Friday, April 30, 2021

Biden: America is filled with good people.

President Biden's speech Wednesday was a liberal speech. Not populist. Not angry. 

The American government is good because Americans are good and the government is us.

No need to be afraid of a bigger, better government. It is here to help you, not oppress you or tax you. (Unless you are really, really rich. Then it needs to tax you.)

Biden's speech began its conclusion with these words:

Our Constitution opens with the words, “We the People”. It’s time we remembered that We the People are the government. You and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force we have no control over. It’s us. It’s “We the people.”

In another era when our democracy was tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us—In America: we do our part. That’s all I’m asking. That we all do our part. 

It would be easy to dismiss this as boilerplate political good-government talk, but in fact it was a dramatic change from the Sanders message, the Trump message, and the Reagan message.

Biden's America is not rigged by corrupt forces inside it. He isn't Bernie Sanders. He did not condemn a swamp of corrupt millionaires and billionaires. He did not say that capitalism was unfair. He did not condemn corporations nor cite their influence in campaign. He did not condemn lobbyists. He did not say that the problems in America stem from the fact that the system is rigged against the poor, working people, and people of color. A lot of people on the progressive left feel that way, and Biden does not feed that appetite for resentment. Biden promises them the programs they want, but not for reason they want it. Biden is a centrist, not a populist.

Trump, too, envisioned a swamp of corruption. For Trump, the problem wasn't wealth itself, but rather the haughty elites of the media, of the universities, of the so-called experts in foreign policy and trade who let America be taken to the cleaners by foreigners. Trump said the whole American system was rigged against regular Americans. We were being invaded by uncontrolled immigration. He said we were led by American dupes who signed bad deals with Iran, with China, with Mexico. He said we let ourselves be cheated by our NATO allies, by Japan, by South Korea; they are sponging off us and we let them get away with it. We are being scolded by "woke" moral tyrants who call us racists and who themselves tolerate looting and violence in the name of racial justice. We are beset by bad people, many of them in power, both visibly and hidden in the Deep State. For Trump, government is part of the swamp.

That isn't Biden. Biden is more like Ronald Reagan in temperament and in a vision of America. Biden is Mr. Everyone-Settle-Down. Can't we all get along? Good Ol' Joe is a mild unifier, in reputation and temperament. Biden, like Reagan, is an optimist. It was morning in Reagan's America and Biden finished his speech on Wednesday by saying that Americans can do anything--anything--if we do it together.

But Biden is no Reagan. President Reagan is famous for saying government was the problem, not the solution. Reagan said America and Americans were inherently good. We just needed government to get out of the way. Biden, like Reagan, starts with the premise that we are all good people and that America's problems will be addressed if we better express who we really are. Reagan said that private enterprise expressed that essential nature. Biden says that government does. It is all of us--we the people--and it is good.

Click: CNBC
That is the moral basis for increasing taxes on the richest one percent of Americans. As this blog noted yesterday, the Fed is pouring enormous liquidity into the system. The rich got richer.  Biden's proposal on taxes includes returning tax rates for people with incomes above $400,000 to the rates in place during George W. Bush's presidency. It includes taxing capital gains at the same rate as income earned by working. It includes raising the income tax on corporations. None of the proposed rates are surprising or out of historical norms; they partially reverse the 2017 tax cut bill passed in Trump's first year in office. 

I have personal experience trying to explain to people that my clients who earned $400,000-plus in income did not really have it that easy, that they earned their money and were taxed plenty. I learned from that experience that the overwhelming response was derision. "Give me a break, Peter," they said. Folks earning $400,000-plus are doing just fine and taxing them more was just fine, too. There is not a big constituency of people who feel sorry for the top one percent.

Biden does not sound like a firebrand. "Good Ol' Joe's" message is not one of opposition to the wealthy. He doesn't claim their wealth is unfairly earned. He doesn't demonize them. He just says they are part of America and they need to do their part. It isn't confiscation. It is sharing.

Trump's populism on the right and Sanders' on the left prepared Americans to be cheerfully willing to raise taxes on the one percent. GOP officeholders cannot agree. They took a pledge not to raise taxes, no matter what. Biden, with his mild manner, may have uncovered an issue that will divide a few Republican voters from their officeholders in 2022. 

You don't have to resent billionaires to want to tax them--Biden doesn't. But a lot of people do resent billionaires and blame them for the ills America faces.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The rich got richer.

Investors got more than a backstop. They got a boost.

     "Twenty million Americans lost their jobs in the pandemic--working and middle-class Americans. At the same time, roughly 650 billionaires in America saw their net worth increase by more than $1 trillion."
                President Joe Biden, last night, to a joint session of Congress

Click: Visual Capitalist
America's top decision-makers learned from the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. If there is economic distress, the Fed can pour enormous amounts of money into the system, and the ocean of liquidity stops the decline and fuels the recovery. Congressional decision-makers solidified what they already knew, which was that government spending with borrowed money is also an economic boost, and that a boosted economy helps the incumbent president. That is the one-two punch. This is why Democrats favored it in 2009 and Republicans opposed it. There wasn't consensus on what policy to implement, but there was consensus on what the policy did.

