‘Tis a Puzzlement: Deciphering Carrick Flynn

A political unknown in Oregon not long ago, Carrick Ronan Morgan Flynn burst on the scene when he announced on Feb.1, 2022, he was running in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s new Congressional District 6 seat.

From that point forward his persona has been defined primarily by a barrage of television advertisements paid for largely by a political action committee, Protect Our Future PAC. The PAC is funded largely by a crypto billionaire, Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old American “Master of the Universe” who lives in the Bahamas. 

The ads, including his first on Feb. 1, are largely slick campaign messages, delivering party and poll-tested messages and portraying his life to date as sort of a Horatio Alger story of hard work and achievement succeeding against challenging odds. 

But with only a few days left until the May 17 primary, and some ballots already cast, who is Flynn?

There’s a well-worn Washington saying, “The most dangerous place in Washington is between New York Senator Chuck Schumer and a TV camera,” portraying him as is a ham, a publicity hound, a quote machine. 

That doesn’t seem to be Flynn’s style.

He also tends to avoid the quick sound bite, seeming to enjoy an intellectual debate, even when it would be more to his advantage to be brief or shift the subject.

Only 35-years old, the baby-faced political neophyte recites his brief pre-packaged campaign messages fluently and in a practiced manner in his television spots. If anything, he comes across a little stiff, like he’s still learning how to appear sincere on camera instead of like a character in Madame Tussauds wax museum. 

Which I better, I guess, than Bo Hines, a Trump-backed 26-year-old former college football recruit often compared to Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. Hines is running for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina. As with Oregon, the primary vote is on May 17. In 2005, long before he could even vote, when he asked about his goals he responded, “Governor of North Carolina, and the ultimate goal would be president.” No humility there.

It may be too late to really figure out Flynn before the the May 17 primary vote, but I recently listened in full to a 49-minute Oregon Bridge podcast interview he did on April 13, 2022, that sheds more light on his thinking. 

In the podcast he is exposed as sort of an odd duck, more expansive and more real than in his television ads. A fan of the brief anecdote he is not. His rapid-fire delivery would have challenged any note-taking reporter trying to keep up.

He talked freely about re-energizing the economies of small towns, the opportunities presented by more work-at-home jobs, reshoring, the danger of the United States being too dependent on Taiwan for microprocessor production, bringing more small manufacturing work, such as medical manufacturing, back to the US, the benefits of free trade and more. 

Flynn also said he favors drug decriminalization (Putting people in jail and prison for drugs “is a huge waste”), marijuana legalization (“It’s pretty innocuous as a substance.”) and the relaxation of zoning ordinances to spur the construction of more housing stock. (“Some people think you need an enormous amount of money to build more public housing. No, you actually don’t. You really just need to rezone.”)

A lover of the sound bite and the brief anecdote he is not. Instead, he comes across as intensely curious and thoughtful as he ruminates about various topics. But that openness can trip him up, as other politicians who have mistakenly told the truth have discovered to their chagrin.

In the Oregon Bridge podcast, right at the start Flynn professed no initial ambition for elective office.  “It was not my idea,” he said. “I had, I think, five or six friends, independently of one another, tell me I had to run.” There’s some political wisdom in this comment because it serves to downplay any raw ambition on Flynn’s part,

At the same time, it strains credulity a bit to think he jumped into the race with no clear source of financial backing, particularly when the race featured some other much better-known opponents with deep Oregon roots and/or pots of money.

The Protect Our Future PAC came to his rescue with millions in spending on a wide range of activities, including radio, television and digital ad production and time purchases, lawn signs, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote phone calls.

True, the Carrick Flynn for Oregon campaign committee had also raised $910,100.43 as of April 27, 2022, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), but I doubt Flynn would have broken through as he has without the jump-start from Protect Our Future.

The Oregon Bridge podcast also revealed another aspect of Flynn, a tendency to say too much.

A review of a book about fashion maven Anna Wintour told of how, when asked by then long-time Vogue editor Grace Mirabella what job she would eventually like to have at the magazine, Winter replied simply, “Yours.”  No such direct, concise answer to a question would likely come from Flynn.  

For example, asked to comment on the complexities of timber politics in Oregon, and the social problems that arose in timber-dependent communities because of spotted owl restrictions, Flynn offered a lengthy response:

“I grew up in the spotted owl days and it was terrible,” he said. “I think there is a part of me that still feels indignant or angry. The notion that you have these people in the city who are ‘Hey look, there’s an owl. Isn’t it cool? We’re going to destroy all of your livelihoods in your community because we like this owl.’ Well, wait, can we talk about it? No.” 

More thought should have been given to how to keep the owls alive and keep logging sustainable, Carrick said.  

Was placement of the spotted owl on the endangered species list a mistake? “I think the process and how it played out was terrible and the dialogue around it was really bad,” Flynn said, even if the spotted owl probably belonged on the list. Moreover, before something is put on the endangered list, the economic repercussions of the action need to be considered and minimized, he said. 

