Outside money is undermining local political control

In an effort to portray herself as the down-home candidate in her contest against Democrat Sarah Gideon, Republican Senator Susan Collins sent out a text message on Oct. 21 saying Gideon has more donors from Portland, OR than Portland, ME. As of mid-October 2020, Gideon’s out-of-state contributions, $41.8 million, represented 92.3% of her total contributions.

Collins neglected to mention that 91.80 % ($11.9 million) of the donations she’s received during 2019-20 have come from outside Maine, according to OpenSecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics. That made her one of the top 10 senate recipients of contributions outside of their state during that period.

Think about that. The winner of a critical Maine Senate race that could determine which party controls the Senate may well be determined by people who don’t even live in Maine.

Political races across the country are increasingly being funded by people from other places.

In today’s contentious political campaigns, out-of-state contributions overwhelmingly dominate the higher end of fundraising for Democrats and Republicans. It’s part of the nationalization of all politics in the United States.

In Oregon, the strongest evidence of out-of-state influence on a campaign is in the race between incumbent Democrat Congressman Peter DeFazio and Republican Alek Skarlatos. Out-of-state residents have contributed 41.9% of the money raised by DeFazio; for Skarlatos, the out-of-state share is 68.6%, according to OpenSecrets.org.

DeFazio (L) vs. Skarlatos

Out-of-state money is also playing an increasingly important role in ballot measure battles.

In Oregon, the key backer of Measure 110 on the 2020 ballot is Drug Policy Action, a New York City-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit advocacy group that 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, has long been involved in pushing for an end the legal war on drugs.

The next largest contributor is the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative of Palo Alto, CA, which has contributed $500,000. The Initiative is a charity established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Out-of-state political contributions come from companies with local interests, networks of politically aligned people scattered across the country, and liberal and conservative national groups mobilizing to influence state-level elections.

Oregon tried to limit out-of-district political contributions in 1994 through Ballot Measure 6, which amended the state constitution to allow candidates to ”use or direct only contributions which originate from individuals who at the time of their donation were residents of the electoral district of the public office sought by the candidate.” (Oregon Constitution Art. II, § 22). The measure imposed a 10 percent cap on the total amount of money a candidate could accept from contributors residing outside the district.

When the measure went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the state  asserted two interests, preventing the appearance of corruption and ensuring a republican form of government, as justifications for the out-of-district ban. The state could restrict out-of-district residents’ right to vote in the district, the court held, but could not restrict such residents’ right to express themselves about the election, including by contributing money.

In August 1998, the court struck down the Oregon ballot initiative in a 2-1 decision (VanNatta v. Keisling, 151 F.3d 1215 9th Cir.1998).

“Who should really have a say in how each state is run?”, asks Dan Weiner, senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.  “It used to be that, at least at the state level, the interests of constituents vastly outweighed any interests coming from elsewhere around the country. But that’s no longer true to some extent because of the proliferation of the campaign finance free-for-all.”

Camouflaged “news” sites are corrupting the national political process – now they are spreading in Oregon

Fake news. Biased news. Slanted news. Real news. What’s the difference? It’s getting harder to tell them apart.

Ever read any of these online Oregon news sites?

Beaver State News

Central Oregon Times

East Oregon News

East PDX Today

Lane County News

Mid Coast Times

Mid Valley Reporter

North Coast Today

Portland Courant

South Coast Times

South Oregon News

West PDX Today

Let’s take the Portland Courant:

Portland Courant

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown gets ‘F’ grade for fiscal management

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown received a grade of “F” from the Washington-based CATO Institute for her tax and spending policies since 2018, according to a ranking of governors that comes out every two years. 

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Antifa and BLM rioters cheer death of Aaron J. Danielson in Portland

The Portland Courant looks like a legitimate news site, but it’s not.

If you slide down to the bottom of the home page and click on “About,” you’ll discover Portland Courant is put out by Metric Media LLC under a licensing agreement with the Metric Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

“When citizens are deprived of basic government information, communities and civic discourse suffer,” the site says. “Our approach is to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.”

Portland Courant is, however, far from objective and free of political bias.  It is, instead, “part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country,” a New York Times investigation published on Oct. 18, 2020 found. “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,”

The network of amateurish and duplicative “news” websites is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, an internet entrepreneur, according to The Times. It is one of multiple partisan local-news sites funded by political groups associated with both the Republican and Democratic parties.