The lessons learned were applied during the COVID shutdown in March 2020. This time the Fed did what it does--free money--and Congressional Republicans were happy to spend money to help Trump. Democrats were happy to spend money to help poor people in distress. Net-net, empowered by Modern Monetary Theory which says that sovereign countries can borrow unlimited amounts in their own currency, a bipartisan consensus of Americans agreed to pull money from the open-ended, unknowable future to spend in 2020. The stock market rebounded. Trump was just barely abrasive enough to have lost re-election. Biden is continuing the one-two spend-free-money approach. It is popular. People like getting money they don't need to pay back.

Markets have been distorted.

The investing public is having a joy ride. It is the "Roaring Twenties" again, with cheap credit paying for a vast expansion of speculative investments in the stock market and real estate. The Fed's liquidity needs to go somewhere. They are using it to buy the Treasury bonds issued by the Federal government to finance the deficits. This means price signals of rising interest rates that might have been a warning of trouble aren't happening. If markets were functioning normally then the vast amount of new Treasury debt would need to go out into the markets to find private American and foreign buyers and bond buyers would, presumably, demand a higher rate of interest to sop up that new supply, a signal the government needs to go easy. Moreover, the purchase of those bonds would take money out of circulation, making it unavailable for spending somewhere else. That would have been another price signal--lower asset prices.

Since the major purchaser of federal debt is our own Fed it means we don't get a price signal of scarcity.  There is all we want available to borrow from the unknowable future. This means private money is searching for a place--any place--to be put to productive work. The result is the market we see now.  Interest rates are low, the stock market is high, and news stories are about people looking for NFTs, Non-Fungible Tokens. 

This era of free money--both monetary and fiscal--means that poor, working, and middle-income people have it better. Families will be able to pay for food and day care and health insurance. President Biden called attention to its effect on the wealthiest 5/10,000th of 1%, the richest 650 people. Less visible to the general public is the effect it has had on the wealthiest 10% of Americans, and especially the wealthiest 1%. This is the political "donor class." Very low interest rates made the COVID pandemic a windfall for them. One need not be a billionaire. It is good to be merely prosperous.

I will add the warning that regular readers of this blog will find familiar--and wrong, so far.  Distorted markets eventually "correct." Money isn't "free." It is a claim on the goods and services of an economy. People who loan money expect to be paid back. When people have money in their pocket they think it represents value. The "free" Fed money that finds its way into unproductive and overpriced investments eventually get the return one would expect from an unproductive, overpriced asset--little or nothing. 

Republicans lost all credibility during the Trump years on the issue of fiscal discipline, and they trained Republican voters not to demand it. They were big spenders for a Republican president. Meanwhile, Democrats are looking at the people who might be helped and the income inequality that has developed in the current economy and they consider this an opportunity to expand the New Deal. Taxing the wealthy would pull money back out of the economy and it is popular among the general public, which thinks the economy is rigged against them. Taxing the wealthy has a political problem: Those people are campaign donors. Republican officeholders will never support it. Democrats are wary of it, too. It will go nowhere.

So, we have a happy but dangerous equilibrium. Spend but don't tax.
Enjoy this era while it lasts. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Jackson County "takes one for the team"

Jackson County anchors a bright red Congressional District.

A Democratic preferred alternative.

A  "better" Second Congressional District 

I was told to "get real." Yesterday's map was my idealism talking.  

OK. The map above is "real."

There was a grave problem with the potential Medford-anchored map I proposed yesterday. They weren't problems of geography. It was a problem of politics. I created a red Congressional District. The map that I drew proposed a District anchored by Jackson and Deschutes Counties which included the rural and timber counties of Southwest Oregon. I took the approximate tossup counties of Jackson and Deschutes Counties and added to them bright red SW Oregon counties with a forest and fishery orientation. It likely created a second Republican-leaning Congressional District.

My map yesterday had political/cultural logic. It observed that Bend and Medford-Ashland have a lot in common. They are retirement havens. Their draw is that they are nice places to live, and a lot of the income into the communities comes in dividends and pension checks from people who like the lifestyle amenities of low traffic but great hospitals. They are also market centers for the agricultural and forest industries. The prosperous, often well-educated retirees are different culturally and economically from rural farmers and forest products industry workers, and they tend to cancel out each other’s votes. I saw that tension as a benefit to democracy. Marginal Districts reflect the public will as issues ebb and flow. The problem with yesterday's map is that it would have created two such Districts, both tilting decisively Republican.

That can be fixed. 

The map above has multiple advantages over yesterday's, the most important being that it gives both Democrats and Republicans what they want. Republicans get protection of their incumbent Republican Congressman, and a secure District. Democrats get to protect their incumbents and create a new Democratic District. 

Who could object to the above map? It doesn't look like gerrymandering. It is contiguous, it preserves county boundaries, and it has a coherent theme and logic. It concentrates the part of Oregon that consists of farm and forest land. It preserves most of the former Second District, so it has history and inertia.

The counties that are removed from the current Second District have logic to their removal. It puts the grain-producing counties along the Columbia river into a District with the Port of Portland. That is an undeniable commonality with the people of east Portland and Hood River. 