You might think his views on the spotted owl/timber issue are open-minded and balanced, but in the black-and-white world of much of today’s politics, his remarks outraged some environmental groups 

“We are stunned and deeply saddened to hear Carrick Flynn, a Democratic candidate running for Congress, make comments mocking critical environmental protections… and referring to our state’s iconic land use system as ‘insane,’” said a statement signed by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Wild Conservation Leaders Fund, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Renew Oregon Action Fund and RiverPAC of Oregon. 

“Flynn’s comments are far out of step from the values of Oregonians, who care deeply about protecting our natural legacy,” they wrote, saying Flynn’s comments were “disturbing.”

Left unsaid was that the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and  Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste had previously endorsed one of Flynn’s opponents, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, in the 6th District primary,

In an effort to recover, Flynn ‘s campaign manager Avital Balwit told Willamette Week that Flynn “… simply meant to express empathy with working families whose livelihoods have been disrupted,” but the damage was done. 

The fact is Flynn’s background is more that of a policy wonk/academic vagabond. As a Research Affiliate with the Future of Humanity Institute, he co-wrote “Policy Desiderata in the Development of Machine Superintelligence,” and as a Research Fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), he co-wrote “Multilateral Controls on Hardware Chokepoints.” Not exactly political fodder.

In many respects, Flynn seems better suited to a Washington, DC think tank conference room than the cramped office of a freshman congressman on Capitol Hill. We’ll see on May 17 what Democratic voters think.

Pharmaceutical Industry Steps Up for Kurt Schrader As Primary Battle Nears End

A river of money is flowing into the Democratic primary race in Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District. 

Who’s buying Congress this week?”, Primary School, a site that follows the financing of primary races, asked on May 5.

It answered its own question, revealing independent expenditures made by outside groups in congressional races using data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). 

A standout is the activity of dark-money political action committee (PAC) Center Forward in support of Congressman Kurt Schrader.

“America is neither right nor left. Republican nor Democrat. Red nor blue.,” the PAC says in its Our Mission statement. “The mainstream values and principles that will move us forward come from where they always have – the center. The center is where we leave our political labels and baggage at the door, to find commonsense solutions to America’s great challenges.”

Bull!

Center Forward put $650,000 into television ads attacking Jamie McLeod-Skinner, bringing the PAC’s total spending on pro-Schrader/anti McLeod-Skinner efforts to $1.04M.

Critics says Center Forward is heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry and concentrates on obstructing efforts to rein in the pharmaceutical industry.

According to The American Prospect, an online and print magazine “dedicated to American liberalism and progressivism,” not long ago the PAC “…kicked off an ad blitz championing six Democratic House members, nearly all of whom went on to lead the charge to undermine Democrats’ flagship drug pricing reform bill,… while also jeopardizing the Biden agenda bill being considered under budget reconciliation.” One of those six House members was Kurt Schrader.

Center Forward, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, doesn’t have to publicly disclose its donors. However, a  review by Sludge, which investigates money in politics, concluded that a significant portion of its funding in recent years has come from a drug company lobbying group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). 

Schrader’s close ties to the industry are a primary attack point for McLeod-Skinner. “Kurt Schrader claims he’s fighting to get big money out of politics. I’m calling on Schrader to stand by his word and tell his Big Pharma donors to take these ads down,” Jamie McLeod-Skinner told Sludge

Is Carrick Flynn’s Money Going To Do The Trick? Maybe Not.

All those millions donated to Carrick Flynn and a new poll shows he is, at best, tied with Andrea Salinas in the Democratic primary for Congress in Oregon’s 6th District.

On behalf of Salinas’s campaign, Public Policy Polling, a respected and reliable polling firm, polled 591 Democratic voters in the district earlier this week. Across the district, 18% of potential Democratic voters supported Salinas, 14% Flynn and no other candidate exceeded single digits.

The margin of error of the pole was +/- 4 percentage points, so it’s possible Flynn and Salinas are actually tied.  Salinas’s lead increased to 39% to 23 % among voters who have already cast their ballots, according to The Hill.

Of those who had already mailed back their ballots, Salinas led Flynn 39% – 23%, but that may not mean much because fewer than 10% of Democrats had returned their ballots by Thursday. 

Carrick Flynn’s crypto-financed rise in the polls has run into a few potholes lately. 

After the Democratic House leadership campaign arm, the House Majority PAC, injected $1 million into Flynn’s campaign, the other candidates lambasted the action.

Six of the nine Democrats seeking to win the Democratic primary rapidly issued a statement denouncing the House Majority PAC’s donation to Flynn. “We strongly condemn House Majority PAC’s unprecedented and inappropriate decision…” the joint statement said. “We call on House Majority PAC to actually stand by our party’s values and let the voters of Oregon decide who their Democratic nominee will be.”

