Friday, December 1, 2023

Last night "debate": Unwatchable.

It was a shout-fest version of professional wrestling, set up to make Newsom, California, and Biden look bad. 

It was a near-total waste of 90 minutes.

I learned four things.

1. We learned the event was a setup. The opening question by moderator Sean Hannity settled that. It showed this graphic, with Hannity wondering why so many people are escaping Governor Newsom's hell hole and going to Florida.

Throughout the evening the questions emphasized California's problems. Its gasoline taxes. Its marginal income tax rates for its wealthiest taxpayers. Its number of homeless. 
Hannity could have shown statistics about California's high median income, its job creation, the wealth created in California that spills out to enrich the rest of the nation. Hannity could have shown graphics comparing Biden's employment record with Trump's, the USA's inflation record compared with other comparable countries, our post-Covid GDP growth compared with Europe's.  But no.

2. We learned that Newsom tried to defend Biden and California but that framing matters more than argumentation. Fox set the frame. The U.S. is a disaster and Biden is senile: what say you, Governor Newsom? Newsom occasionally got off some un-interrupted statements when he looked forceful and in control. But most of the time Newsom looked like a swimmer trying to swim upstream in fast water against the premise of Hannity's questions. 

3. We learned that Newsom has a presentation flaw that will serve him poorly on the national stage. He smirks in the face of criticism of him or California. That re-enforces what people don't want to see coming from any politician, smugness. A smirk projects "We are rich and have Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and you are darned right we feel superior because we are the engine that drives the American economy."

Nobody likes a smirk. The country might accept a strong and articulate governor of California with a sincere and earnest demeanor boldly defending his state. But not one with a smirk. That is especially so if it comes from a guy with big, pampered hair, a movie star's good looks, and with kids in private schools. He looks like he is laughing off criticism, not refuting it. That is a bad look. He could fix this dismissive gesture if he got good coaching and has the humility to learn from it. But he undoubtably already gets very intense coaching, and there he was on camera, doing it. This isn't a good sign. Someone who knows him well enough to tell him the truth should speak up.

I wish he represented a purple state on the Great Lakes, a state with more Archie Bunkers in it. That would knock some humility into him.

4. DeSantis did not look terrible, but his situation looks terrible. Nikki Haley has become the remaining lifeline of the non-Trump GOP, and Donald Trump is swatting DeSantis away like a nuisance. Gavin Newsom said so to his face. There was no response from DeSantis, because what Newsom said is true and everyone knows it, including DeSantis.  

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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Newsom v. DeSantis: A Prediction in advance of the "Debate."

Gavin Newsom vs. Ron DeSantis
"Newsom is not repositioning himself but rather presenting his authentic self."
A Californian sent me a comment about tonight's made-for-TV spectacle. Tony Farrell is a brand strategy expert, with a long career marketing consumer products. I had posited that Newsom was transforming himself from a San Francisco-style progressive into a moderate Democrat who had a shot at carrying battleground states where "California" is a bad brand.  Tony Farrell says no, that Newsom is a moderate Democrat ready right now for a presidential run. Tony is a college classmate. He lives in Oakland where he has had a close-up look at Newsom.

Tonight, on Fox News: 9 p.m. Eastern/ 6 p.m. Pacific

Tony Farrell in Hamburg, Germany

Guest Post by Tony Farrell
I look forward to Thursday's debate; long time coming, and actually I did not think it would happen. Likely to not help DeSantis at all, but we'll see.

For more than a decade, Newsom has been pitch-perfect as a California "commonsense" Democrat, calling out progressive nonsense when obvious (taking Lincoln's name off of schools), not hiding from the problems of homelessness, mental illness, illegal immigration, housing and more. I cannot imagine a more deft manager of an image than Gavin; he is a superior political talent and while not brilliant (like Jerry Brown), he studies and works very hard. His judgment about people seems excellent. His choice for Feinstein's replacement, great.  
No doubt in my mind he is doing all he can to step in front of Biden without stepping in front of Biden; actually, I believe he will be the nominee in 2024 through some unforeseen string of events, and that would be great. He acted like a head-of-state when the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference was in the Bay Area. So, I would say Newsom is not repositioning himself but rather presenting his authentic self.
There are many loud crazies on this Left Coast, and he won't put up with them; he calls them out. But he is also right-minded on most important issues that concern progressives and the mainstream, from schools to abortion. Because he's emerging on the national stage now, perhaps he is working harder to project his image nationwide; yes, he's working to dislodge the old trope of Gavin as the scofflaw mayor who married gay couples in City Hall years before made legal. He did that; now it's mainstream...a mainstream that has come to him. Not repositioning but clarification!