A plausible East-Portland District

The "Preferred Democratic" map with a Medford anchor sweeps up the Republican voters in Curry, Coos, and Douglas Counties that currently risk the Eugene-anchored seat held by Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio. DeFazio is a Democrat and a liberal. DeFazio has represented the south coast for decades and uses his congressional clout to keep their port viable, but a majority of voters on the south coast don't appreciate him. He is a Democrat. He supports reproductive rights. He has support from forest environmentalists. He opposes Trump. This new "preferred Democratic alternative" District puts people in those timber counties where they want to be, represented by Republican who makes no effort to look moderate. A great many GOP voters like and respect that kind of thinking.

Those voters could be exchanged for Bend-area voters. Bend voters are more simpatico with DeFazio. People get the representative they want. Win-win. Who could object?  The map below has about 650,000 people. The new DeFazio district could pick up a few people on the edges to bring it up to strength. This District includes the University of Oregon, Oregon State, and the new Bend campus of Oregon State. DeFazio could afford to pick up some GOP areas to make things easier for a Democratic colleague.

A plausible South Willamette Valley DeFazio District

I had posited yesterday that the country would benefit from a Medford-anchored District that included enough Democrats to require election of a bipartisan-sounding moderate Republican. There is a different, more secure political equilibrium: Draw a District that gives Republican voters exactly what they want. 

What happens to the many liberal and moderate voters in Ashland and Medford, people who vote Democratic? The answer is that they get outvoted soundly in Congressional elections, like now but worse. They "take one for the team," the Democratic team. It is gerrymandering with a soft kiss.

Will some people protest such a District?  Yes. Jackson County Democrats might and they should. That protest is a feature, not a bug. Protests by Ashland Democrats would tend to obscure the sleight-of-hand. They are the magician's assistant. Democrats hate this, so it isn't some clever Democratic plot to protect DeFazio.

Successful democracy creates Districts that have the capacity to reflect the public mood. That means more marginal Districts. I would like to see more of these. But successful politics involves giving people what they think they want. This proposed Medford-anchored District gives a majority of voters what they want, a Republican Representative like Cliff Bentz. It gives Democrats who create Districts what they want: Five Democratic Representatives and only one Republican one.

In the cynical, hardball game of politics, it is win-win.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A Medford-anchored Congressional District

 Oregon will get a Sixth Congressional District.  

Medford could be the center of it.

Something like this: 

A potential new Congressional District, centered on Medford

The map above is possible because Oregon grew faster than the rest of the country, so we go from five U.S. Representatives to six.

Oregon-based readers may be familiar with the map below, Oregon's existing District map.

Oregon's Congressional Districts are--by the standards of widespread political gerrymandering we see elsewhere--very reasonable. There is geographical compactness and a theme of common interests that can be attributed to each District. It isn't perfect. Locally here in Jackson County, politically active people are acutely aware that Ashland in the south-county has very different politics than the north-county rural areas. Ashland votes 70-30 Democratic; Eagle Point is Trump country 70-30. Still, Jackson County is a single polity and they are stuck together.  No map is perfect. Some are deeply imperfect.

The maps below are not a joke. They are Congressional Districts.

Click: America's most gerrymandered

Oregon's present districts have some logic to them. Oregon's First District is west Portland and its suburbs and coast to the west, a place where the urban and suburban people go on day-trips. Oregon's Second District is the giant sweep of eastern-Oregon farm, forest, and outdoor recreation areas, picking up population by including the cities of Medford, Bend, Ashland, and Grants Pass, the cities that are the the market centers for those rural areas. Oregon's Third District is east-Portland and the close-in suburbs. Oregon's Fourth District is an awkward mix of two university towns plus politically conservative rural timber-oriented communities, a mix that already exists in the counties containing the universities. Oregon's Fifth District is anchored by Salem in the middle, containing the rural coasts nearest it, plus the south suburbs of Portland. 

Oregon's 4.2 million people divided by five equals 840,000 people per District.  When divided by six, there are 700,000 people per district. There is no simple logical way simply to carve off 140,000 people from each district. The carved-off group needs to be part of a new, coherent District. 

I can imagine logical, justifiable themes of coherence. There could be a "Coast-District," an idea confounded by the fact that there are far too few people to populate it. I can imagine an "Eastern Oregon wide-open-spaces" district, but that is confounded by the fact that without Bend, Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass the District has less than half the population it needs. I can imagine Portland-and-suburb centered Districts, and that is what we have, Districts that reach out in three directions.

Southern Oregon--Medford and Bend--have a shot at being the anchors of a new Congressional District.

In the current Second District, Bend, Medford, and Ashland are somewhat out of place--but necessary to get the 2nd District up to population strength. Bend is the center of Oregon's winter recreation. Bend is an upscale and essentially small-city urban enclave. Medford, especially when considered with Ashland, is in a similar position, a small city, based around professional services, although, like Bend, the market center for the forest products and agriculture industries.

A logical, coherent Congressional District would consist of Jackson County (217,000), Deschutes County (186,000), Douglas County (109,000), Josephine County (86,000), Coos County (63,000), and Curry County (22,000). It would also include the Highway 97 rural corridor connecting Jackson and Deschutes County, which would mean that one county, Klamath, would be divided but it would leave the great majority of Klamath County farmland and Klamath Falls' city population out, allowing most of Klamath County to be in the  farm-oriented district to its east.