Then CHC Bold PAC , a Democratic-aligned PAC supporting the election of Hispanic Democrats to Congress, condemned the House Majority PAC’s donation to Flynn. The PAC reminded  others that Latina women have been critical to Democratic victories and the PAC’s support for Flynn ignored a highly qualified Latina, Andrea Salinas, was in the primary battle. 

“HMP is tasked with defending the House Majority by boosting Democrats and holding Republicans accountable, not with spending critical resources against a woman who has spent decades fighting for progressive causes and who will excite Democratic voters in November,” a Bold PAC statement said. Bold PAC then put its money where its mouth was, donating $1 million to Salinas.

Flynn may also have undercut some of his momentum by making some politically ill-advised comments questioning environmentalist’s support for spotted owl protections. According to E&E News, Flynn said protecting the owl made him “indignant or angry” because it hurt livelihoods.

Rubbing salt in the wound, Flynn was accused of expressing sympathy, on  a podcast “Oregon Bridge”,  with Timber Unity, a group formed to oppose climate change policies, and was later accused in Mother Jones of having  “… had no qualms associating with violent extremists and far-right groups.”

In a May 4, 2022 , Willamette Week article, Flynn disputed allegations he had shown support for Timber Unity. “So, I’m emphatically not a Timber Unity supporter,” he said. “I do have concerns about the economic effect conservation had on timber communities. But I have concerns about economic effects of any large economic trends or any government regulation on communities.”

To bolster his case, Flynn urged people to listen to the April 13, 2022 podcast and hear what he said.  He’s such a fast talker on the podcast he can be hard to follow, but his remarks are, in fact, not consistent with the characterization of his views by critics as anti-environmentalist.

Nevertheless, with nuance hardly a hallmark of political debate, E&E News headlined its story, “Ore. Democrat slams spotted owl protections, rakes in cash,” and a group of Oregon environmental organizations issued a joint statement blasting Flynn, saying they were .”..stunned and deeply saddened to hear Carrick Flynn, a Democratic candidate running for Congress, make comments mocking critical environmental protections.” 

Willamette Week’s disclosure that Flynn has rarely voted in Oregon probably hasn’t helped him either. Reporters Nigel Jaquiss and Rachel Monahan discovered that Flynn has voted just twice in the past 30 elections and did not vote in 2020despite being registered to vote in Oregon since he was a teenager. “I’m not political,” Flynn said on the Oregon Bridge podcast. “I’m solutions oriented.” Flimsy excuses for his voting record, essentially “I was out of town,” haven’t helped either.

“That raised questions about, why people are dropping $7 million, $8 million for this candidate who seems to have very little connection to the district?” said James Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University. “Who is this guy, and what’s going on?”

Vance Day: A Real Oregon Horror Story

Like Jason coming back to life in the Friday The 13th franchise, Vance Day has reappeared in Oregon’s political universe.

A former Marion County Circuit Court judge, Day is a candidate for Judge of the Court of Appeals, Position 3 this time around. Day served as Chairman of the Oregon Republican Party from 2005-2009, but the Court of Appeals job is a statewide, nonpartisan position. 

“Equality. Freedom. Rule of Law” Day proclaims boldly on his campaign website, a truly ironic message to highlight given his history, which, in case you’ve forgotten or never knew, is a real horror story. 

In January 2016, the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, dealing with a 13-count complaint, found Day had violated the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct on eight of the counts relating to his judicial and public behavior. The Commission unanimously recommended Day’s removal from the bench and filed its recommendation with the Oregon Supreme Court.

The Commission also took issue with efforts by Judge Day to tie the Commission’s actions to his refusal to perform same-sex marriages.

In so many ways, Judge Day’s actions seemed to be less about principles than testing his boundaries.

Declaring that he’d been denied due process and his freedom of speech and religion had been violated, Day aggressively pursued vindication, even appealing his suspension to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Day also faced criminal charges, two counts of illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of first-degree official misconduct, for allegedly allowing a felon he knew to handle a firearm.

Day argued that he was being persecuted for his Christian beliefs. “Throughout the Commission’s prosecution of Judge Day is an open disdain and hostility towards the religious beliefs of those whose faith honors marriage between one man and one woman,” his attorneys said in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Prior to the hearing in this case,  Day engaged in an organized media campaign designed to create the impression that the only reason for the investigation of his conduct is his position regarding same sex marriage,” said the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability’s Commission’s Jan. 25, 2016 Opinion. “To this end, Judge Day made repeated public assertions that he was being unfairly attacked by this investigation due solely to his religious beliefs concerning same sex marriage. Judge Day made these statements despite the fact that his position on same sex marriage was not discovered by the Commission until after the investigation was well underway. His assertions in this regard were intentionally deceptive to the public.”

On Sept. 3, 2015, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission approved an application to create a legal defense fund for Day, permitted under an Oregon law that allows public officials to create a trust fund to defray the cost of legal bills related to their duties.

Subsequently, Randall J. Adams, a Mt. Angel, OR attorney, established the Vance D. Day Legal Expense Trust Fund with Adams as its trustee.