While Timpone’s network is conservative, liberals are financing operations like Courier, 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 started by Acronym, a liberal political group.

Virginia is the home of a Courier outlet, the Dogwood.

If readers click on “About” on the Dogwood site, they get this: “As the number of local news outlets declines in Virginia and across the country and the amount of digital information surges, it’s hard to know where to turn. We want to fill the gap – and your social feeds – with content that is thoughtful, engaging, inspiring and motivating.” 

But, like the other Courier sites, the Dogwood is pure liberal messaging.

Maine, where a costly battle is underway between incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon, became a test site for the new approach in 2018 when a “news” website of anonymous origin, the Maine Examiner, popped up.

According to The Bangor (ME) Daily News, a respected local newspaper, the Maine Examiner website gained attention in the run-up to a December 2018 mayoral runoff in Lewiston, ME. when it posted several negative articles about a progressive candidate, Ben Chin.

One article contained real, leaked campaign emails in which Chin said he encountered “a bunch of racists” while campaigning. Chin’s loss in the election was attributed, in part, to the Examiner’s reporting.

It later turned out that the emails were leaked to Chin’s Republican opponent, Shane Bouchard, by a woman working as a mole in Chin’s campaign who was having an affair with Bouchard. Bouchard resigned as mayor in March 2019 after the woman leaked some of his text messages. They included one in which he appeared to compare a meeting with his fellow Republicans to a Ku Klux Klan gathering

A top Maine Republican Party official later admitted to state ethics watchdogs that he was behind the Maine Examiner.

With a steadily shrinking cadre of legitimate news outlets and staff, and the rise of political actors willing to play fast-and-loose with journalistic ethics, this race to the bottom in political news is likely to accelerate.

Brace yourself.

Republican Beutler outraising Democrat Long in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District Race

Please, make them stop! 

That’s my reaction to the blizzard of television ads running for Democrat Carolyn Long and Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in their race for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. They’ve been pounding my brain for weeks, often one after the other, and I don’t even live in Washington.

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by both candidates show they’ve been raising and spending money like drunken sailors. Together they’ve raised $7,461,992.01 and spent $5,547,062.56.

Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler / Democrat Carolyn Long

These are their individual numbers as of Sept. 30, 2020:

$ Raised$ Spent$ Cash on hand
Beutler3,916,946.212,229,341.641,736,571.30
Long3,545,045.803,317,720.92 257,476.51

And this doesn’t even count the money spent by supportive committees, such as the Republican’s Congressional Leadership Fund, or by dark money groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors.

Beutler can take some satisfaction in knowing she has a lot more cash on hand to spend in the closing days of the campaign and that she’s outraising Long, going against the national trend of Democrats bringing in more total cash in House races.

But Beutler and Long are still a small part of the political spending this election. Open Secrets, the data website of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit research group tracking money in U.S. politics, is predicting that the 2020 election will near $11 billion in total spending, smashing records.

“The 2018 election smashed fundraising records for midterms, and 2020 is going to absolutely crush anything we’ve ever seen — or imagined — before” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Top Contributors in Beutler/Long Race

Top Contributors to Jaime Herrera BeutlerTotal
Winning for Women$21,800
Blue Cross/Blue Shield$17,807
Emergent Biosolutions$15,600
Fisher Investments$13,200
Pro-israel America PAC$12,200
Boeing Co$12,009
L&E Bottling Co$11,800
Blackstone Group $11,217
Crow Holdings$11,206
Clearpath Foundation$11,200
Source: OpenSecrets.org
Top Contributors to Carolyn LongTotal
Emily’s List$47,165
Democracy Engine$32,075
Amazon.com$20,200
Microsoft Corp$20,013
End Citizens United $18,700
University of Washington$18,491
United for A Strong America$16,200
Tableau Software$12,300
Vancouver Public Schools$11,840
Barr Foundation$11,200
Source: OpenSecrets.org

These tables list the top donors to candidates in the 2019-2020 House election cycle The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