Look again

The new Congressional District would emphasize a mix of small-lot farms, orchards, the new industry of cannabis, the traditional one of timber, recreation, medical and other professional services, and retirees who chose the area for its small-city lifestyle. The coastal areas to the west are where Jackson County residents go to play, and the inland cities are where coastal residents go for serious shopping and health care. Douglas County would be another mix of traditional timber plus the new wine and rural lifestyle economies. The political tension that currently exists in Jackson and Deschutes counties between the educated professionals with "city jobs" and rural outdoor workers--a split that currently plays out as Democrat and Trump-Republican--would still exist in the Congressional District.

Would this be a Democratic or Republican District? Ideally, people would not consider that when creating it, but as a practical matter, they most certainly would. My sense is that it would be a marginal district, but probably reddish pink. Deschutes and Jackson Counties are on the political bubble of red and blue. The timber and coast counties would tip it red, depending on whether or not Douglas county were included in-full or divided. But there is the challenge for Republicans. If they nominate a candidate who reflects the GOP mindset of this moment: Populist, nativist, and a defender of the January 6th election overthrow, they stand to lose in the general election. The Republican would probably need to be a unifying moderate.

If such a District were carved out, other Districts would need to change. The current, rural 2nd District would have lost half its population. It could get replacements by extending west from Hood River into Gresham and Clackamas County.  What do people in east-Portland have in common with eastern Oregon grain farmers? The Columbia River and its transportation system. Wouldn't that stick urban liberals with rural conservatives? Indeed, yes, but creating more politically marginal districts is a feature and benefit, not a problem. The current Representative Cliff Bentz has little risk of defeat by a Democrat. What we saw in his primary election nomination was a fight among Republican challengers to be as partisan as possible, each fighting to be the most hostile to working with Democrats. Even Knute Buehler threw in the towel and denounced Democrats and displayed images of Trump. In a new, more balanced Second District, a candidate would need to avoid advocating positions that would cause losing Gresham five to one.

Moving up the state, the District anchored by Eugene and Corvallis would still have the conservative rural areas of the two counties and perhaps more grass seed farm country to the north. The two-plus million people in the Tri-County Portland area would continue to patch together three Districts by including city people and their adjacent rural areas.

This could work. 

I hope southern Oregon residents consider it and talk about it and put it into the mental map of the decision makers upstate.

Monday, April 26, 2021

"Vaccine? No, thanks. Not me. Not yet."

 You don't need to be a Trump-loving, conspiracy-believing, COVID denier to be "vaccine hesitant."

     "I'm not a knuckle-dragging nincompoop. There is an idea floating around in  mainstream polite company--Peter, an idea maybe you yourself believe--that of course normal, rational people our age want the vaccine. But my wife and I are normal and rational, and we have our own good reasons to be 'vaccine hesitant.' We would like to tell our story."

David Landis
With that introduction, an old high school friend contacted me and asked to do a Guest Post. David Landis lives in Carlton, Oregon, in the Pinot Noir area south of Portland. He runs an import and logistics business connecting American consumers with Far East manufacturers. Fifty-five years ago we were in school together in an elective class called Speech and Debate. We were immersed in the policy debates of the era. That habit hasn't changed.

David was right about my assumptions. I had fallen into a way of thinking about the COVID vaccine. I had divided the world into two categories. The big one among people my age was people eager to get vaccinated and who celebrated their second shot as signifying safety and freedom. We were the rational ones, happy that modern medical science delivered life-saving vaccine. 

There was a second category of people--kooks. There were COVID-denier kooks,  who believe the whole thing was a liberal hoax. There were Live-Free-Or-Die kooks who hated anything Biden liked and were willing to die to prove it. There were inconsiderate kooks who didn't care who caught COVID from them. There were careless kooks, people who don't bother wearing seat belts. They all had in common a general resentment of the nanny state, science denial, and a strong likelihood of thinking Trump was the greatest president ever. 

David Landis was a whole different category. Not a kook. Intelligent and rational. An old friend.

Guest Post by David Landis

The demonization that those resisting taking the COVID-19 vaccination is, as is commonly the case, only partially on point.

We hear plenty about conspiracy theorists who either reject science or blindly follow their Pied Piper refusing the vaccine because the virus is a “hoax”. Some simply refuse because they demand their “freedom”. Those in these categories have their false beliefs reinforced by media talking heads in their attempts to build an audience or cash in on click bait.  

One category of vaccine critics goes mostly unheard: Those who have suffered at the hands of Big Pharma in the past. We have heard from some in the African American community who are mistrustful of the industry because of past treatment, and rightfully so.   

We don’t hear from those personally poisoned previously by drugs pushed on them. Make no mistake, physicians and pharmacists are a big part of this industry. My family experienced this nightmare and is in the “wait and see” category on vaccination because of it. 