A Defend Judge Day website also went up saying Day’s defense “will likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars” and soliciting donations.

In the beginning, donations didn’t exactly roll in by the barrel. In the July 1 – Sept. 30, 2015 quarter, contributions totaled just $25,880. Contributions continued to dribble in through 2016 (Q1 – $7,893.53; Q2 – $5,300; Q3 –  $345; Q4 – $4,275).

The fundraising effort ramped up the following year, not long after the Washington Times ran an article headlined, “In Oregon, the left targets an evangelical GOP judge.”

But the key to increased donations was bringing on board on May 1, 2017 Eberle Associates, a Virginia-based professional direct-mail fundraising company, a real juggernaut in the money-raising business. 

Eberle came with stellar conservative liberal bona fides. It had raised money for multiple conservative political groups and campaigns, including Oliver North,  American Border PatrolFreedomWorks and Pray In Jesus Name.

Donations flowing from Eberle’s work on behalf of Judge Day escalated rapidly as bushels of contributions began to roll in from across the country.

By Q3 2017, with Eberle churning out direct mail appeals, many featuring Day’s refusal to perform same-sex marriages, revenue increased to $254,803.51.

By Sept. 30, 2018, fundraising revenue totaled $2,008,658.54. The whole effort seemed like quite a success story.

But fundraising expenses, including $1,290,383 in payments to Eberle and $6,021.38 in payments for other related services, totaled $1,296,404.38.

That means Eberle chewed up 64 percent of all fundraising receipts. According to NonProfit Quarterly, “The agencies that set acceptable fundraising percentage limits say that on average an organization’s fundraising expenses throughout the year should not represent more than 35 percent of the donations raised, and most organizations come in significantly below that benchmark.” Some professional fundraisers say the best practice target should be 12-20 cent per dollar raised.

After all the fundraising payments, that left just $712,254.20 for other expenses, principally for lawyers. And there was a slew of lawyers at the trough. The two firms pulling in the most money were Hart Wagner Trial Attorney, Portland, $167,640.96, and Sherlag DeMuniz LLP, Portland, $161,827.63.

All the money, lawyers and investigators sounded pretty impressive. How could Judge Day lose with that kind of firepower?

But he did.

  • Despite Day’s efforts to explain and defend his behavior, the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability unanimously recommended his removal from the bench
  • The Oregon Supreme Court imposed a three-year suspension, without pay, on Day.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Day, leaving in place the three-year suspension against him imposed by the Oregon Supreme Court.
  • Criminal charges against Day were dropped, but only because  a key witness declined to participate.

Day tried to salvage the whole mess by declaring, “I’m the first person to ever push back against the decades of liberal elites in Oregon government.”

Now Vance is aiming for a resurrection with the same message of opposition to “liberal elites”.

Oregon deserves better.

Forgiving Student Loan Debt: Just Don’t Do It

A lot of progressive Democrats seem to think an aggressive cancellation of federal student loans by President Biden will generate a big bump in support for their party in the upcoming midterms.

They’re dreaming.

The most outspoken progressives are pushing for cancellation of $50,000 per borrower.  Biden has said “No way” to that amount, but appears to be amenable to cancelling $10,000.

“…finding ways to provide relief to students to make sure that these working-class, working families are getting relief is more important than tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, and corporations,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Forgiveness of up to $10,000 per person would cost the federal government about $373 billion. according to the Brookings Institute, while forgiveness of up to $50,000 per borrower would cost an estimated $1 trillion.

Biden has already been taking action to eat away at student loan debt in a kind of stealth program by doing it piece by piece. CNN recently reported that the Biden administration has expanded existing loan forgiveness programs for borrowers who work in the public sector, were defrauded by for-profit colleges and are permanently disabled. These measures, CNN said, brought relief totaling more than $17 billion.

On May 5, Biden’s Education Department said it would cancel the loans of 28,000 student borrowers who attended the Marinello Schools of Beauty, a now-defunct for-profit chain of cosmetology schools, between 2009 and its closure in 2016. The relief, which will even go to those who haven’t applied for relief, could cost the federal government $238 million.

Biden has also been pausing student loan payments, the most recent extension moving the expiration date to August 31, 2022. Lest you think these pauses are free, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says they are costing the government about $4 billion a month, 

According to the Oregon Department of Justice:

  • The average Oregon student loan borrower owes over $38,000 by the time they graduate 
  • Oregonians have more than $20.5 billion dollars in student loan debt
  • An estimated 85,000 Oregonians are currently behind on their loans.

So what are the downsides to helping out all these folks? Don’t people love free money?

People who made tremendous sacrifices by working their way through college, rather than taking on student loan debt, and students who have sacrificed to repay their student loans, aren’t likely to take kindly to loan forgiveness by the Biden administration now. More likely, they will resent such action and take it out on Democrats.