Outside Groups Spending Money in this Race

CommitteeTypeAll 2020 Total
RED – ClearPath ActionSuperPAC$65,000
RED – Congressional Leadership FundSuperPAC$406,125
RED – Defending Main StreetSuperPAC$78,222
BLUE – Democratic Congressional Campaign CmtePAC$468,404
BLUE – Fuse Washington501c$54,761
RED – Governing Majority FundSuperPAC$103,674
RED – National Republican Congressional CmtePAC$491,052
BLUE – Oneamerica Votes 501c$4,748
BLUE – Sierra Club Independent ActionSuperPAC$10
RED – WFW Action FundCarey$2
RED – Winning for WomenPAC$218
RED – Conservative group; BLUE – Liberal group
Source: OpenSecrets.org

Measure 110: A flawed ballot measure pushed by outsiders (Soros/Zuckerberg are key players)

The initiative process was put in place in Oregon at the beginning of the 20th century as a way for local citizens to band together to directly initiate amendments to the Oregon state constitution and enact new state statutes.

Measure 110 on the 2020 ballot shows how the “local” element has been corrupted as national advocacy groups and wealthy out-of-staters behind the scenes invade the process. 

“There’s this perception out there that the initiative process is all about the little guy,” Jennie Bowser, a consultant who for many years studied ballot measures for the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, told the Center for Public Integrity. “But the truth of the matter is that it’s a big business. It’s really well organized, and it’s really well funded.  And it is very, very rarely a group of local citizens who get together and try to make a difference.”

Who’s bankrolling the Measure 110 campaign? Not Oregonians.

The key backer is 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, has long been involved in pushing for an end the legal war on drugs.

In FY2018, the most recent year for which its annual Form 990 financial filing with the IRS is available, Drug Policy Action had $953,436 in revenue and $28 million in assets. Individual contributors are not identified. 

Drug Policy Action has 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 passage of Measure 110, “More Treatment for a Better Oregon: Yes on 110”. The group operates out of 3321 SE 20th Avenue in Portland. 

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

Most of the money being spent by More Treatment for a Better Oregon isn’t being spent at Oregon businesses either. Its largest expenditure to date is $1,415,810.00 to Screen Strategies Media, a media strategy, planning and buying agency based in Fairfax, VA that primarily serves Democratic candidates and liberal groups. 

What is this out-of-state crowd proposing in Measure 110?

At first glance, it sounds like a simple addiction treatment measure funded by marijuana taxes. It’s much more. 

Dig down and you find it also would decriminalize the possession of dangerous drugs.

The measure would remove criminal penalties for individuals caught in unauthorized possession of controlled substances in amounts reflecting personal use and instead would impose a maximum fine of $100 or completion of a health assessment. The personal-use limits specified for particular substances are:

  • LSD, methadone, oxycodone: 40 units
  • Psilocybin: 12g
  • Heroin: 1g
  • Cocaine, methamphetamine: 2g

The Sheriffs of Oregon point 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.”

Measure 110 is a seriously flawed ballot measure written and bankrolled by outsiders. It deserves to be defeated.

The New York Times fails to make its case in its latest Trump probe.

I’m no Trump fan, but Sunday’s New York Times article, The Swamp That Trump Built, which major media figures will likely call a “bombshell,” is filled with innuendo but little proof that spending at Trump properties actually buys influence.

The story does document that Trump’s private properties, particularly Mar-a-Lago in Florida, have become favor-seeking cesspools, with individuals, organizations and companies directing business there.  The story also makes it crystal clear that the influence-seeking spending has been lucrative for Trump properties. 

Mar-a-Lago

The story also documents that an awful lot of individuals, groups and companies that patronized a Trump property had business before the administration. 

But The Times went further. It asserted that the favor-seekers got what they wanted for their money, advancing their interests.  

“An investigation by The Times found over 200 companies , special interest groups and foreign governments that patronzed Mr. Trump’s propertieswhile reaping benefits from him and his administration,” The Times reported. “Just 60 customers with interests at stake before the Trump administration brought his family business nearly $12 million during the first two years of his presidency, The Times found. Almost all saw their interests advanced, in some fashion, by Mr. Trump or his government.”

The problem is that in many cases The Times presented no hard evidence that spending by the favor-seekers at Trump properties was directly connected to favorable government decisions. Simply saying that many big spenders at Trump’s properties “saw their interests advanced, in some fashion, by Mr. Trump or his government” is not proof of malfeasance. If that is proof of corruption, all the members of Congress should be in jail.