In 2005, my wife was diagnosed with a sinus infection made without benefit of lab work. She was given a prescription for Levoquin (Levofloxacin family of antibiotics).    Within 48 hours and after 2 pills, she began a 5-year sojourn of physical and financial pain, eventually finding herself unable to take a flight of stairs. She was now officially a “long hauler”, a victim of the medical community soon to be abandoned to her misery, as is now becoming the case for COVID 'long haulers." 

Within a month, she experienced “frozen shoulders” and torn tendons. The doctor who prescribed this medication refused to take her calls. We saw others in the allopathic medical community who told her it was “in her head” and that this medication was out of the body within a few days. Perhaps, but the damage was done and she would suffer for it for years. 

The FDA gave a Black Box Warning to this drug, albeit only after serious lobbying by Public Citizen and others. But no physician or pharmacist is required to advise a patient of this warning and most aren’t aware that the Warning exists. Ruptured tendons are listed in the warning, but psychotic episodes are also common. Fluoroquinolones are poisonous, period. One look at the downward trend in prescribing this class of drug tells the tale. The industry is finally taking notice, but over a decade late for thousands.

We eventually found a solution in the naturopathic world. It took a few years of the treatment we chose, as well as daily exercises to regain shoulder motion. We spent about $30,000 to regain her health, but we were successful eventually, thanks to my wife’s persistence and a great naturopath.

To hear that Big Pharma, CDC, and our government wanted all to immediately get “poked” fell on deaf ears here. We’re waiting. Already we see that J&J’s single dose version was halted, and then restarted. We’re still waiting.

Know that the FDA is almost 50% funded by Big Pharma and has their own bread to butter. They don’t have clean hands in this or any pharmaceutical matter.

What are we doing, you ask? We are dedicated mask wearers and have been since February last year. We have not had anyone in our home for 13 months. We go to the woods or to an area of the Oregon coast where we can be alone with nature. If we order restaurant food, we eat it in the car. And did I mention that we wear masks? Everywhere.  

 We can’t control what others do, but can control our own movements and behavior. We are looking forward to the day that we can be vaccinated and feel safe. Until then we’ll do everything necessary to protect ourselves.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Costco plastic packaging will outlive us.

The Graduate, 1967, "Plastics" scene
     "I just want to say one word to you. One word. Are you listening?

     ("Yes, sir.")

     Plastics. There's a great future in plastics. Think about it." 


There is indeed a great and very long future for plastics, 500 years and longer.  

Let's think about Costco a moment.

Today is Sunday and it is a day off from Trump, Biden, political messaging, and the Mail Tribune. People have asked if the Mail Tribune has threatened to sue me for posts of the past two days, posts they might consider unflattering. No. At least not yet. If they are smart they will ignore me, but their history is not to be smart with me or others who dare criticize them. Instead they perpetuate and exacerbate their mistakes, making a bad situation worse for themselves. We will see. I will keep readers apprised.

I love Costco. I am not proud of it, but I cannot help myself.  

Costco is the American cornucopia, the reality and metaphor for abundance to the point of excess. The wealth of the world comes to the door of Americans. We are so privileged. I have a sense of American greatness at the store, from the extra-wide parking slots, to the wide aisles, to the mountains of stuff stacked high. The baked goods are in gigantic portions, the displays are huge, the packages of any one thing are huge. It all feels sanitary, which I appreciate. Everything is sealed up tightly in plastic.

Apple protective shell
That is also the problem. Plastic packaging. Part of the Costco business model is to minimize store display costs by requiring vendors to supply goods in ready-to-display pallets. Some products, like 8-pack cans of tuna, held together by a plastic wrap, stack nicely. Other products need packages that need another package so they stack on pallets, which are themselves stacked.

Expensive small items, like razor blades, deal with the potential theft issue by packaging them in large quantities--multiple razor sleeves--and then attaching them to a big piece of cardboard covered in a hard plastic shell.

Apple shell, crushed
The apples I purchased at Costco were perfect--unblemished and unbruised. They come in a rigid single-use plastic container. The shell is 12 inches by 16 inches by 5 inches. It does not shred, crumple, or compact much, even after a 180 pound adult man stands on it, shuffles his feet and does his best to reduce its size before putting it into his garbage container. The apples will be gone in a couple of days--reduced to organic nothing-ness. I will certainly be gone soon enough, dust to dust. The plastic will stick around.

There are various kinds of plastics. A very, very few kinds are ones made of materials that dissolve in a decade. Most packaging in our lives are made for inexpensiveness and durability, not biodegradability.  There is Polyethylene TerephthalateLow Density Polyethylene, Polyethylene Terephthalate, PolypropylenePolystyrene, and Polyvinyl Chloride, all used for packaging.

I don't understand the chemistry of any of these. I list them to make a point of the variety. My guess is that few if any of my readers know the difference either.

I do know they aren't recycled. Most simply cannot be. There is nobody who wants them for recycling. China, which formerly took plastic as Americans filled otherwise-empty shipping containers to ship back, no longer wants them. They don't have the cheap labor anymore to separate one kind of plastic from another. The Costco packaging shouldn't be burned, and isn't. It goes into landfills where it lasts for centuries. When it breaks down it doesn't disappear or become organic. It disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces, which eventually get into our groundwater, and eventually the ocean.