Curious to see DeSantis's smarts when confronted with the sharp, witty mind of a masterful speaker and debater. He'll be turned in knots, my prediction, revealing the fool he is.


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Charter Update: County Commissioner Salaries

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights wasn't the first on James Madison's list. 

It was third.

Prior to protecting freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, his draft Bill of Rights proposed an amendment to guarantee that Members of Congress could not raise their own pay. After a series of controversial pay raises by Congress in the 1980s, state legislatures began ratifying the amendment that had lingered nearly forgotten. It finally passed in 1992, 202 years after it was first proposed. 

Getting control of elected official salaries can be hard, slow work, until people get aroused. Then it can move quickly.

Jackson County's commissioners are by far the highest paid in the state of Oregon. They make $45,000 a year more than the state governor. A Jackson County, Oregon citizen group is proposing to cut county commissioner salaries nearly in half, back to $75,000 a year, with cost of living adjustments after that. People can disagree about the best way to control salary creep. Tam Moore questions whether it is best to put the mechanism into the county's charter document. Moore has been a journalist for six decades, a career interrupted by service in the Vietnam War and then a term as county commissioner in the mid-1970s.

Guest Post by Tam Moore

Tam Moore
      Fiddling with salaries
When Oregon voters passed a Constitutional amendment allowing county home rule charters back in 1958, chances are that no one thought salaries of public officials ought to be set by a vote of the people. Fast forward to 2023 and that’s exactly where a group of reform-minded sponsors want as part of a suite of three amendments to the Charter for Jackson County Oregon.

This blog has seen hundreds of words about charter revision in the past few days. Let me add mine, as a former commissioner who was in office when county voters approved the present charter in May, 1978. That charter took effect January 8, 1979, which was my last day in office.

The notion of “home rule” swept the country in the reform era of the early 20th century as local governments, often very large cities, set themselves apart from general laws enacted by states. The home rule concept holds that “matters of local interest” can best be decided by a local governing body – the city council or a county’s governing body.

The state didn’t get around to giving counties home rule options until 1959 when the enabling legislation implementing the 1958 Constitutional amendment (now Article VI Section 10 of the ever-expanding Oregon Constitution) became law. Charters, and their amendments, require approval of local voters. They are the covenant between the governed and those who exercise the governing powers.

Here's the way Jackson County’s charter puts it:
The people of Jackson County, exercising the power to govern themselves provided by Section 10, Article VI, of the Oregon Constitution and enabling legislation enacted pursuant thereto, hereby grant the County authority over matters of County concern to the fullest extent now or hereafter granted or allowed by the Constitution or a law of the United States or of Oregon, as fully as though each power comprised in that authority were specified in this Charter.
Progressive county citizens took an interest in the possibility of enacting a charter at least twice before the charter was adopted by a slim margin in that 1978 primary election – 28,907 votes for, 27,346 votes against. There’s a 1962 report of a draft charter debated in at least two community forums. It died from lack to consensus to put it before the voters. After I arrived in the county in 1967, the League of Women Voters studied the question again.

The hang up, apparently a repeat of issues from the 1962 charter debates, was that some current elected officials opposed restructuring parts of county government. Notions such as expanding the three-person Board of Commissioners or building a county-manager form of government conflicted with the people electing their Assessor, Sheriff, Treasurer, Clerk and Surveyor.

The 1977 Home Rule Charter Committee, formed by order of the Board of Commissioners, solved that conflict. They left unchanged the various elective offices, and used general language directing what future Boards of Commissioners were required to do. That was apparently enough, barely, to see approval of the charter.

