Boeing’s CEO should resign

恥 Haji

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Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) President Masataka Shimizu, center, TEPCO executive Toshio Nishizawa, right, and Vice President Masaru Takei bow during a news conference on its fiscal 2010

Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu resigned in disgrace in 2011.  He had been in charge when a tsunami devasted the company’s nuclear plant, endured public criticism for not stepping up in the disaster’s initial days and faced criticism for  the biggest financial losses in the company’s history.

He needed to take responsibility for the crisis.

Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muiulenburg, should pay attention.

It was during Muilenburg’s watch that Lion Air Flight 610 took off from Jakarta, Indonesia on October 29th, 2018, at 6:20AM local time. Its destination — Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia’s Bangka Belitung Islands. Twelve minutes later, Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

It was during Muilenburg’s watch that Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 10th, 2019, at 8:38AM local time. Its destination – Nairobi, Kenya. Six minutes later, Flight 302 crashed near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, killing all 157 passengers and crew.

That’s 346 dead people.

As the planes plummeted down to their doom, seatbelts sliced and shredded internal organs. At impact, arms were torn off, spinal columns broken, brains separated from nerves. Organs flattened against internal cavities and blood poured out of all orifices, even into chest and stomach cavities. Bowels were punctured, so bile filled the space around hearts, lungs, stomach, and other intestines like a can of organ soup. Then, for the plane that hit the ground, there was fire, consuming jet fuel at 800 to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.*

Masataka Shimizu did the right thing.

“We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 accidents,” Muilenburg said. He owes those 346 dead people, their grieving families, their saddened friends and their countries, so much more.

 

*Source: What Happens To Your Body When You Die In A Plane Crash

He’s back: Key player in Oregon securities fraud case resurfaces

Like a bad penny, Guy B. Rencher II, who swindled local investors out of millions during 2000-2001, has reappeared as one of the public faces of a West Linn, OR-based business.

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The October 2019 issue of Lake Oswego Living magazine, produced by N2 Publishing, features a 2-page ”business spotlight”  spread on the local owners of Action Northwest, an exterior home maintenance company. Prominently featured on the first page of the story is a color photo of Guy Rencher, a manager at the company, and his wife, Meadena., the owner.

“We caught up with these good local folks who own and run Action Northwest learn more about their services,” the Lake Oswego Living magazine said.

Good local folks?

That’s not the way a lot of folks defrauded of more than $7 million by Guy B. Rencher II see it.

In 2002, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) filed a civil suit against against Guy Rencher, The Rencher Law Firm LLP, Paul James Peiffer of Aloha and Robert J. Skirving of Portland alleging securities fraud and other violations of Oregon Securities Law. Assistant Attorney General Daniel H. Rosenhouse and Special Assistant Attorney General Caroline L. Smith litigated the case for DCBS.

During 2000 and 2001, Rencher and two associates, Robert Skirving and Paul James Peiffer, sold more than $7 million of illegal investments to multiple investors, promising them high risk-free returns.  Many of the investors were Portland-area residents, and some were clients of Rencher’s law firm. Most invested at least $100,000. Some invested substantially more, $3.5 million in one case.

Investors purchased ownership interests in limited liability companies formed by Rencher and his law firm. Rencher used some investor funds to purchase certificates of deposit issued by a purported off-shore bank called Bank of the Nations, controlled by Peiffer and Skirving, and collected more than $300,000 in “management fees.”

But Rencher, Peiffer and Skirving were running a con game that took advantage of too-trusting people. DCBS officials said the three men were not licensed to sell securities and none of the securities they sold were registered.

On Aug. 6, 2003, Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris excoriated both Guy Rencher and his wife, Meadena Rencher, for their conduct.

“Debtor has fallen far short of providing complete disclosure, and his failure to do so is attributable to a deliberate and concerted effort to withhold information,” Perris wrote.  “The number and magnitude of the inaccuracies in debtor’s bankruptcy papers are, as the trustee’s attorney said during his opening statement, staggering. This is especially true considering that debtor is an experienced attorney and businessman and that he has had the benefit of being represented by an experienced bankruptcy attorney.”