Giant amounts of plastic packaging are not unique to Costco, but its stackable warehouse display system of supersized packaging with every product containerized, makes Costco the prime example of package excess.

Costco says they recognize a problem. A 2006 article in Packaging World describes some of Costco's prior efforts to be more environmentally friendly, and it quotes a Costco executive noting that customers complained about the difficulty of opening packages, the sharp edges, and the sheer amount. The article observes Costco's "materials selection centers on factors other than environmental friendliness alone" quoting the executive saying he wanted "an upscale look." Click  

They are still working on packaging. In the Costco website today the tone is one of concern for sustainability and waste, but when one reads what they plan to do, if anything, the denoted content is one of "tradeoffs" and "challenges." They talk about cardboard and use photographs of it to illustrate what they are doing, but use plastic and don't deny it. The products shine through and glisten under rigid plastic--that sanitary upscale look. Costco packages the way it does because it fits their business model, and the waste products are someone else's problem.

I am a hypocrite to point out my concern. I shop there. The photographs I show here are of products I bought yesterday. (But not  the muffins; they are about 800 calories each. I just cannot do it.) The apples are great; I ate one. The razors are inexpensive, and I used the big shears I use for cutting brush at my farm to muscle through the hard shell. On garbage pickup day all this will be on its way to the landfill.

If I ever have great-great-great-great-great-great. . . grandchildren I will be gone and long forgotten. But the container protecting the apples that helped feed me for a few days will still be there, my nuisance gift to posterity.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

It's Steve Saslow's Mail Tribune

'It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to.
Cry if I want to.
Cry if I want to.
You would cry too, if it happened to you."

                Leslie Gore hit song, 1963 

Newspaper subscribers are customers. Not co-owners.  

Loyal subscribers of the newspaper don't want to lose "their" newspaper. Neither does the owner. Strangely enough, this evolved into a fight over whether the owner, Steve Saslow, has a good reputation and whether anybody damaged it.

Every morning

Yesterday this blog described what I characterized as a bonehead mistake by Saslow and his attorney, making a lawsuit threat claiming Saslow was defamed by how local subscribers characterized his plans to change the Mail Tribune.

I described the controversy from the point of view of public relations strategy for the owner, Steve Saslow. Nothing Allen Hallmark and others said about Saslow defames him so much as his own lawsuit threat against his critics, I wrote. It mitigates their damages, if by any chance this went to trial, and a jury decided somehow that Saslow's reputation as a well-respected man happy to invite criticism was in some way lowered. It also locks in exactly the image Mr. Saslow's attorney said defamed Saslow, that of Saslow-as-bully. Here is a link to yesterday's post:  Click: Dumb move

I illustrated the post yesterday with an image of Godzilla, but did not label it. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

The lawsuit changes the story from an "earnest well-intended, well-respected newspaper owner attempting to make his newspaper appeal to a wider audience"--probably pretty good optics for the Tribune--into very bad optics for him. He fed the meme of the "out-of-town media mogul who was suspected of being an editorial tyrant but now solidly confirms this by stomping on subscribers who dare criticize him publicly." 

I think it is a mistake but it is Saslow's mistake to make. He has every right to threaten critics with lawsuits. It's a free country. He has every right to manage his own public relations, and he is doing so.

He also has every right to change the political orientation of the Mail Tribune, and that is how the controversy over "defamation" started. Mr. Saslow was apparently unhappy with the prior political tone of his paper, so he said he was getting more involved. He announced a planned change to its news sources and its Letters to the Editor policies on February 28. Click: "Changes Afoot".

He can do that if he wants to. It is his newspaper.

Many local readers responded negatively, seeing it as one more nail in the coffin of the Tribune, which had already been hollowed out of reporting staff and editors.  And now, many people thought--me among them--that the owner was apparently choosing to go full-Sinclair, or maybe Newsmax. Saslow's comment that the paper "will shortly eliminate The Washington Post and other slanted sources that parade as unbiased news and information" sounded like Trump making his broad-brush denunciations of "the fake news." The "parade as" phrase sounded angry, hostile, Sean-Hannity-like. People make inferences from words like that. 

Some local subscribers took to social media to protest his announced changes. Comments sent to me have a consistent theme, one of psychological ownership. The Tribune is our community newspaper, and it is being taken away, they said. Loss is experienced with more intensity than are gains. The subscribers who criticized Saslow's presumed "Sinclair-izing" of the Tribune experienced it as both loss and betrayal. They had loyally weathered through the lay-offs and firings and thinning-out of the paper, but stayed subscribers, and now their loyalty and psychological ownership was being lost. 

I perceive their fears and the vigor of their response to be a sign of engagement, perhaps over-engagement. They love the paper they know--or used to know--too much. They thought it was somehow theirs to protect. I get that. I have read the Tribune for 60 years.

Were all the Tribune defenders' social media posts strictly 100% accurate in what they presumed the publisher intended? Maybe. Possibly not. It is not clear to me that the publisher's own editorial announcing proposed changes was strictly 100% accurate in projecting his own plans. That is why the paper needed a follow-up by the Tribune's editor, trying to clean up the owner's mess. Click: Clean-up  

My own view is that the paper would be stronger if more people subscribed. I don't object to Saslow trying to appeal to Trump voters, not because I want to read articles justifying overthrowing elections but because I do think a community is better with a newspaper, even a bad one. That is what we might have to settle for. I hope not.