The story is littered with references to businesses and organizations holding events at Trump properties, implying that they were buying special favors.

The Times reported, for example, that Morgan Stanley paid at least $156,882 to hold a conference at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. in 2017, Deloitte spent at least $347,529 for a conference there in June 2017 and the Food Marketing Institute paid $1.2 million to hold conferences at Trump National Doral Miami in 2018 and 2019. But all three told The Times the events had been booked long in advance. So much for buying influence with the President.

Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.,

In another case, the Times wrote about a time when a White House meeting of restaurant executives to discuss the pandemic included Tilman Fertitta, a billionaire who had once operated a café in a Trump casino. Fertitta complained that bad publicity had forced him to return millions of dollars in federal aid intended to help strapped small businesses. He asked that the administration create a second fund for the larger private restaurateur. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was noncommittal, the Times wrote, and the fund never materialized. I guess that connection didn’t pay off.

Then there’s David Storch, who the Times story suggests was involved in some influence peddling that began at Mar-a-Lago.

Shortly after Trump’s election, a Mar-a-Lago member invited Storch, an Illinois aviation executive, to a round of golf at the nearby Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. They ran into Trump in the golf club’s dining room and the three ended up playing together. (The Times gratuitously noted that Trump International abuts the Palm Beach County jail)

According to The Times, “In the closing months of the Obama administration, Mr. Storch’s company, AAR Corp., had wrested from a rival a $10 billion contract to service State Department aircraft. The contract was to be the linchpin of AAR’s move into expanded government work. But as Mr. Trump took office, the competitor, DynCorp, was fighting the award in federal court.

DynCorp had a potentially powerful ally in the new president. It was owned by Cerberus Capital Management, whose billionaire co-founder Stephen A. Feinberg had donated generously to Mr. Trump’s election effort. Mr. Feinberg was in talks to take a senior administration role, while DynCorp would soon begin lobbying the administration to rescind AAR’s contract. On Inauguration Day, Mr. Storch took to the new president’s favorite social media platform and tweeted a picture of their (golf) game.”

David Storch (L) with Donald Trump at the Trump International Golf Club

That’s it. That’s all the story said. Did Storch raise the contract issue with Trump during the golf game? Did the golf game lead directly to further contacts between Trump and Storch or his representatives? Did the contact between Storch and Trump play a role in the federal court decision? What was the court’s decision? The Times story didn’t say. 

The Times story also noted  that The FLC Group, a Vietnamese conglomerate with a commercial airline subsidiary, hosted a conference at Trump’s Washington hotel in June 2018, promoting investment opportunities in Vietnam.The story then connected that event to the Federal Aviation Administration certifying eight months later that Vietnamese airlines could fly to the United States. Quite a leap.

Individuals and businesses seeking favors from the U.S. government have been spreading their money around since the American Revolution.

There’ve been cash payments to a Secretary of the Interior for control of federal oil reserves in Wyoming  and bribes in plain envelopes to a vice president in the White House, hidden campaign contributions, donations to non-profits endorsed by a member of Congress, even purchases of advertising on a puny little Texas radio station owned by a president’s wife. 

The Times story shows that the spending by favor-seekers is continuing during the Trump administration, this time in the form of paying for memberships and events at Trump properties, with active encouragement by Trump.

What the over 10,000 word story doesn’t do, however, is provide evidence of a quid pro quo, establish a clear link between all that spending and subsequent favorable government action. In other words, in its zeal to trash Trump it failed to prove its point.

Oregon evictions: the deluge is coming

In September 2020, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler urged more measures to help rental tenants. “While we’re in the middle of this pandemic, we need to do our part to protect renters from the tidal wave of evictions that we know is coming,” he said. 

A “tidal wave” is right. There’s now documentation that renter households across Oregon are on track to owe as much as $378 million in past-due rent by January 2021. Up to 150,000 of those households could be hit with an eviction filing at that point, a substantial number of them lower-income households.

A nationwide moratorium on evictions the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued is set to expire on January 1, 2021. An Oregon moratorium protects any renter unable to pay rent from being evicted until at least Jan. 8, 2021.