A lot of student loan debt is also held by people who are in a position to pay it off because they are in high-paying positions, sometimes because they borrowed money to attend graduate school. Low and middle-income Americans aren’t likely to appreciate these folks getting off the hook.

Student loan forgiveness would also be likely to tick off a lot of Americans who never went to college at all, particularly those who skipped college because of the cost. Aren’t many of these folks supposed to be  part of the Democrats’ base.

David Bahnsen, the author of Crisis of Responsibilityhas argued convincingly in The Dispatch that the government created the problem in the first place when it decided to subsidize student debt. “The injustice is the runaway inflation in the cost of higher education disproportionate to the benefits it provides,” he wrote. “That dynamic is a direct result of the very existence of the loan market college administrators have so exploited. That subsidy has facilitated a reckless allocation of resources to the absurd and the indoctrinating—dormitory amenities for recruitment purposes, exorbitant “diversity” departments—but it has not facilitated a greater experience for college students.” 

Left-leaning Brookings has asserted that that if the government really wants to spend a ton of money on something to advance the progressive agenda, there are a lot of better things to do than forgive student loans. “Increasing spending on more targeted policies would benefit families that are poorer, more disadvantaged, and more likely to be Black and Hispanic, compared to those who stand to benefit from broad student loan forgiveness,” Brookings said.  “Indeed, shoring up spending on other safety net programs would be a far more effective way to help low-income people and people of color.”

And then, of course, there’s the question of what to do about students who take on college debt after the loan forgiveness cohort? Talk about a conundrum.

High Interest Rent-A-Banks Are Abusing Oregon Borrowers

I still remember a conversation I had a number of years ago with a Starbucks barista in Hillsboro who told me she was paying 28% interest on a loan for a car she’d just bought from a local dealer. I was appalled.

Some Oregonians are being victimized much worse than that today.

Oregon is one of eight states that allow payday loans and have banks that charge as much as or more than state-licensed payday lenders, according to an analysis just-released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent non-profit that aims to serve the public interest by improving public policy, informing the public, and invigorating civic life.

Oregon laws limit payday loan charges, but PEW reports that some payday lenders are partnering with several state-chartered banks supervised by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) under so-called “rent-a-bank” arrangements to issue loans with prices that exceed these limits. The banks originate the loans on the lenders’ behalf.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. supervises the six banks known to  be having these arrangements, some of which have annual percentage rates that typically range from the 90%s to the low 200%s. —rates that are much higher than what banks usually charge or that the laws of many borrowers’ states permit. 

The PEW analysis cited a situation in Virginia where a car title lender makes loans that it contends do not have to comply with Virginia law because they are originated by a Utah-based bank. This lender issued a three-year, $2,272 loan with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 98.7%, and $4,867 in finance charges. That meant the borrower repaid $7,139 on a $2,272 loan.

According to the National Consumer Law Center, cited by PEW, a business called OppLoans  (aka OppFi) uses FDIC-supervised FinWise Bank (Utah), Capital Community Bank (CC Bank) (Utah), and First Electronic Bank, a Utah industrial bank, to make installment loans in Oregon of $500 to $4,000 at 160% APR.  

Here’s what an Oregonian taking out a $4000 five-year car loan from OppLoans with an annual APR) of 160% would pay back:

Monthly Payment: $533.63

Total Paid: $32,017.80

Total Interest: $28,017.80

Figuring out what a loan will cost each payment period and over time can be complicated.

NetCredit (“We’re committed to helping our customers find success in their financial journeys.”), a subsidiary of Chicago-based Enova International, Inc. (NYSE: ENVA), offers a maximum loan of $5000.

Its website says 10% of each Cash Advance is deducted from the amount requested before the advance proceeds are delivered to the borrower.

Each billing cycle, the borrower’s minimum payment includes 5% (if payments are made monthly) or 2.5% (if payments are made bi-weekly or semi-monthly) of the cash balance, plus a Statement Balance Fee based on the cash advance balance. A fee table spells out how the Statement Balance Fee is assessed and the corresponding amounts.

If a statement shows a Cash Advance Balance of $1,000.01 – $1,100.00, the fee is $55.00 if the borrower pays bi-weekly or semi monthly and $110 if the borrower pays monthly. If the statement shows a Cash Advance Balance of $4,800.01 – $4,900.00, the fee is $245 if the borrower pays bi-weekly or semi monthly and $490 if the borrower pays monthly.

Each Billing Cycle, the minimum payment will include a portion of the Cash Advance Balance plus a Statement Balance Fee based on the Cash Advance Balance.

You try to figure it all out.

“Competition in markets, including credit markets, typically drives down costs,” the Pew analysis says. “However, Pew’s prior research has found that people seeking payday loans focus on how quickly they can borrow, how likely they are to be approved, and the ease of borrowing. Payday lenders therefore tend to compete on these factors rather than price because their customers are in dire financial straits. Borrowers’ low sensitivity to cost when they are in distress explains the lack of price competition in payday lending.”