And in a political environment where Republicans are arguing that Twitter and Facebook and YouTube have a duty to supply a platform for dangerous, dishonest material, even if they prefer not, I disagree.  I retain a very capitalistic view of media outlets. Free speech means freedom for media companies--and bloggers--to say what they want. It is free for critics of Saslow to criticize him. It is free for Saslow's attorney to sue critics and therefore confirm the public's worst fears of Saslow. It is free for Saslow to steer the Mail Tribune any direction he darned well wants. He can make it great or run it into the ground. His newspaper. His money on the line. His decisions. 

It's his party.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Mail Tribune Owner/Publisher deserves better advice

Dumb move by Mail Tribune owner.

Steve Saslow, owner of Mail Tribune, threatens lawsuit against Allen Hallmark, a local subscriber and critic. 

Could Saslow really be unaware that he is coming across as a thin-skinned, litigious bully?

Saslow's attorney sent Hallmark a "cease and desist" letter and demanded a "formal" retraction of his comments on social media. He demanded Hallmark delete a petition to "Save the Mail Tribune" plus Facebook and Twitter posts that criticize Saslow. He warned of substantial financial liability for civil damages. He demanded written assurance his demands will be met. He set a deadline that has passed.

Mr. Saslow's apparent lack of self-awareness is astonishing. The letter sent by the Mail Tribune's attorney does more damage to Saslow's reputation than anything Hallmark wrote. It tends to validate concerns published by Hallmark and others in social media describing him as a my-way-or-the-highway bully who throws his weight and money around squashing and silencing critics. And it puts that image of him back in the spotlight, creating yet more buzz on social media. Lose-lose.

It would be amusing if it were not sad. I want the Mail Tribune to succeed. A community needs a good newspaper. This requires a wise and clear-headed owner/publisher. Saslow's attorney complains that Hallmark's social media posts "tend to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which Mr. Saslow is held."  Hallmark expressed concern that Saslow operates with heavy-handed disdain for opinions unaligned with his. Saslow's attorney says that isn't true, and calls that characterization of Saslow defamatory. And yet then, amazingly enough, his attorney writes a heavy-handed and threatening letter to critics, telling them to remove their criticism, thereby giving local subscribers new and ample reason to diminish their esteem, respect, goodwill and confidence in Saslow. Irony is not dead.

Saslow should have been talked out of this.  

Allen Hallmark's summary and interpretation of Saslow's editorials aren't fully accurate from Saslow's point of view. My experience with stories written about me in the Tribune over the decades is they are never fully accurate, to my mind. A reporter or any observer sees things from the point of view in which I am one person in a bigger story, being understood from the outside. I, of course, see things through my eyes, from the inside looking out. I know what I am thinking and intended to say. Other people observe me and interpret what I intend. I learned to live with the reality that other people's reporting and descriptions may seem less than flattering. Oh, well. No one remembers the details after a single day unless someone makes a fuss over the "bad" reporting, then they remember the fuss, not the subject of it. 

I would have thought the owner of a newspaper would understand this. Saslow disappoints me.

Saslow's attorney wrote an over-the-top letter threatening a lawsuit. He cites examples of errors. His letter says Mr. Saslow's editorial did not say he would outright "fire" employees when he saw something he didn't like. He only said employees should know their boss would be watching and would "reconsider their continued employment." That's different, sort of. He didn't say he was "taking over" the editorials as Hallmark said; only that they would "reflect more of my input" by his "leading its points of view."  Again, maybe the boss leading is different from taking over, barely. If Saslow thinks the difference is defamatory and demands a retraction, I suppose Hallmark should correct the record, but this really says more about Saslow than about Hallmark's comments.

Saslow apparently thought the right response was a sledgehammer of intimidation. It is possible Mr. Saslow thought he was operating in a realm where the reasonable thing to do was try to scare the bejesus out of the meddlesome little pip-squeak with a lawsuit that might bankrupt him. That should shut him up and it would send a good message to the community not to mess with Mr. Tough Guy.

And yet, oddly, Saslow's attorney's letter suggests Saslow's goal is to be respected here, possibly even well thought of. The letter presumes Saslow to have a favorable "reputation and good standing," and says Hallmark put it at risk. Possibly Saslow now lives in a bubble where he is accustomed to everyone treating him very deferentially, as befits an employer "reconsidering their continued employment." It may have become his expectation. But when Mr. Saslow wrote his editorial of February 28 he left that bubble. He became a newsmaker, announcing his changes to the local newspaper. He was in the public arena, where people one doesn't know interpret one's words, and where people question one's motives. Sometimes they get the motives and intent wrong--at least from the subject's point of view. After all, they are evaluating from the outside and aren't in the subject's head--or employment.

Time for Saslow to get some perspective. How does he think the people covered by his newspaper feel when they read stories about themselves? Is he getting a half dozen lawsuits a day? No. Because most newsmakers don't have the desire or money to sic an attorney on the Tribune every time they decide something wasn't flattering enough. They don't have the will or capacity to be a litigious thin-skinned bully, and don't want to be seen as one. 