“Debtor’s conduct leading up to trial was marked by a lack of cooperation and obstructiveness,” Perris added. “At trial, debtor did not directly answer the questions posed to him. Instead, he testified with calculated evasiveness. When debtor did testify directly as to relevant matters, I often found him not to be credible.”

Perris also took Guy Rencher’s wife, Meadena, to task. “Debtor’s wife, Meadena Rencher, also testified at trial,” Perris wrote. “I found her credibility to be equally suspect…I also found Mrs. Rencher’s testimony on other points to be evasive, rehearsed and generally unbelievable.”

On Oct. 15, 2003, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Frank L. Bearden ordered Guy Rencher, his law firm, Peiffer and Skirving to pay more than $2.3 million in fines and sanctions for scores of fraudulent securities transactions in what Bearden referred to as “a classic Ponzi-type scheme.”

Rencher was also fined $20,000 per violation for each of 16 violations involving misrepresentation to investors. The Rencher Law Firm LLP was fined $5,000 for each of 23 counts of selling unregistered securities. Total Rencher and Rencher law firm fines: $435,000.

The Oregon Department of Justice has not responded to a request for information on payments by Rencher, if any, of the fines ordered by Judge Bearden.

But Guy Rencher, who was already morally bankrupt, has avoided reimbursing the investors deceived by his schemes by filing a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition.

A graduate of Redmond High School in Central Oregon, Rencher started college and then went on a two-year Spanish-speaking mission for the LDS Church in Chicago, according to information he posted on his Redmond High School class of 1970 reunion page. He subsequently graduated from Brigham Young University in 1977 and then Willamette University College of Law. He was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1980.

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Guy B. Rencher II, Redmond High School, Class of 1970 yearbook photo.

In a Profile he posted to a Redmond High School Class of 1970 website, he wrote: “I mostly practiced law from 1980 in my own small firm in Corvallis and Portland until I retired from law practice in 2002.”

“Retired” hardly told the whole story.

According to the Oregon State Bar, at the time of his resignation from the bar a formal disciplinary proceeding was pending against him for violations of the disciplinary rules involving multiple matters, including:

  • DR 1-102(A)(2) (criminal conduct reflecting adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice);
  • DR 1-102(A)(3) (dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); DR 1-103(C) (failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities);
  • DR 5-101(A) (lawyer self-interest conflict);
  • DR 7-102(A)(3) (concealing or failing to reveal that which the lawyer is required by law to reveal);
  • DR 7-102(A)(5) (knowingly making a false statement of fact);
  • DR 7-106(A) (disregarding a standing rule or ruling of a tribunal);
  • ORS 9.527(1) (commission of an act or course of conduct that would preclude admission) and ORS 9.527(4) (willful deceit).

Guy Rencher’s resignation from the Oregon Bar was accepted by the Oregon Supreme Court effective Dec. 7, 2004. (Rencher was also once registered as a member of the State Bar of Texas, but he has been suspended for an “Administrative” reason and is not eligible to practice in Texas.)

Now living in a $500,000 home in West Linn and working as a manager at Action Northwest (a.k.a. Action Window & Gutter Cleaning, LLC), Guy Rencher appears to have emerged successfully from his transgressions. His investors haven’t been so lucky.

Donald J. and Michelle Yvonne (Shellie) Freund of Lake Tapps, WA, who invested $200,000 with Rencher, filed for bankruptcy in Dec. 2000 and never recovered any of their investment.

Philip Harker of Highland, Utah sought to recover $587,500 invested with Rencher. He recovered $0.

Joy Vandervelden died on Dec. 13, 2002 at age 88, without having recovered any of the $3,350,000 million she invested in Rencher’s scheme.

Even the Oregon Golf Club in West Linn was stiffed. Rencher owed the Club $18,544..16. It recovered nothing.

Guy wrote in his Redmond High School profile, “Life has been a lot of things, some expected, some unexpected, but it hasn’t ever been boring!”