Moody’s Analytics analysis estimates that by the end of 2020, the average back-rent owed by renters across the United States will be $5,400, accumulating to $70 billion by the end of the year. That could translate into up to 8.4 million renter households (20.1 million individual renters) experiencing an eviction filing by January 2021. 

That’s the warnings just issued by The National Council of State Housing Agencies in a report produced by the advisory firm Stout, Risius Ross LLC.

Many renters are struggling to cover their housing costs as the coronavirus outbreak, and its economic fallout, have now stretched about seven months, and as the pandemic takes a heavier financial toll on people who are at the lower end of the earnings ladder.

“Given what appears to be a slow economic recovery, it is reasonable to expect ongoing elevated unemployment, high rent burden among low-income renter households, continued accumulation of unpaid rent, and continued risk of eviction beyond January 2021,” said the report. 

The National Council of State Housing Agencies says state housing finance agencies in 33 states , including Oregon, have established emergency rental assistance programs since the virus struck. But the group says the programs will fall short of demand.

Get ready for chaos.

Rush to judgement: social media is eroding America’s social stability

“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day. “No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.” 

                Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

In today’s venomous social media environment, hair-trigger public reactions based on fragmentary, often inaccurate, information are the new norm and are hastening the disintegration of civil society. 

On Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, at about 4:30 PM, a Lancaster, PA police officer shot and killed a Black man. Twitter exploded in collective fury:

Valnjeffewsist@ValerieNygaard: Another murder by police today in Lancaster PA. 27 year old autistic man shot four times in the chest in front of mom.

RT @lancnick: Police shot and killed a reportedly autistic man in Southwest Lancaster City today and left his body on the ground for hours.

king of da souf@jlinmadison13: Lancaster police shot a 14 year old autistic boy 4 times!!!

All stirred up, protesters were off to the races, pouring into downtown Lancaster calling for “justice.” They hurled bottles and rocks at police officers, threw traffic barricades, planters and trash cans, piled up street signs, pieces of plywood and trash bags and set them on fire and damaged a county vehicle parked in front of a police station. When the protesters ignored police orders to disperse, tear gas was deployed.

Lancaster, PA protesters, Sept. 13, 2020

The Twitter outrage continued the next day.

Sarah Meets@MeetsSarah: #LANCASTER How much of taxpayer dollars fund the police?…WHY, WHY are people getting not just shot but fucking MOWED DOWN LIKE THE CARTEL DOES by 7-10-20 bullets?? WTF is this?

As is so often the case, the reality of the shooting was quite different. It turned out that a Lancaster police officer had gone to the home of a woman who had called 911 to say her brother, 27-year-old Ricardo Munoz, was being aggressive with her mother and trying to break into her house. When the officer arrived at the scene, the man ran out of the house holding a knife and chased the police officer. The officer fired several shots, killing the man. 

All of this was captured in video footage released by the Lancaster police department. But the damage had been done.

People everywhere are becoming alarmed, or pretending to be alarmed, by real and imagined crises pushed on social media with increasing frequency, often by malicious actors. And since social media algorithms drive repetitious messages that conform to our biases, people are more likely to believe things to which they’ve been exposed repeatedly.

In a Fast Company articleHow Your Brain Keeps You Believing Crap That Isn’t TrueBob Nease wrote “…what counts as common knowledge is a mix of things that are true and other things that are false, all of which are believed because they’re widely held, frequently repeated, and routinely recalled.”  Nease calls this “fluency as a surrogate for truth.”

All this is leading to informational cascade effects as the messages of alarmists spread far and wide, magnified by celebrities, journalists and commentators, corrupting the entire chain of communications.

“The public and the media may then become less willing to publicly challenge ascendant beliefs due to a social mechanism called a reputational cascade, Matthew Blackwell wrote in Quillette“Reputational cascades behave like informational cascades, but the underlying motivation is different—people publicly embrace the beliefs of others out of social necessity rather than genuine belief.”  

In an age of alternate realities, “the devastating irony of the present moment is that for all of our near-limitless access to knowledge, the truth is not merely inaccessible, but perpetually transformed into an up-for-grabs commodity,” writes Jason Clemence, assistant professor of humanities at Regis College. And as the information load increases, it gets harder to distinguish high-quality from low-quality information, too often resulting in the propagation of misleading information and outright falsehoods.

The shooting of Michael Brown is a classic case of how social media is exploited to launder false or misleading information into public discourse and increase public discord. 