The charter (in Section 24) provides that:
The compensation of personnel in the service of the County shall be fixed by the Board of County Commissioners, except that elected officials' salaries shall be fixed annually by the Budget Committee.
That authority is broad.

It allows the Board and Citizen Budget Committee members to be sensitive to whatever current financial realities exist along with what the current market is for people doing comparable work. And because the process is governed by Oregon Local Budget law, it assures that setting compensation takes place after public notice and in public meeting where citizens have their say.

Petitions being circulated now would change a critical part of the policy, placing a dollar-figure ($75,000) on commissioner salaries in 2027 contingent on voter approval of expanding the Board to five from its present three commissioners.

Fiddling with salaries in a county charter doesn’t make sense. The real objective of the current reform effort seems to be increasing the number of commissioners. Unsaid is the notion of making the office part time. But how do you arrive at proper compensation for a part-time position if the minimum pay is already set at $75,000 a year?

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Upcoming events: Thursday Evening

A TV spectacle: California Governor Gavin Newsom vs. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

In Southern Oregon: Tobias Read, a candidate for Oregon's chief election office, Oregon Secretary of State.

Newsom v. DeSantis 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Thursday on Fox News 

There are good reasons to scoff and laugh this off. The "debate" is a made-for-TV event that has all the electoral legitimacy of a pie-eating contest. Worse, it sends viewers to a network -- Fox -- and a news host -- Sean Hannity -- who are relentless propaganda organs.  Worse yet, it lets Fox and Hannity present themselves as honest brokers who can stage a fair exchange of views. 

I will record and watch it.

Gavin Newsom is attempting to do two contradictory things. He is putting himself onto the national stage as the leader of the Democratic Party. That is the job of the Democratic president or party nominee. Biden has that job and Biden's control of the Democratic Party meant that Biden blocked pathways to be replaced. Newsom is auditioning for the role he can't have. That is unless events intervene. Stuff happens. 

In a romantic comedy Newsom would be the beautiful bridesmaid that the groom is attracted to but cannot marry because some element of the plot history dooms the groom to a lackluster match with the less-beautiful bride-to-be. The decent thing for the bridesmaid to do would be to decline to show up at the rehearsal dinner, but there she is at the dinner, all too visible. In the romantic comedy -- or in the spectacle on Thursday -- the Newsom-bridesmaid makes a big speech telling guests how wonderful the bride is, how smart, how virtuous, and how happy the couple will be. The plot frisson comes because the more eloquent the speech, the more the dinner guests realize the bridesmaid is the superior match. In a happy-ending comedy, the bride calls off the wedding. In a darker drama, perhaps set in wartime, the wedding goes forward out of necessity.

This is the plot of Casablanca. It doesn't take much to see that the problems of Gavin Newsom don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. The spectacle is worth watching because we will be watching Newsom-as-Rick do the noble thing. Or maybe not completely. Or not at all.

Newsom is currently the Democratic Party's foremost spokesman for the success of Biden's presidency. He is repositioning himself from California liberal to practical moderate washing off that California-crazy scent. He wants to keep the jobs, innovation, and economic engine part of the California story while he sheds the Berkeley wokeness, the homeless on the sidewalks, and housing prices that make Americans gasp. It's TV worth watching.

DeSantis has no future. He thinks he is a contender. He is a sparring partner. 

Meanwhile, in Southern Oregon. 

Tobias Read, Oregon State Treasurer, is running for Secretary of State. 

This informal meet-and-greet takes place at the same time as the Fox News spectacle. 
I expect Tobias Read to be a strong candidate in a general election since he is a moderate Democrat currently holding a statewide office. 

In the past I did not spend much time thinking about the Secretary of State office, but the new GOP changed that. The GOP has not foresworn election denial. The former GOP Secretary of State candidate lost her election in 2018 but retained her office as a state senator. After the 2020 election she led a drive to get Oregonians to overturn the election by supporting the Texas lawsuit to discard the electoral votes from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. GOP officeholders in Oregon generally now admit that "Biden is president." But they dare not say that Biden was elected president. To say that would make one a RINO and no longer a Republican in good standing. Second District U.S. Representative Cliff Bentz (R) voted to overturn the Pennsylvania vote in January of 2020.  Both Bentz and the new Fifth District Representative, Lori Chevez-DeRemer, supported Mike Johnson for Speaker. He led the effort in the House to discard electoral votes cast for Biden.