Certainly not for his victims, many of whose whose lives were changed unalterably by his greed and perfidy..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enriching the rich: Trump’s opportunity zones

Another tax break for the wealthy sold as an economy-boosting innovation that will help the poor. We deserve better.

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President Trump signs the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including Opportunity Zone provisions,            on Dec. 22, 2017

Stand in front of the vacant building at the corner of S.W. Pacific Hwy and Dartmouth St. in Tigard and you’ll be enveloped in activity.

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11688 Pacific Hwy, Tigard

The traffic is heavy and constant. Nearby businesses include Costco, a thriving Car Toys store, a bustling shopping center and numerous restaurants. It doesn’t look much like an under-invested, economically distressed area badly in need of economic development and job creation.

But the building on the corner, 11686 S.W. Pacific Hwy, is in one of Tigard’s three “opportunity zones.” All are tax-advantaged sites added to the tax code subsequent to President Trump signing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on December 22, 2017.

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Tigard’s Opportunity Zones (in dark blue)

The idea, proposed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), was that high-poverty areas/distressed communities would get a leg up with new investments if they were eligible for generous preferential tax treatment. The program was originally proposed in the Investing in Opportunity Act, which Sen. Scott co-sponsored with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) earlier in 2017. The program allowed investors to reduce and defer paying capital-gains taxes if they invested in a qualified opportunity zone fund which invested in an opportunity zone.

“The rich will not be gaining at all with this plan,” the president told reporters prior to a Sept. 2017 White House meeting with the bipartisan Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus.

Areas can qualify as opportunity zones if they have been nominated for that designation by the state and certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury via the Internal Revenue Service.

Investors in a zone earn a 10% tax discount on their gains after five years, then a 15% discount after seven years. If they keep their opportunity fund shares for 10 years, they can sell them without paying any taxes on the money they made from that investment.

But investors have to act fast because to get the greatest potential tax break they need to leave their money in a fund by the end of this year. Under the law, they can defer paying taxes on their initial investment only until 2026. That’s motivating many investments in projects planned well before opportunity zones were designated.

“With Opportunity Zones, we’re drawing investment into neglected and underserved communities of America so that all Americans, regardless of ZIP code, have access to the American dream,” Trump said on Dec. 12, 2018.

But things got off on the wrong foot when real estate experts got hold of the law.  “…what we were greeted with, and I don’t think it’s unfair for me to say this, were eight pages of the most poorly written statute that I’ve come across in my time covering tax policy,” said Tony Nitti, a CPA, currently a Tax Partner with RubinBrown in Aspen, CO. and a Senior Contributor to Forbes.

It took almost a year after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law before the IRS published a lengthy list of proposed regulations on Oct. 19, 2018.

Then the IRS had to address more questions with a second set of 44 pages of proposed regulations on May 1, 2019.

Another problem that has emerged is that not all of the country’s 8,764 certified opportunity zones encompass just under-invested, economically distressed areas badly in need of economic development and job creation. Some also include areas of relative affluence that would be ripe for investment even without the new tax break.

As Samantha Jacoby, a Senior Tax Legal Analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Policies, a progressive think tank,  has warned, the opportunity zone law is “fundamentally flawed” and the “… tax benefits will flow to wealthy investors with no guarantee that the zones will help distressed communities.”

Even the Wall Street Journal recently  highlighted this problem, noting that, “a tax benefit intended to help poor areas is channeling money to places that are already relatively well-off.”

One such place in a Tigard opportunity zone is raw land at the corner of SW Dartmouth St & SW 72nd Ave.  The 1.69 acres of commercial land in an already prosperous and heavily developed area is being offered for sale for $3,300,000 by the Real Estate Investment Group.

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Because no structure is on the land to improve, it might seem like a speculator could buy this raw land, sit on it without adding anything and then sell the land after ten years tax-free.