PEW is adamant that aggressive action is needed to shut down these abusive loans.

“As the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), FDIC, and other federal banking regulators consider new guidance for how banks can better manage third-party risk, they should take this opportunity to scrutinize the high-cost lending partnerships among a few of the banks regulated by the FDIC,” Alex Horowitz and Gabe Kravitz with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ consumer finance project said in a Feb. 2022 Opinion piece in the Hill.

They’re right on the money. These exploitative high-cost rent-a-bank loans need to end.


Outrageous! Our New Political Showboats

A menagerie of malicious and misleading malcontents is undermining our democracy.

Italy’s fashion house, Valentino, has a “Director of Branding and Entertainment”.  Of course it does. 

The company, with its $3750 hunting jacket in waxed cotton, $5200 silk cady jumpsuit and $16,500 leather trench coat, understands that entertaining your current and prospective audience is a critical element in fortifying your brand and maintaining your trendiness.

It’s long been the case that building a brand requires that you entertain people, that your public persona be out there. And entertaining has long meant being outrageous in behavior, dress and comments, particularly in the arts. 

The  flamboyant pianist Liberace knew that.

So did Paul Stanley of Kiss:

Other entertainers who have traded on their outrageous behavior to bolster their knownness include Kim Kardashian, who thrives on pushing boundaries (Remember, her illustrious “career” began with a sex tape), rapper Lil Kim and Dennis Rodman.

Bad Boy Dennis Rodman

Others try similar tactics to build their brands, such as the grammy-winning singer, Lizzo

Lizzo boarding a private plane

and Miley Cyrus:

OK, I get it.

It’s one thing for celebrities and celebrity wannabes to be outrageous. Now, however, too many of our politicians are mimicking them, playing to the cheap seats and figuring they can translate outrageous behavior into political power by hoovering up media attention. Politicians are, after all, frequently referred to as “political actors” in a vast drama.

And they are getting the attention they want through their outrageous behavior because, as David A. Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College, has observed, “American voters generally aren’t attentive; you really do have to grab their attention, which is hard to do.”

Outrageous politicians also tend to get a lot of coverage because, unlike in the print days, there are no space constraints on the Internet and controversy breeds attention.

As a 2013 New York magazine article noted, “Originally, BuzzFeed employed no writers or editors, just an algorithm to cull stories from around the web that were showing stirrings of virality.”  Jonah Peretti, a founder of BuzzFeed, which went public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in Dec. 2021 (NASDAQ: BZFD), didn’t really care whether a post was produced by a journalist or sponsored by a brand, so long as it travelled. “He’s a semiotic Darwinist: He believes in messages that reproduce,” the article noted.

Outrageous politicians also tend to get a lot of coverage because, unlike in the print days, there are no space constraints on the Internet and controversy breeds attention.  As a 2013 New York magazine article noted early on, “Originally, BuzzFeed employed no writers or editors, just an algorithm to cull stories from around the web that were showing stirrings of virality.”

Also, there’s a lot of pressure on opinion writers to churn stuff out and the comments and actions of showboats are fertile territory for comment, which generates even more attention.

The Columbia Journalism Review recently reported on how Merrill Brown, the founder of a business-of-journalism startup called the News Project, described the pressure that opinion purveyors feel: “Everybody wants to get today’s take right,” he said. “But ‘thoughtful commentary’ on the day’s news is almost an oxymoron.” The result, he added, “is more about being clever than necessarily doing your homework.

As Lonesome Rhodes (played so powerfully by Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd)  said of himself, before his contemptible behavior led to his downfall, “I’m not just an entertainer. I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force… a force!”

A menagerie of malicious and misleading malcontents is undermining our democracy.

The toxic, hyperventilating blowhards include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Rep. Madison Cawthorne  (R-NC), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ). 

Reps. Greene and Boebert heckle President Biden during State of the Union address, March 1, 2022

In a recent article about the re-emergence of Sarah Palin, who now wants to represent Alaska in the House, Politico’s Joanna Weiss observed that the script has flipped in terms of the visibility of freshman members of Congress. 

“…there are plenty of politicians who have used Palin’s playbook to build fame out of political office, rather than the other way around.,” Weiss wrote. “Republican House members like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, and Lauren Boebert have learned that freshmen members of Congress can command outsized attention — and that outrageous statements are a ticket, if not to policy success, then at least to the kind of attention and fundraising prowess that keeps a career alive.”

Lest you think all the blowhards committed to grandstanding rather than governing are Republicans, the behavior of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), has led to some outrageous viral moments, too. And as far as I’m concerned,  Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) went off the deep end in his allegations regarding the discredited Steele Dossier, which contained allegations of misconduct, conspiracy, and cooperation between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the government of Russia prior to and during the 2016 election campaign.

