Ninja, for example, has created a list of the best non-profits for planting trees in 2022. 

One Tree Planted, at the top of their list, promises one tree will be planted for every dollar donated. The non-profit plants trees all over the world. Their work helps restore land affected by human and natural disasters, including supporting the communities and ecosystems in these areas. One Tree Planted recently focused on raising funds to create breeding habitat for monarch butterflies in Mexico.

The organization holds a Platinum Seal of Transparency by GuideStar. It is the highest rank held by organizations that share all their results and progress. And a 100% rating for impact and results from Charity Navigator. 

Don’t assume, by the way, that well-known tree planting non-profits are all highly rated. 

For example, one highly visible non-profit, the Arbor Day Foundation, is not on Impactful Ninja’s list. The Foundation promotes “Trees in Memory” where a donor can have trees planted   by contracted professional tree planters in a variety of national forests, including Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest, for $2 a tree.

However you choose to do it,  planting a tree in memory of a special person is a worthy tribute. As Nelson Henderson, a Canadian farmer, observed:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

Cutbacks Threaten Three Prominent Oregon Newspapers

UPDATE (Aug. 12, 2022): In a late move on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, executed layoffs at outlets across the country. While no official tally was available, journalists at the Salem Statesman Journal (Oregon), Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald, (South Texas) Caller-Times, Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, Ventura County Star, St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times, Monroe (Louisiana) News-Star, Billerica (Massachusetts) Minuteman, (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel, Panama City (Florida) News-Herald, Gainesville Sun (Florida), The Athens Banner-Herald (Georgia) The Des Moines Register (Iowa), Burlington Free Press(Vermont), Beaver County Times (Iowa), MetroWest Daily News (Mass) and the (Kentucky) Courier Journal all reported layoffs at their publications. Friday’s layoffs also affected non-journalists. A reporter at the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain tweeted that the paper’s only customer service representative, who had been making less than a dollar above minimum wage, had been let go after working there for 16 years.

—————–

The decline of Oregon’s local newspapers is set to continue with cutbacks by Gannett Co.

Gannett, the owner of the Statesman Journal in Oregon’s capital, Salem, The Register-Guard in Eugene and the Daily Journal of Commerce in Portland, is planning a “significant cost reduction program” amid a “challenging economic backdrop marred by soaring inflation rates, labor shortages and price-sensitive consumers.”

A message to all of its employees on Thursday from Gannett’s president of news warned of “painful reductions to staffing, eliminating some open positions and roles that will impact valued colleagues.”

The Statesman Journal, the second-oldest newspaper in Oregon, was sold to Gannett in 1973. Currently listing 16 reporters on its website, it has been steadily shrinking in staff and as a reliable news source.

The Register-Guard, formed in a 1930 merger of two Eugene papers, the Eugene Daily Guard and the Morning Register, was acquired by GateHouse Media in 2018. At the time, the paper had 240 full-and part-time employees. The newspaper has been owned by Gannett since Gannett’s 2019 merger with Gatehouse. The paper’s current website lists just 8 reporters. 

Founded in 1872, the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC) provides comprehensive resources and reporting on the Portland, Oregon building and construction market. Owned by Gannett through its BridgeTower Media division, the paper has a circulation of 1,966.

Gannet, which owns over 100 daily newspapers and nearly 1,000 weekly newspapers in 43 U.S. states and six countries, reported on Thursday a net loss of $53.7 million in the second quarter, compared with a net income of $15.1 million the same period a year earlier. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) totaled $50.9 million, down 56% from the prior-year quarter, with declines driven by a decline in print revenue and inflationary pressures. 

“We are not satisfied with our overall performance in the second quarter,” Gannett CEO and Chairman Michael Reed said in a release, noting the results reflect “industry-wide headwinds” in digital advertising and tightening across the economy.  

Anticipated cutbacks at Gannett’s Oregon papers would track declines in locally focused daily newspapers across the United States.

The total combined print and digital circulation for locally focused U.S. daily newspapers in 2020 was 8.3 million for weekday (Monday-Friday) and 15.4 million for Sunday, among the lowest ever reported, according to the Pew Research Center. Total weekday circulation is down more than 40% and total Sunday circulation has fallen 45% in the past seven years. Local newspaper advertising and circulation revenue has also been dropping precipitously.


More Oregon Insanity: OSU and In-State Tuition for U.S. Indian Tribal Members

In another episode of self-flagellation for past injustices by Oregon’s so-called institutions of higher learning, Oregon State University said on August 3 that enrolled members of all 574 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States will be eligible for in-state tuition at the school starting this fall. This will  include currently enrolled students, no matter where they live. 

OSU has a branding video on YouTube called “It’s Out There.” It sure is. Way out. while the school pleads with the legislature for more money and with alumni for more donations, concern about revenue goes out the window when it wants to do some virtue signaling.