I have many friends and former clients who vote for Republicans. I am accustomed to Republicans holding offices. The world survives. However, Republicans cannot be trusted in offices that manage elections until election denialism has been cleansed from the party. 

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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Media bias

What part of the tragedy in the Holy Land do we see? Who is creating the innocent victims, Palestinians or Israelis?

If we see young people at a peaceful protest, and then in another story we see smash-and-grab shoplifting, can we tell the difference?

There is no avoiding "editorializing" no matter how fair-minded the media source. What one chooses to cover is a choice. People will call that choice "bias."

This morning the New York Times ran a story with this photo:

It depicts the damage the Israeli bombs are doing to civilians in Gaza. But what about the murders and kidnapping that Hamas did on October 7? The New York Times published stories and photos on it, too.

Is the coverage equal and fair? A harder question: Should it even be equal, if one side is right in the eyes of God and justice, and the other side wrong? Moral equivalence itself, if the balance of morality is not equivalent, is itself bias. And, of course, people disagree both about news choices and about God's will, some with passionate intensity. 

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League complains about the Washington Post's coverage, saying it is biased against Israel. New York Times contributor Mona Chalabi used the occasion of winning a Pulitzer Prize to say she thought the Times' coverage was biased against Palestinians.

A different form of bias comes in the inevitable problem that news items get placed in an arrangement on the page or in the order they are presented on TV. They can be conflated by readers and viewers. College classmate Jane Collins brought that to my attention yesterday with an example from broadcast news on TV. Placement on a page or adjacency of TV stories can make a peaceful pro-Palestine protest look and feel like a crime scene. 

There will always be bias. That doesn't make news "fake." It means that human choices and the practicalities of telling a story are baked into the very nature of storytelling.

Jane Collins interrupted her college years to spend a year in Israel, working on a kibbutz. She lives in Massachusetts. Earlier Guest Posts depicted her lighting a menorah with her granddaughters, standing in a garden, and holding a baby. She shares her thoughts and writing at

Guest Post by Jane Collins

The main story on NBC Nightly News on November 24 concerned the first hostage release in the Israel/Gaza war. About 10 minutes into the broadcast, they ran three stories, all involving heightened mall security on Black Friday. The first story was about a pro-Palestine protest in LA that briefly blocked traffic to a mall; the second was on a bomb threat in New Jersey; the third was on the continuing upsurge of “smash and grab” robberies nationwide. But the headline banner read “Black Friday Protests”, while all three images that ran over it were of the completely unrelated robberies. Viewers were left with the impression that the protesters were wearing black like Antifa, concealing their identities with masks, smashing store windows, and grabbing the goods.

I don’t think the network deliberately conflated the protest and robbery stories. Maybe Lester Holt and his staff were still digesting their Thanksgiving turkey. However, their carelessness revealed an unconscious bias. They painted with the blackest of brushes protests that were clearly motivated by moral outrage. 

Anyone who has attended big political demonstrations knows that there are usually a few people on the fringe who are looking for a fight, or for a distraction to cover some criminal activity. Often, the major media will cover the few bad actors and ignore thousands of peaceful demonstrators. 

This case was worse than usual. The news venue used images of criminal activity that it knew had no connection with a protest to smear that protest, and by extension, all pro-Palestinian protests. Millions of people watched this piece of fake news. And it wasn’t even on Fox. 

Still hoping for peace and justice,
Jane Collins

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Monday, November 27, 2023

Who Killed JFK?

I am trying to have empathy for conspiracy-believers.

One person's wacky conspiracy is another person's simple truth.

We all know the canard about having a right to one's own opinion but not to one's own facts. Nonetheless, people have their own facts.