Being “political” today means seeing politics as a mode of self-expression, producing attention-getting images airing one’s views and publicly taking sides, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her “Tax the Rich” Met Gala dress, Blake Smith observed in a City Journal article, The Narcissism of Hyper-Politicization. “Achieving real political goals through coordination and cooperation would, in contrast, “require individuals to discipline themselves, to moderate their insistence on their own uniqueness, and to subordinate their own desires to a greater good,” he wrote. 

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Jon Allsop told of  a French student journalist who was thrilled he secured a  30-second interview with Emmanuel Macron ahead of the 2017 presidential election, only to later discover he’d forgotten to turn on his microphone.

Today’s journalists in the United States might want to do the same when they cover the narcissistic politicians who have adopted a “outrageous behavior-is-the ticket” attitude.

Here’s a Tip For Oregon Businesses: Stop Demanding Tips

The consumer-price index rose 8.5% in March from a year earlier, the fastest annual pace since December 1981, the Wall Street Journal reported on April 20. That’s the figure most consumers think of when they worry about rising prices.  But there’s another number too often ignored – the cost of tips.

In a recent stop at a local Burgerville, I encountered a Uniden digital payment device with tip options: 15%, 18% 20%, custom and no tip.

The evil digital tip trap

At another burger place, their digital payment device presented me with tip options of 15%, 20% and 25%.

A 20% or 25% tip, where there used to be no tip expectation at all, is equivalent to a 20-25% price increase on top of any inflationary increase in the price of the food itself. 

Requests on electronic devices are becoming so pervasive that they are starting to feel like demands, particularly when the transactions are occurring under the watchful eyes of business employees. 

As consumers are becoming more price sensitive over a host of goods and services, the reality that tips are increasingly becoming part of the price is raising concerns.

“Seems like anyone doing anything for you these days, even if it is in the scope of their responsibilities/expectations, has their hand out,” a recent commenter on a Tripadvisor Forum complained. “You don’t tip at a fast food restaurant,” another commenter said emphatically.

Consumer concerns are growing, particularly in states like Oregon where workers, such as servers, must be paid the state’s minimum wage ($14 in the Portland Metro Area, one of the highest in the United States according to the National Conference of State Legislatures) even if the worker also receives tips.

Regular minimum wage laws often don’t apply to restaurant workers, such as servers, who earn a lot of their income from tips. Federal law stipulates that employers can pay tipped workers as little as $2.13 an hour (an amount unchanged since 1991), so long as their tips bring them up to at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 

Shoppers are generally sympathetic to the plight of low-wage workers, but public resentment seems to be growing when tips are expected in food service and other situations where a worker is also guaranteed earning an elevated minimum wage or in situations where tip expectations are new. We don’t generally tip retail workers in a mall who are also guaranteed a respectable minimum wage in Oregon, for example.

A recent New York Times article about tipping generated a lot of comments, many of which lamented the seeming spread of tipping expectations to multiple businesses and regardless of the amount of actual service by an employee:

“Travelling to the USA each year from Europe I notice this just getting more extreme and expensive with zero additional benefits to the consumer. The next screen flip I get, I would like to flip my own card with discount options for the proprietor that is forcing us to shoulder his staffing costs.”

“I hate the companies that use payment systems like Square, and I particularly hate the companies, like Square, that have brought this new dystopian world upon us. Down with tipping!”

“Collectively, we cringe when the iPad is swiveled into our face at the coffee counter or deli; we know it is extortion rather than appreciation for services rendered.” 

Enough!

The Oregon Governor Race: Will the Republicans Blow It Again?

First impressions can be deceiving.

Washington, D.C. residents were baffled Wednesday when they saw people appearing to parachute into the city. Alarmed police ordered staff at the U.S. Capitol complex to evacuate due to a “probable threat” from a nearby aircraft. Turns out it was a pregame Army parachute-demonstration team performing for a Washington Nationals baseball game.

Rising public dissatisfaction with Oregon’s direction, delivering the impression that the Oregon governor’s race is going to be a win for Republicans this time around, could be a false alarm for Democrats, too. 

A February 17-23 , 2022 OPB Primary Election Survey by DHM Research asked, “All things considered, do you think that things in Oregon are headed in the right direction, or do you feel that they are off on the wrong track?” An overwhelming 73% of respondents said Oregon is on the wrong track. 

This should bode well for Republicans, out of the governor’s chair since 1987.  But, based on the campaigns currently being waged by candidates in the Republican primary, they could still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

An April 13, 2022, poll of likely Republican voters by Nelson Research showed that the leaders were Bud Pierce at 6.5%, Christine Drazan with 6.3%, Stan Pulliam with 4.2% and Bob Tiernan at 3.5%. None of the other Republican contenders garnered even 3%. 

The lack of real Republican enthusiasm for any of the candidates is evident, however, by the fact that with just two weeks from mail ballots going to voters and four weeks until the May 17, 2022 primary, almost 68 percent of respondents were still undecided.

Even counting the undecided who were leaning toward each candidate, Pierce was only at 10.7%, Drazan 8.2% and Pulliam, Tiernan and Bill Sizemore at 5.2% each. 