When Portland State University initiated an identical policy on July 21, it told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) it was not aware of any other schools  in the United States that have also made the move to offer discounts to Native American students on a national scale. There’s probably a reason for that.

OSU’s action is by a school that increased tuition for the coming school year because of inflation and a decline in the amount of tuition it’s receiving from students, partially because of fewer international students. 

Continuing undergraduate students at OSU’s main campus in Corvallis will see about a $360 increase in annual in-state tuition and a $1,080 increase in out-of-state tuition, a 3.5% increase. New undergraduates starting at OSU this fall will pay about a $450 increase in annual in-state tuition and a $1,395 increase in out-of-state tuition, a 4.5% increase.

Continuing in-state students will pay $10,920 and out-of-state students $32,595, respectively next school year. New in-state undergraduates starting this fall will pay $11,010 and new out-of-state undergraduates $32,910.

It would be one thing, I suppose, if university leaders wanted to expiate their fathers’ sins by offering some benefits to tribal members in Oregon, but offering them to enrolled members of all 574 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States if surely going overboard.

Allowing enrolled members of all federally recognized Indian tribes to pay in-state tuition will mean a potentially significant revenue loss to OSU from each out-of-state tribal student enrolled. 

But, hey, who cares. OSU can pat itself on the back for what, according to Interim OSU President, Becky Johnson, is past “…displacement, hardship, familial and cultural disruption and destruction, and the denial of educational opportunities for many members of Tribal nations.”

 “This new tuition policy advances our commitment – in the spirit of self-reflection, learning, reconciliation and partnership – that the university will be of enduring benefit to Tribal nations and their citizens throughout Oregon and the country,” Johnson said.

As with the PSU program, this is nothing more than academician’s guilt run amok.

Expanding resident tuition benefits to out-of-state tribal members means foregone revenue for increased services. And despite the tendency of left-leaning idealists to see government benefits as free, Oregonians will have to cover the cost of this new non-resident benefit. 

It’s just more wrong-headed feel-good performative activism, at the expense of Oregon taxpayers.

America’s Rising Inequality Threatens National Stability

I wandered through Nordstom’s downtown Portland store the other day.

Take a look at some of the shoes I came across:

OK, but what’s so special about all these shoes? Even single one of them, including the sneakers, costs $850 or more. The Black Libelli Booties (top right) are $1795. The Fendigraphy white leather slides (bottom) are $1100.

And, by the way, big spenders looking for socks to wear with their $1000 sneakers can buy a pair of black-and-white Bottega Veneta “ghost pattern” crew socks at Nordstrom for $420. That’s right, $420.

If that’s just a bit too much, the striver can also get a pair of Balenciaga Logo Cotton Blend Socks at Nordstrom for $210 a pair or a pair of Off-White Arrow Cotton Blend Crew Socks for $120.

“The logic is, if you’re paying $1,000 for a pair of shoes, what’s $200 more?” Jian DeLeon, the men’s fashion director at Nordstrom, told the Wall Street Journal. “Lavish socks are “something you don’t need, but it’s the ultimate expression of luxury.” When you pair fancy shoes and socks, he said, it shows you’re going the “extra mile.”

It’s hard not to wonder who is buying this exorbitantly priced stuff and what it says about our economy.

Per capita income in the Portland Metro Area is just $40,138 and median household income is only $77,511.

The annual income of 31% of households is $50,000 or less. Another 31% of households have annual incomes of $50,000 – $100,000. It is probably reasonable to assume that the members of this 62% of households in the Portland Metro Area are not the ones buying $895 and over pairs of shoes.

That leaves 38% of Metro Area households earning $100,000 a year and more.

Household income

ColumnPortland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WAOregonUnited States
Under $50K31.2%±0.5%299,055±4,61338.1%±0.4%626,425±6,571.739.1%±0.1%47,785,414±58,302.5
$50K – $100K30.8%±0.5%295,189±4,384.331.4%±0.3%516,210±5,646.930%±0.1%36,648,022±63,450.6
$100K – $200K28.1%±0.4%268,728±4,128.523.2%±0.3%381,343±4,795.522.7%±0.1%27,817,092±73,446.1
Over $200K9.9%±0.2%95,005±2,1407.2%±0.2%118,601±2,8408.3%±0%10,103,691±51,548

I assume the buyers of high-priced items like the shoes above come from that segment of the population. But are enough of them so blasé about overall economic conditions to be drawn into buying extravagant goods?

The answer seems to be yes.

The middle class, once the economic stratum of a clear majority of American adults, has steadily contracted in the past five decades, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. The share of adults who live in middle-class households fell from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2021. Although household incomes have risen substantially since 1970, those of middle-class households have not climbed nearly as much as those of upper-income households. 

On Sept. 27, 2022, the Congressional Budget Office issued a study of trends in the distribution of family wealth between 1989 and 2019. In that period, total real wealth held by families tripled from $38 trillion to $115 trillion.