But it’s not so simple. An owner must conduct a trade or businessand just holding raw land is not a trade or business. So the purchaser of raw land will also need to invest in substantial improvements on the property, though the owner would not be bound to as specific an amount of improvements..

It would also be quite a stretch to call 11646 S.W. Pacific Hwy, a 29,978 sq. ft. site with a vacant 11,260 sq. ft. building that’s for sale at the corner of S.W. Pacific Highway and Dartmouth St., “economically distressed.”

Marketing material for the site has highlighted that average household income was $71,601 within one mile and $89,792 within three miles in 2015. The material also points out that the site is in the middle of a bustling commercial area that includes retailers such as Costco, PetSmart. A Walmart Supercenter, WinCo Foods and Fred Meyer.

Some readers may remember when the building on the site was occupied by Magnolia Hi-Fi.  The building was constructed in 1996 and NTN Pacific, LLC bought the site from Toyama Hawaii Corp. for $3,100,000 on Jan. 7, 2004 It’s now being offered for lease or sale through Norris & Stevens, Inc.

The buyer of this property won’t automatically qualify for the opportunity zone tax benefits. Since the goal of the program is to improve distressed communities, substantial improvements will have to be made to the property within 30 months.

To be precise, the new owner will have to spend on improvements an amount at least equal to the purchase price of the building. If 60% ($1.5 million) of a $2.5 million purchase price is allocated to the building’s value and 40% ($1 million) to the land’s value, the purchaser will have to invest an additional $1.5 million on substantial improvements, such as redeveloping the building and building out spaces for incoming tenants.

One of Tigard’s stated objectives in creating opportunity zones was to spur the development of more affordable housing.  Tigard is considered a rent-burdened city with over 28 percent of residents spending over 50 percent of their income on rent/mortgages.

But it would be a mistake to assume new housing being built in Tigard’s opportunity zones will address this problem. For example, The 72nd, a 38-unit apartment building that’s under construction on S.W. 72ndAve. will be far from affordable housing.

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The 72nd apartment complex under construction in a Tigard opportunity zone.

A 517 sq. ft. one-bathroom studio at The 72nd will start at $1263 a month; a 690 sq. ft. one-bedroom one-bathroom apartment at $1534 a month. And rents go as high as $1,776 a month for a one-bedroom one-bathroom apartment.

And then there’s the impact of the opportunity zone tax breaks on federal and state tax collections.

The new tax breaks will cost an estimated $1.6 billion in lost federal revenue over ten years, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.

At the state level, all the tax breaks lower individuals’ and corporations’ “gross income,” as the Internal Revenue Code defines it. If states piggyback on that definition, as most do, the breaks will automatically flow through to state individual and corporate income taxes unless the state proactively “decouples” its law from the opportunity zone provisions. Without decoupling, states will miss out on collecting revenue needed to fund other priorities needed for healthy economy.

As the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a left-leaning think tank, put it, “Someone will have to pay for the subsidies going to the wealthy investors profiting from Opportunity Zones, and that someone will be schools and essential services.”

So it’s not cynicism to see the opportunity zone program as yet another misguided giveaway. As Caesar proclaims in David Staller’s adaptation of “Caesar and Cleopatra,”  “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”.

Welcome to opportunity zones — tax shelters for wealthy investors and real estate developers who can put their money to work in areas the least in need of assistance, reducing state and federal tax revenues and increasing already excessive federal deficits.

Another well-intentioned program gone awry.

 

 

And you still think Joe Biden has all his marbles?

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Question at the Sept. 12 Democratic debate:

“Mr. Vice President, I want to come to you and talk to you about inequality in schools and race. In a conversation about how to deal with segregation in schools back in 1975, you told a reporter, ‘I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago..’ You said that some 40 years ago. But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”

Biden’s response:

“Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining banks, making sure that we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out — the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.

It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.”

Moderator

“Thank you, Mr. Vice President.”

 

Oregon’s new K-12 instructional mandates will erode quality education

Oregon’s already underfunded and overwhelmed K-12 teachers are getting ready to deal with the addition of  more labor-intensive, complicated and questionable  instructional mandates imposed on them by politicians.