Demonstrators protest outside the Ferguson, Missouri, police department during the National March on Ferguson, August 30, 2014. (Photo credit – Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)

After the August 9, 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a St Louis suburb, the story quickly spread on social media that he died while attempting to surrender and that he had his hands raised as he pleaded with Wilson not to shoot him. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became the immediate rallying cry of protesters and the mantra of a movement.

The day after Brown’s death, protests, riots, looting and arson erupted in the vicinity of the shooting and across Ferguson.

But there are two glaring problems with this story. Brown never surrendered with his hands up, and two state investigations, as well as one by President Obama’s Justice Department, concluded that Wilson was justified in shooting Brown.

Still, major media continue to this day to refer to Michael Brown’s death as “murder” and to describe him as “an unarmed black teenager.” Challenging the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative in Brown’s case still risks harsh criticism or censure.

On social media, hearsay and rumor dominate and “facts” are only relevant if they reinforce an ideological predisposition. Not only that, but everybody involved in the ongoing debate is expected to choose a side without hesitation, with no further research and no further deliberation.

That is leading to an erosion of social stability that threatens the cohesion of the United States. Instead of being bound together by a shared reality, we are moving toward a society in which individual citizens care only about their own interests and those of others who are like-minded, where there is no common morality and the concept of individual sacrifice for the common good is dismissed as out-of-date.

That will put our democracy at risk.

And another one bites the dust: Washington Square shrinking again.

The shrivilling of the Washington Square mall is continuing with a “Going out of Business” sale at Pier 1’s store. 

With malls across the country facing challenges even before the pandemic, the disease and associated economic upheaval has made things worse.

Pier 1 Imports, which was founded in 1962, filed for chapter 11 protection in early 2020 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Va. and had hopes of a sale to an interested buyer, but none emerged.

On May 18, 2020, the company said it would permanently close all its 540 retail stores, including one at Washington Square, and then reopen them after the COVID-19 shutdowns. At that point they would proceed to liquidate all their merchandise in “Going out of business” sales. Pier 1 aims to have all its stores permanently shuttered by October.

Pier 1 traces to a single store in 1962 that sold beanbag chairs and love beads to hippies in San Mateo, California. It expanded to offer just about anything for the home, from lounge chairs to curtains, and it later adopted the logo: “From Hippie to Hip.” At its height, Pier 1 had more than 1,200 stores.

But in recent years, its business slowed as it struggled to compete with online retailers Wayfair and Amazon, which sold products sofas at a lower price and delivered them quickly.  Big-box chains like Target and Walmart also strengthened their home goods offerings.

The original Washington Square mall encompassed 1,093,500 leasable square feet and was the largest enclosed shopping center in Oregon. It has a long history of change and renewal.

A 160,000 sq. ft. Meier & Frank store was the first to open for business on August 16, 1973. A 211,900 sq. ft. Sears store came next in October of that year, followed by a 120,000 sq. ft. Lipman’s in November. In May 1974, Nordstrom made its debut with a 108,000 sq. ft. store, followed by an 89,300 sq. ft. Liberty House store in August 1974 and a 210,000 sq. ft. J.C. Penney store in August 1975.

Turnover among the larger stores began within a few years, but the mall weathered changes well and its current owner, Macerich, a real estate investment trust, has been rewarded strong average sales per square foot. But much greater challenges have now emerged, particularly with the mall’s anchor stores, but with some smaller retailers as well.

What store will close next? There are lots of candidates. Just wait and watch.

More

WHITHER WASHINGTON SQUARE MALL?

College rankings are out: which is better, UO or OSU?

The Wall Street Journal published its much-awaited 2021 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) College Rankings today.

So which is superior, the University of Oregon or Oregon State University?

The UO finished 225th and OSU finished 318th among nearly 800 U.S. colleges and universities examined in the WSJ/THE rankings. 

So now what do you know? Not much.

The fact is that if you depend on national college ranking programs in picking a school, it’s a crapshoot. That’s because each ranking system uses its own unique methodology in evaluating schools and assigns different percentages to ranking elements, leading to wildly different conclusions. 

The U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2021 methodology, for example, places UO at #103 and OSU at #153 among national universities in the United States. National universities are schools that offer a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master’s and doctoral programs, and are committed to producing groundbreaking research. Washington Monthly’s annual College Guide and Rankings places UO at #118 and OSU at #159 among national universities. 