But the distribution of that growth was uneven.

Money moved toward the families in the top 10%, and especially in the top 1%, shifting from families with less income and education toward those with more wealth and education. In the 30 years examined, the share of wealth belonging to families in the top 10% increased from 63% in 1989 to 72% in 2019, from $24.3 trillion to $82.4 trillion (an increase of 240%). The share of total wealth held by families in the top 1% increased from 27% to 34% in the same period. In 2019, families in the bottom half of the economy held only 2% of the national wealth, and those in the bottom quarter owed about $11,000 more than they owned. 

As the New York Times recently observed, “Higher-income households built up savings and wealth during the early stages of the pandemic as they stayed at home and their stocks, houses and other assets rose in value. Between those stockpiles and solid wage growth, many have been able to keep spending even as costs climb. But data and anecdotes suggest that lower-income households, despite the resilient job market, are struggling more profoundly with inflation.”

Even during the pandemic, when most Americans fared well financially, the rich saw most of the gain. According to the Federal Reserve, while American households overall saw about $13.5 trillion added to their wealth, the top 1% got a third of that and the top 20% 70% of it.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, even though the United Status is technically in a recession, and consumer confidence isn’t great, the demand for expensive luxury goods, such as handbags and jewelry, is off the charts

“Spending by Americans and Europeans is roaring, despite headlines of all-time-low consumer sentiment in the eurozone and greater caution in the U.S.,” reported the Journal. “Many luxury brands have more than doubled the size of their sales in America compared with prepandemic levels. Because of their wealthier customers, luxury brands might be more immune to the challenges other businesses now face.”

Luxury company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), whose brand stable includes Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, reported a rise in sales at all its divisions in the first half of 2022. Growth was strongest in the fashion and leather goods unit, the company’s biggest, where first-half sales rose 31% year-over-year to €18.1 billion. U.S. revenues gained 24%.

U.S. credit card data from Bank of America shows that shoppers earning less than $50,000 a year are rethinking their priorities as inflation hits everyday expenses, but this has been more than offset by demand from core luxury spenders.

Then there’s the desire of some people to be noticed, to display their wealth, even if the items on display are rather bizarre or not particularly attractive. I call this the “Sure it’s ugly, but it’s expensive” syndrome.

It’s the weirdness itself that has appeal.

It’s not that people want an ugly or bizarre watch or pair of shoes. What they want is to stand out, to have their friends, neighbors and even strangers see their distinctive, peculiar, expensive accoutrements.

Oh well, at least people blowing all their money on overpriced things are keeping the people who make them employed. And that’s good, right?

Resident Tuition at PSU for Native Americans Across The Country: Academic Guilt Run Amok

On April 21, 2022, Portland State University (PSU) announced approval of a 3.6% increase to in-state undergraduate tuition for the 2022-23 academic year. Even this increase will be a cut from current service levels because of projected inflation., noted Vice President of Finance & Administration, Kevin Reynolds. 

Resident undergraduate tuition for the 2022-23 academic year will be $9,000 for students enrolled in 15 credits a quarter for three quarters, according to PSU.

Non-resident undergraduate tuition for the 2022-23 academic year will be $27,900 for students enrolled in 15 credits a quarter for three quarters.

“Tuition is a necessity,” said PSU President Stephen Percy, moaning about limited state support being behind tuition increases. “The state covers less than 35% of our education costs. We strive to be affordable, but we also must meet our obligation to deliver an outstanding experience to our students — in the classroom and outside it. That requires resources and the resource need increases each year.”

So what does PSU do next in the face of the grim realities of its fiscal challenges?

On July 21, it announced that, starting this upcoming fall, students who are members of the country’s nearly 600 federally recognized tribes across the country will receive in-state tuition. 

“Portland State offers this benefit to tribal members as part of our ongoing effort to provide a welcoming environment for Indigenous students in downtown Portland,” Chuck Knepfle, PSU’s vice president of enrollment management, said in a statement. “This offer of in-state tuition is a small way to honor the legacy of Indigenous nations from across the country.”

PSU told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) it is not aware of any other schools  in the United States that have also made the move to offer discounts to Native American students on a national scale. There’s probably a reason for that.

This is nothing more than academic guilt run amok!

Tribal members who are Oregon residents already have access to resident tuition andthe Oregon Tribal Student Grant program that  will provide grants that can be used for tuition and other college-related expenses at colleges and universities by members of Oregon’s nine federally-recognized tribes.

Expanding resident tuition benefits to out-of-state tribal members means foregone revenue for increased services. And despite the tendency of left-leaning idealists to see government benefits as free, Oregonians will have to cover the cost of this new non-resident benefit. 

It’s just more wrong-headed feel-good performative activism, at the expense of Oregon taxpayers.