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It began with the passage of legislation in the last session requiring all Oregon school districts to teach about the Holocaust and genocide beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Claire Sarnowski, a freshman at Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, came up with the idea of mandating Holocaust instruction after hearing Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener tell his story. Sarnowski approached state Sen. Rob Wagner, who agreed to introduce a bill.

It all sounded so simple and straightforward at the outset, but the final legislation was a classic example of mission creep.

The legislation went far beyond mandating that students be taught about the Holocaust and genocide. Employing the coercive power of government, teachers are going to be required to address a slew of  social justice topics: the immorality of mass violence; respect for cultural diversity; the obligation to combat wrongdoing through resistance, including protest; and the value of restorative justice.

Do we really need teachers encouraging a hodgepodge of demands from children, resistance to authority and protest by K-12 students rather than learning and dialog, particularly when adults are using students as part of a cynical political strategy?

Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise, wrote in The Atlantic  that too often faculty and administrators are engaged in “a shameless dereliction of duty” when they embrace student activism.

“Student activism can be an important part of education, but it is in the nature of students, especially among the young, to take moral differences to their natural extreme, because it is often their first excursion into the territory of an examined and conscious belief system, ” Nichols wrote. “Faculty (and administrators), both as interlocutors and mentors, should pull students back from the precipice of moral purity and work with them to acquire the skills and values that not only imbue tolerance, but provide for the rational discussion of opposing, and even hateful, views.”

Oregon teachers probably aren’t too enthused about another little – known new classroom instruction mandate either.

Starting this year, Oregon schools are required to teach tribal history and the Native American experience in class.

Senate Bill (SB) 13, enacted in the 2017 legislative session, called upon the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to develop a statewide curriculum relating to the Native American experience in Oregon, including tribal history, tribal sovereignty, culture, treaty rights, government, socioeconomic experiences, and current events.

“When Governor Brown proposed SB 13 during the 2017 legislative session and subsequently signed it into law, it was because she deeply values the preservation of tribal cultural integrity and believes that honoring the history of Oregon’s tribal communities is critically important to our state as a whole, and to future generations of students,” said Colt Gill, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The legislation stated that the required curriculum must be:

(a) For students in kindergarten through grade 12;  (b) Related to the Native American experience in Oregon, including tribal history, sovereignty issues, culture, treaty rights, government, socioeconomic experiences and current events; and (c) Historically accurate, culturally relevant, community-based, contemporary and developmentally appropriate.”

Sounds admirable, but like the Holocaust legislation, it’s a classic example of mission creep.

First, the curriculum won’t be a limited add-on to current lesson plans. Instead, it will roll out as an extensive, complex set of 45 lessons in five subject areas, including English, social studies, math and science, for fourth, eighth and 10th grade classrooms.

It’s also a new responsibility for the Oregon Department of Education, which has never before been responsible for creating curriculum, and one more subject matter mandate imposed on already overloaded Oregon teachers.

Furthermore, it has the potential to become a tool for indoctrinating students in progressive social justice trends du jour.

According to OPB, The South Umpqua School District, which serves 1,500 students from Myrtle Creek, Tri-City and Canyonville, is already planning multiple days of teacher training sessions that will “expand beyond the tribal history and culture lessons to delve into racially sensitive topics, such as cultural appropriation, implicit bias and microaggressions.”

The basic idea of cultural appropriation is that a particular group, nationality or ethnicity who developed a practice should be the only ones allowed to practice it. Others insult the originating group if they practice it as well.

Too many Oregon adults have already disrupted lives by screaming cultural appropriation. This is not what we should want Oregon children to embrace.

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Two white women were forced to close down their Portland pop-up burrito shop, Kook’s Burritos, in  2017 after being accused of cultural; appropriation.

“…the worst aspect of cultural appropriation is that it is inconsistent with the cultural development and enrichment that a free society promotes,” wrote Mike Rappaport in Law & Liberty. “In a free society, people from different cultures bring their practices to the wider society and they are followed by others in that society, making possible a richer and improved culture.”