Key indicators in the WSJ/THE rankings are based on 15 factors across four main categories: Forty percent of each school’s overall score comes from student outcomes, including graduates’ salaries and debt; 30% comes from academic resources, including how much the college spends on teaching; 20% from student engagement, including whether students feel prepared to use their education in the real world, and 10% from the learning environment, including the diversity of the student body and academic staff.

Some ranking systems focus on the quality of incoming students at a university, examining standardized-test scores and how students ranked in their high-school class. Some also give significant weight to outside opinion, conducting surveys of university administrators to find out if they think competing colleges are doing a good job. The WSJ/THE College Rankings take a different approach, emphasizing the return on investment students see after they graduate. Schools that fare the best on this list have graduates who generally are satisfied with their educational experience and land relatively high-paying jobs that can help them pay down student loans.

That leads to the top-rated schools in the WSJ/THE College Rankings being those with a lot of money. “Metrics used around academic resources, graduate student debt, the diversity of the faculty and the salary of graduates certainly favor institutions with large endowments,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Looking at one common rating category, Social Mobility, illustrates the wide variability in each ranking system and shows how ratings can be influenced. 

In the U.S. News & World Report rankings, social mobility counts for 5% of the final figure. The indicator measures only how well schools graduated students who received federal Pell Grants. Students receiving these grants typically come from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually, though most Pell Grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. 

The social mobility ranking is computed by aggregating the two ranking factors assessing graduation rates of Pell-awarded students:

  • Pell Grant graduation rates incorporate six-year graduation rates of Pell Grant students, adjusted to give much more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions. This is computed as a two-year rolling average.
  • Pell Grant graduation rate performance compares each school’s six-year graduation rate among Pell recipients with its six-year graduation rate among non-Pell recipients by dividing the former into the latter, then adjusting to give much more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions. The higher a school’s Pell graduation rate relative to its non-Pell graduation rate up to the rates being equal, the better it scores. This, too, is computed as a two-year rolling average. 

Compare this with the complexity of how the Washington Monthly deals with social mobility in its rating system.

The social mobility portion of the national rankings by Washington Monthly considers a college’s graduation rate over eight years for all students, a predicted graduation based on the percentage of Pell recipients and first-generation students, the percentage of students receiving student loans, the admit rate, the racial/ethnic and gender makeup of the student body, the number of students (overall and full-time), and whether a college is primarily residential. 

The actual eight-year graduation rate accounts for 8.33 percent of the social mobility score, and the difference between the predicted versus the actual graduation rate counts for another 8.33 percent. The raw number of Pell recipients earning bachelor’s degrees counts for 5.56 percent of the social mobility score. This is designed to reward colleges that successfully serve large numbers of students from lower-income families. 

To gauge a college’s commitment to educating a diverse group of students, Washington Monthly measured the percentage of students at each institution receiving Pell Grants and the percentage of first-generation students at each school. It also measured affordability for first-time, full-time, in-state students with family incomes below $75,000 per year, student loan repayments, median earnings of graduates and dropouts, 

Washington Monthly also determines a community service score that takes into account the size of each college’s Air Force, Army, and Navy ROTC programs as well as the number of alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps. 

Finally, Washington Monthly measures voting engagement using data from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) at Tufts University and the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. Colleges can earn up to six points for fulfilling each of six criteria. They could receive up to two points for publishing with ALL IN their data from NSLVE’s report on student voting behavior in 2016 or 2018 (one point for each year). 

They could receive up to two points for creating an action plan to improve democratic engagement through the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge in 2018 or 2020 (one point for each year). A college could earn one point for having a student voter registration rate above 85 percent and making their registration rate available through ALL IN. Colleges could also earn one point for being currently enrolled in NSLVE.

Good grief!

There may be nuggets of valuable information about colleges and universities within the ranking programs. But in slicing and dicing academia into sellable tiers, the ranking sites are principally the marketing branch of the higher education conglomerate, a way to assemble and peddle the publishers themselves and the schools they cover.

So don’t decide between the UO and OSU on the basis of their rankings on any of the programs out there. Be open minded. Be flexible. Be excited.