Pierce, who lost to Democrat Kate Brown in 2016, is pitching himself as “a true outsider” who is “sane, secure, stable”.  But already a one-time loser, Pierce, 65, comes across, to put it mildly, as old hat. He’s the Adlai Stevenson of the 2022 Republican primary.

Christine Drazan, 49, is promising “A new direction. for Oregon,” but she is also embracing some Republican views on abortion that turn off a lot of Oregon voters. “Christine received Oregon Right to Life’s endorsement in her previous two runs for office and is honored to have their support once again in the race for governor,” said Trey Rosser, Drazen’s campaign manager. Most Oregonians, on the other hand, have consistently opposed more restrictions on abortion.

Tiernan, in his current ad, comes across not as a hard-driving man of the people, but as a mean-spirited scold. “I’ve got what it takes,” he says, but his forced smile is insincere and off-putting.

Pulliam isn’t doing himself any favors with his outreach efforts, either.

In one television ad, he complains about critical race theory, a trendy topic that argues racism is racism is systemic in America’s institutions. In another ad, he promises not to “allow transgender athletes to compete in girls sports…Because my girls shouldn’t have to play against boys, and neither should yours.” Despite both of these issues being hot items for the right on the national stage, neither shows up on a list of hot-button issues for Oregon voters and could pigeonhole Pulliam in a general election.

Part of the problem for all the Republican candidates was revealed in a Nov. 2021 poll by  conducted by Republican pollster Fallon Research & Communications.

In the poll of 600 likely Oregon Republican primary voters, 75% viewed Donald Trump favorably, about 58% believed the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump and about 60% said Republican candidates for statewide office should be “more like Trump.” In 2020, Joe Biden defeated Trump 56.5% – 40.4%. Those Biden voters aren’t likely to vote for a conservative Republican candidate for governor the general election.

Sure, a lot of Oregonians are pissed, but do any of the leading Republicans have an answer? Not so far. And as much as many Oregonians are frustrated with things as they are, that doesn’t make them all Republicans. As a politics junkie recently observed on twitter, “More and more I am convinced that the average voter is driven by repulsion, not attachment. They don’t vote for a party because they like it. They vote for a party because it isn’t the OTHER party, which they really despise.”

This may be a weak year for Democrats generally, but to win the governorship the Oregon Republican candidate will need to present a savvy, appealing, inspiring alternative.

So far, they’re all missing the boat.

A Tangled Web: Carrick Flynn and the Justice Unites Us PAC

Why has the Justice Unites Us PAC, which says it’s all about mobilizing Asian voters, pumped $846,000 in independent expenditures into boosting the Democratic primary campaign of a white guy, Carrick Flynn, in Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District. 

Not only that, but who has been plowing money into the PAC and how much?

Who knows.

Justice Unites Us identifies itself online as “A project of the Family Friendly Action Fund, a section 50©4) social welfare organization.”

As for why it’s embraced Carrick Flynn’s primary race, that’s a tough one. 

Is the 6th District heavily Asian? Nope.

It consists of Polk and Yamhill Counties, plus portions of Marion, Clackamas and Washington Counties. Most of the district is in Yamhill and Polk counties in terms of land area, but most of the population is in Washington and Marion counties. If the district had existed during  the 2020 presidential election, it would have gone 55.2% for Biden and 42.1% for Trump, according to Daily Kos. So, the new district probably leans Democratic.

But Asians are far from a prominent force in Oregon at large or in the new district. According to the most recent American Community Survey, the Asian population in all of Oregon is just 185,221, 4.4% of the total population. And they are far from a unified group, with multiple subgroups. Chinese, Filipino, and Indian are the largest. Furthermore, In the 2020 census, just 2.5% of Marion County’s population and -11.7% of Washington County’s population was “Asian alone”.

OK, then who’s behind the Justice Unites Us PAC? We don’t know. 

Like pop-up stores that show up during the Christmas holidays, the PAC only popped up recently. having been formed on March 22, 2022 (FEC Committee ID #: C00810606). In its report to the FEC for the first quarter of 2022, the PAC reported raising and spending zero dollars. 

After the end of the quarter, it disclosed it had disbursed $846,581.14 on April 5, 2022 for “canvassing” in support of Flynn.

Then, on April 15, 2022, the PAC filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission so it could delay filing its next report , and identifying its donors, until after the May 17 primary:

“Justice Unites Us PAC has filed its April 15th quarterly report.  This is to notify you that Justice Unites Us PAC intends to assume a monthly filing schedule for calendar year 2022.  It is therefore our understanding that the next report will be due May 20, 2022. “ 

Is this runaround of disclosure rules new? “No, it isn’t.,” Politico wrote recently. “Pop-up super PACs have become increasingly prominent over the last several election cycles, and have become a way for sophisticated political operations to bypass rules that shed light on campaign finance until after elections — when it’s too late to matter.”