Author Cathy Young made a similar point in the Washington Post, arguing that cultural appropriation protests ignore history, chill artistic expression and hurt diversity.  “Appropriation is not a crime,” she wrote.  “It’s a way to breathe new life into culture. Peoples have borrowed, adopted, taken, infiltrated and reinvented from time immemorial.”

Filling the heads of Oregon children with the frightening specter that they are burdened with implicit bias would be unwise, too.

Implicit, or unconscious, bias is the idea that the assumptions, stereotypes, and unintentional actions we make towards others are based on identity labels like race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. Because our implicit associations are stored in our subconscious, we may act on our biases without even realizing it.

The problem is that the implicit bias concept is of questionable validity, based on unproven suppositions and oversold as a solution to diversity issues. But buying into the concept of implicit bias is easy because it feels open-minded and progressive.

However, “almost everything about implicit bias is controversial in scientific circles,” Lee Jussim, a professor of social psychology at Rutgers University, wrote in Psychology Today. “It is not clear what most implicit methods actually measure; their ability to predict discrimination is modest at best, their reliability is low; early claims about their power and immutability have proven unjustified.”

Research suggests that implicit bias training can raise awareness, but there’s not much evidence it actually changes behavior. As John Amaechi, a psychologist and organizational consultant, puts it, the implicit bias concept has become “a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card for too many.” Implicit bias training, he says, is too often a “simply a way that organizations can achieve a level of plausible deniability” that they are addressing diversity issues.

And then there are microaggressions, well-intentioned comments or minor slights a speaker may not perceive as negative.

Several years ago, University of California President Janet Napolitano went so far as to tell faculty that saying “America is the land of opportunity” or “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough” or even  “America is a melting pot” were microaggressions. That’s because they delivered an inaccurate message that the playing field is even or that people of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder.

Teaching Oregon children about the horrors of microaggressions will turn them into perpetual victims hypersensitive to casual remarks. In other words, into carbon copies of a lot of today’s misguided college students.

What might be better would be to require that students spend 9/11 every year watching the videos recorded on that terrible day in New York City. Hours of it, the scenes on the street, the footage inside the buildings, and the aftermath. Then, a discussion about the heroism of the average American and the fact we have enemies who want to destroy us.

 

“Domestic Terrorism”: the next excuse for an erosion of civil liberties?

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Dayton, Ohio – 9 dead; El Paso, TX – 22 dead; Virginia Beach, VA – 12 dead; Umpqua Community College, OR – 9 dead; Columbine High School, CO – 15 dead; Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, FL – 17 dead; Orlando, FL – 49 dead; Sutherland Springs, TX – 27 dead; Sandy Hook, CT – 28 dead; Las Vegas, NV – 59 dead.

And the tragic list goes on and on.

The perceived threat of mass shootings by American citizens now dwarfs the threat of attacks by Islamist terrorists, according to a recent Fox News poll. 60 percent fear the former more than the latter.

The poll revealed that this attitude holds true for Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, men and women, whites with and without a college degree, urban, suburban, and rural residents, and (by a margin of 53 percent to 23 percent) gun owners.

With this kind of public fear, it’s not surprising that there’s now a lot of talk about what should be done, what current laws need to be better enforced, what new laws are needed and what resources should be devoted to combating a rising threat.

“Now is the time to move past the politics that have prevented needed action, to get started on a comprehensive review of the actual threat and to recommend possible and substantive plans to public officials at the federal, state and local levels,” say Javed Ali, a Towsley Policymaker in Residence at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Josh Kirshner, former special assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

John R. Alle and Brett McGurk, former special presidential envoys for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, asserted a similar view in an Aug. 6 Washington Post opinion column: “The United States now faces a new national security threat. The enemy is not the Islamic State but domestic and homegrown white nationalist terrorism. And “terrorism” is the term that must be used.”