As Steve Jobs said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinion drown your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” 

“Lawyers of Distinction”: just another scam

Portland attorney Andy Green, a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, is a “Lawyer of Distinction”.  So are attorneys Justin Johnson of Hillsboro, Usman Mughal of Lake Oswego, Jason Short of Salem and Bryan Donahue of Bend. They are among 48 Oregon attorneys who have been designated “Lawyers of Distinction.”

Usman Mughal was even featured in a large display ad in the Sept. 6, 2020 edition of the New York Times that congratulated a number of Lawyers of Distinction as “2020 Power Lawyers” being “recognized for their competency in jurisprudence and reputation amongst their peers.”

New York Times ad, Sept. 6, 2020

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. 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 buy “Lawyers of Distinction” memberships as well as members of the public who are misled by them.

The Lawyers of Distinction website makes the application and review process sound complex. 

According to the website, it includes a review and vetting process by a Selection Committee. That involves an analysis of a candidate’s work, experience and abilities based upon 12 independent criteria using a platform spelled out under U.S. Provisional Patent #62/743,254. Once a final score is generated, an applicant is subjected a final background check and Ethics Review. Applicants who achieve a minimum passing score and have no disqualifying ethical violations within a 10-year period prior to completion of the application are then eligible for acceptance to Lawyers of Distinction.

Sounds tough and thorough.

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.

The annual cost, automatically renewed every year unless cancelled: Charter membership – $475; Featured membership – $575; Distinguished Membership – $775. The company says its most popular membership is Distinguished, its most expensive. That provides:

  • A link to the attorney’s website from the Lawyers of Distinction website
  • A profile page with the attorney’s picture and a link to the lawyer’s website
  • A national press release announcing the honor
  • A members-only Facebook private group
  • Discounts at national vendors including Hertz, Avis and Hilton
  • Brochures with inserts for a business card to display
  • Access to free online CLE courses
  • Use of the Lawyers of Distinction logo and trademarked materials
  • A customized 14”- 11” plaque
  • An 11” tall customized crystal statue attorneys can display to highlight their expertise. 

Conrad Saam, owner and founder of Mockingbird Marketing in Seattle, tested the membership vetting process at Lawyers of Distinction 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,” Saam wrote. “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.

Some lawyers at the Davis Law Group in Seattle decided to play the game, too. In 2019, they nominated Lucy, the office’s 5-pound teacup poodle, and paid the membership fee. Lucy didn’t go to law school, but she passed her state ‘bark exam, the law firm said, and had been recognized by the legal community as a ‘top dog’.

Lucy, a Lawyer of Distinction

Lucy was accepted by Lawyers of Distinction as one of the top 10% of attorneys in the country. Lawyers of Distinction even tweeted a welcome message to her. Lucy was thrilled.  See Lucy’s acceptance speech.

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 (Robbie) Brian Baker at the same address is listed as the President in the company’s 2020 Annual Report. But don’t go there expecting to be ushered into an office with a clean, modern aesthetic that communicates success. The address is identified online as only a virtual office.

Robert B. Baker, President, Lawyers of Distinction Inc.

Baker, a member of the Florida Bar, is also the founder and owner of Baker Legal Team in Boca Raton, Florida. A 1989 graduate of Boston University School of Law, he focuses on representing plaintiffs in cases relating to personal injury, wrongful death, auto accidents, medical malpractice and product liability. 

Lawyers of Distinction’s website says it has “over 5000 vetted lawyers.” If 5000 lawyers signed up for the Distinguished category at $775 a year, Baker’s company will rake in $3,875,000 in 2020. 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, “Wonderful professional organization. Very nice looking materials. Bob Goldberg – February 12, 2020.”

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.

And they’re probably encouraged by Lawyers of Distinction advertisements that appear even in the respected ABAJournal, the flagship publication of the American Bar Association that claims to be “read by half of the nation’s 1 million lawyers every month”.

Lawyers of Distinction ad in the ABAJournal

If it’s advertised in the ABAJournal it must be legit and an acceptable marketing tool, right?

But the widespread use of Lawyers of Distinction by American attorneys really just represents the decay of honest professional representation. If the ABA, and state bar associations such as the Oregon State Bar, really cared about lawyers’ clients they would be cracking down on such misleading marketing ploys, not promoting them.

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