Media commentator Brian Stelter, with information uncovered by the discovery process in the Dominion lawsuit against Fox News, reported that the Dominion-vote-switch idea arose from an email sent to Trump-allied lawyer Sidney Powell, who was a guest on Maria Bartiromo's Fox show. Powell's source was a woman who said she gets information through semi-conscious time travel. The source explained

how do I know all of this? … I’ve had the strangest dreams since I was a little girl. … I was internally decapitated, and yet, I live. … The Wind tells me I’m a ghost, but I don’t believe it.”

Powell repeated the source's assertion that the Dominion's tabulating machines flipped votes. Bartiromo presented it as evidence. Donald Trump began repeating the assertion, citing Fox. The idea spread. A majority of Republicans now tell pollsters that tabulating machines helped steal the 2020 election from Trump. In states and counties all across America -- including my own Jackson County -- Republican groups descend on election officials demanding they hand-count all ballots.

Intelligent people can believe crazy things. A college classmate with a long and successful career in investments writes me sharing information that the murder of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was staged. Absolutely. For certain. The supposed dead children were child actors. All the deaths were faked. The local and state police, the town, the school, the mortuaries -- hundreds of people -- are all in on the hoax. Alex Jones had it about right, he tells me.

That seems utterly crazy to me. As does the idea that Bill Gates is somehow getting micro-chips into the Covid vaccine for future mind control. And that Michelle Obama is actually male. And that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats have a side hustle imprisoning children for use as sex toys. And that top Democrats imprison children to harvest a youth elixir, adrenochrome. And that most of the people at the Capitol on January 6 carrying Trump banners were Democrats carrying out a false flag operation.

What crazy nonsense, I think.

And yet on this 60th anniversary of the JFK assassination I am reading and listening once again to problems with the standard official government story of the lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. The Warren Report has holes, improbabilities, and inconsistencies. I have nagging doubts. Were there multiple shooters? Wasn't JFK shot from both the front and back? Were the autopsy photos switched? Why did the autopsy doctor change his autopsy notes and burn the originals? Was the CIA involved? The FBI? Castro? The USSR?  

I don't know what really happened, but I am pretty sure the official story isn't the whole truth. So, recognizing my own belief in a JFK conspiracy of misinformation, I recognize that doubting the "official story" of other controversies is a matter of choice. We pick and choose evidence. I think I make reasonable, wise decisions. People who believe wacky nonsense conspiracies think their decisions are wise and based on evidence. 

Here is an exchange this morning on X, formerly Twitter, following a bit of video of Trump at the Clemson football game on Saturday. The video depicted people jeering Trump, thus proving Trump was unpopular, the tweet asserted. Then this: 

Of course the video was cherry picked. It was real, and cherry picked, both. I also think Biden got 81 million votes; some don't.

Governments and media want to be credible, but each has incentives not to be fully truthful. They have interests to protect -- their popularity, their offices, their audiences. It was in the interest of the CIA, FBI, the Johnson Administration, and even the Kennedy family, to let sleeping dogs lie. So they came up with a simple story that eliminated awkward, embarrassing truths that would be part of any backstory.

I try to have some humility and empathy. We understand the world in a fog of facts, sham, and mis-information. People who believe conspiracies are piecing together what they hear from sources they find credible. As do I. Empathy does not mean I give up making distinctions. I am not a Pollyanna about the NY Times, Washington Post, and other news organizations. I recognize they curate news. They emphasize some things and not others. But Fox News is fundamentally different. The network cynically spread lies to fit Trump's claim of a stolen election. They knew better. They did it anyway. And they were enormously successful doing so. They understood their audience and they fed it what they thought it needed to hear. As did the Warren Report.

America is worse off for both of these.

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Sunday, November 26, 2023

Easy Sunday: Part Two


Jackson County Counsel:  It's on me.

The Jackson County Counsel, Joel Benton, wrote me to say that authority for making fee waivers had been delegated to him and he exercised that authority. Moreover,
"I did not confer with anyone else when I reviewed Ms. Krause’s request for a waiver or reduction of the fee for her request."

I will take him at his word. 

When I was county commissioner forty years ago, a decision that involved interaction with a highly visible citizen group involving the very structure of local government would have been made in consultation and concurrence of the county commissioners. The elected commissioners were responsible for what the county did -- its decisions, its actions, its reputation. The buck stopped with us, not staff. 

That's why we got paid.

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