History shows us, however, that we should be extremely cautious about over-reacting in the heat of the moment, heading pell-mell down the road of tougher, more intrusive measures designed to counter what is perceived as a rising threat.

Caution was certainly not the byword when, immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress considered The USA PATRIOT Act (officially titled the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”).

The American Civil Liberties Union urged Congress to reject the Patriot Act. “The American Civil Liberties Union believes that the USA PATRIOT Act gives the Attorney General and federal law enforcement unnecessary and permanent new powers to violate civil liberties that go far beyond the stated goal of fighting international terrorism,” the ACLU said in a letter to Senators.  “These new and unchecked powers could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally, and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be threats to national security by the Attorney General.”

But the objections of the ACLU and others went unheeded. President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law on October 26, 2001.

As the Constitutional Rights Foundation noted, “Soon after September 11, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft brought before Congress a list of recommended changes in the law to combat terrorism. Some of these measures had long been opposed by members of Congress as infringing on the rights of Americans. But September 11 had swept away all previous objections.”

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Still, vociferous critics of the hastily written Patriot Act quickly emerged after it went into effect.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said the law “gives sweeping search and surveillance to domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies and eliminates checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that those powers were not abused.” The law and potential follow-up legislation “threaten the basic rights of millions of Americans,” the Foundation said.

The 9/11 Commission led by former New Jersey Governor Tom Keane and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, put forward a broad swath of recommendations that generated objections, too.

Critics said, for example, that the recommendations could lead to such things as: privacy violations; the development of massive databases about citizens who were not the targets of criminal investigations; lowering the bar for launching foreign intelligence wiretaps and searches; exposing people to guilt by association.

Another fast-track move after 9/11 was the creation of a massive Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because of concerns about the lack of coordination and intelligence sharing among government agencies. was a central concern that led to the cabinet department’s creation.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 became law on November 25, 2002, combining 22 different federal departments and agencies. Today it has more than 240,000 employeesin a sprawling federal bureaucracy and is widely accused of general mismanagement, misallocated investment, and civil liberties abuse.

Washington Post investigation found that many DHS employees said they had “a dysfunctional work environment” with “abysmal morale.”

Making its job more difficult, a complex tangle of 90 congressional committees and subcommittees oversee DHS. I’ve worked on the Hill and I assure you that level of Congressional connections is simply unmanageable.

Keane and Hamilton have now resurfaced to advocate another commission on domestic terrorism similar to theirs with a similar mandate. Who knows what mischief could occur in another commission with this charge.

Robert M. Chesney, Director of the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas School of Law, has written in Lawfare about whether a federal ‘Domestic Terrorism’ statute should be created, a purely domestic surveillance system should be established or legislation should be passed to create a domestic version of the designated foreign terrorist organization list, complete with a ban on material support to such groups.

In the aftermath of recent mass shootings, President Trump vowed Monday to give federal law enforcement “whatever they need” to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism.

Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California have already introduced bills that would provide federal law enforcement with tools to combat domestic terrorism. Both bills they raise domestic terrorism to the moral equivalent of international terrorism,

The McSally and Schiff bills are essentially the same. Both would create a new crime of domestic terrorism, making it illegal to kill, kidnap or assault another person; create a substantial risk of serious bodily injury by intentionally destroying or damaging property; or threaten to do so “with the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion[,] or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping,” in the language of the House bill. The wording of the Senate bill is substantively similar.

Both bills also amend 18 U.S.C. § 2339A, which makes it a crime to provide material support or resources “knowing or intending that they be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of” certain statutes. The new provision adds to that list of crimes the new domestic terrorism offense.

“These bills would provide much-needed tools to federal agents and prosecutors who sometimes find themselves without adequate means for addressing domestic terrorism,” Barbara McQuade, a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, has argued in Lawfare.

But federal action could also lead to surveillance systems of once unimaginable breadth, all in the name of security. China is already well on the way to showing what can happen.

China is close to having 600 million surveillance cameras watching its population.  “The cameras feed government databases in real time and, with the assistance of sophisticated facial-recognition software,” F.H. Buckley wrote on Aug. 29  in the Wall Street Journal. “Beijing eventually expects to be able to identify everyone, everywhere within three seconds of anything happening. That may deter crime, but it will also enable the government to monitor people it thinks undesirable.”

 

chinasurveillance

China’s facial recognition technology identifies visitors in a display at the Digital China Exhibition in Fuzhou, Fujian province, in May 2019.

Then there’s China’s emerging Social Credit System. Under this system, the government plans to create a big data–enabled surveillance infrastructure to manage, monitor, and predict the trustworthiness of its people and implement a punishment/reward system based on scores.

Proposals for combating domestic terrorism in the U.S. are also surfacing at the state level.

In New Mexico, for example, the governor, key lawmakers and members of law enforcement have said they will pursue several initiatives. Proposals include increasing penalties for hate crimes, improving mental health care, proposing additional gun safety legislation and creating a state counterterrorism unit.

And in Texas, the governor is launching a domestic terrorism task force that will analyze current and emerging state threats to improve prevention strategies.

All of this activity, and likely more to come, increases the likelihood of actions that are done in haste, not well thought out and potentially endanger civil liberties.

“…proposals tend either to be duplicative of laws that already exist or expansive in ways that violate First Amendment rights of speech and association,” David Cole, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times earlier this month.

Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advised never letting a crisis go to waste. Politicians and ideologues are unlikely to let the much- hyped threat of domestic terrorism go to waste.

Then there’s the law of unintended consequences. As James Risen, Senior National Security Correspondent at The Intercept, a left-leaning online news outlet, put it, “…simplistic answers like launching a domestic war on terror would certainly lead to unintended consequences that would cascade for decades, and might be worse than those that stemmed from the original global war on terror.”

A lot to think about.

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The Gannett/GateHouse deal: diminishing diversity of thought in American media

killingjournalism

If you want to see how a multi-outlet media company can play politics, take a look at Sinclair Broadcast Group.

According to Acronym, a progressive organization focused on winning elections through innovative digital advertising and organizing programs, much of the spending by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign on Facebook + Google last week focused on the release of the campaign’s new red “Keep America Great” hats.  Right in sync, over the weekend, Sinclair, the conservative owner or operator of 191 television stations in the U.S., promoted “news” stories about the availability of the hats.

The planned merger of two other American media giants, Gannett and GateHouse Media, announced on Aug. 5, 2019, could bring more such coordinated propagandizing.

If the merger goes forward, it will not end well.

(UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review reported on Oct. 9, 2019 that GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.)

GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.

  • GateHouse’s acquisition of Gannett is set to go through before the end of the year, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor reports. Once it does, the combined company could lay off as many as 3,000 employees (the equivalent of rival chain McClatchy’s entire workforce), though the cuts are likely to fall mostly on the business side, sparing newsrooms for now. Gannett and GateHouse shareholders will vote on the deal November 14.

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

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

Consolidation can also have major consequences in the coverage of elections.

horse race reporting research elections politics

A study published in the Journal of Political Communication found that corporate-owned and large-chain newspapers were more likely to publish stories that frame elections as a competitive game than newspapers with a single owner.

Researchers for the study were Johanna Dunaway, an associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University, and Regina G. Lawrence, associate dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication Portland.

When journalists covering elections focus primarily on who’s winning or losing — instead of on policy issues — voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer, a growing body of research has found, according to Journalist’s Resource.

Denise-Marie Ordway, a writer for Journalist’s Resource, says academic studies find that horse race reporting is linked to:

  • Distrust in politicians.
  • Distrust of news outlets.
  • An uninformed electorate.
  • Inaccurate reporting of opinion poll data.

Ordway adds that horse race reporting:

  • Is detrimental to female political candidates, who tend to focus on policy issues to build credibility.
  • Gives an advantage to novel and unusual candidates.
  • Shortchanges third-party candidates, who often are overlooked or ignored because their chances of winning are slim compared to Republican and Democratic candidates.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not a pretty picture.