Part of Saslow's problem was that his editorial was awkwardly written--possibly hurriedly, possibly entirely on his own, like an un-edited first draft that didn't really express what he intended. It gave many people the same impression Hallmark got. Feb. 28 editorial His actual plans were hard to decipher but his broader message was that the big boss was laying down the law, imposing his will on the paper and the underlings who create it. That went over badly. Two weeks later a clarification appeared. It had a very different tone. March 14 editorial 

Then, two weeks after that, Saslow reverses course yet again and sends out letters threatening lawsuits to Hallmark and others. How dare you misunderstand my garbled editorial!  

I don't blame Mr. Saslow as much as I do his advisors, particularly his lawyer, Mr. Frank D'Angelo. Why him? Because his name was on the letter as Saslow's agent, and it was the last good chance to stop Saslow from looking foolish. Saslow may have had hurt feelings. Possibly he felt misunderstood and disrespected. He wasn't being appreciated for his efforts to--in his view--improve the Tribune. His lawyer had a job to do--to let Mr. Saslow vent a little and then tell him the lawsuit-threat-letter should never see the light of day. He could have tried saying something like: 
"Steve, you don't want to look like a jerk here and this letter I prepared--well, Allen is going to pass it around to get advice from people and it's going to get noticed. This letter positions you as thin-skinned and brutal. These nit-picks I found will come across to people as phony. People will see right through me and know your real goal is to shut people up and make an example of them. It's a very bad look for you and the paper. This cease-and-desist letter will backfire big time. Plus it gives Allen and people like him new ammunition. Don't fall into that trap.  
How about instead you just write Allen a short email saying you think he misunderstood you and that you really do want what is best for the paper. Ask him to give you the benefit of the doubt here, and say he might come to think you are pretty fair, and if so, you would appreciate him saying so publicly sometime. Thank him for his concern for the paper. How about I have one of my associates draft something along those lines for me to show you?"

I am guessing he didn't do that. Or if he did, he didn't sufficiently warn Saslow that Mail Tribune subscribers were far more likely to identify with the local guy getting threatened and sued for speaking his mind than with the out-of-town multi-millionaire telling him to knuckle under and shut up. Or--maybe--the error really is Saslow's, and he got well-warned but insisted on doing it his way. In that case, I apologize to Mr. D'Angelo.

Head's up for Southern Oregon readers. We could be in store for something really wonderful, a full-on First Amendment trial in which a newspaper is on the unfamiliar side of trying to silence speech that describes issues of public concern. We will learn a lot about the Tribune. There would be evidence found in "discovery" from under-oath depositions of current, laid-off, and fired editors about what Mr. Saslow is really like. We would get to learn more about his financial relationship with Sinclair. Mr. Saslow's attorney warns Hallmark that his personal email accounts are relevant and subject to subpoena, and not to delete them. I am idly interested in Allen Hallmark's correspondence, but I am fascinated to learn what Mr. Saslow has in his email accounts regarding the management of the Tribune. It will be a great civics lesson for our community.

I have placed below a full copy of the "cease and desist" letter from Saslow's attorney to Allen Hallmark, so readers can evaluate Saslow's judgement on their own. It was forwarded to me from a friend of Hallmark, whom Hallmark had asked for advice on what to do. The friend sent it to me asking if I thought crowd-source funding would be a possible way to help pay for Hallmark's legal defense. After reading the letter, I said I thought Hallmark would have little trouble getting community support. 

                                                -----    -----    -----

March 26, 2021

Allen Hallmark

940 Washburn Lane

Medford, OR 97501-2052.

Re: False and Defamatory Statements Regarding Steven Saslow

Dear Mr. Hallmark,

My law firm represents Steven Saslow and Rosebud Media LLC. As you know, Mr. Saslow is the publisher of the Mail Tribune in Medford, Oregon. I write on behalf of Mr. Saslow to demand that you retract your intentional and reckless false and misleading assertions regarding Mr.Saslow and his work in connection with the Mail Tribune, and cease and desist from further such statements.

As you know, on February 28, 2021, the Mail Tribune published an editorial from Mr. Saslow in which he announced a series of improvements to the publication’s practices aimed at reducing bias and partisanship in news reporting and reestablishing the Mail Tribune as a trusted source for impartial and even-handed coverage. Since that editorial, you have embarked on a crusade to intentionally harm Mr. Saslow’s reputation and good standing and to falsely portray him as biased, corrupt, and untrustworthy in his management of the Mail Tribune. Driven by what
appears to be an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Saslow—you have posted about him on your social media accounts over a dozen times within the past month alone—and a fervent desire to have the Mail Tribune endorse and amplify your own personal political opinions, you have repeatedly criticized Mr. Saslow for not driving the Tribune in a liberal enough direction as a publication. In the process of doing so, you have made a series of provably false assertions regarding Mr. Saslow that open you up to substantial liability for civil damages.

On or about March 1, 2021, you created and published a petition on the website entitled “Save the Medford Mail Tribune from its owner's changes!” That petition contains the following statements regarding Mr. Saslow, among others:

[Mr. Saslow] will take over from an editorial board to decide which editorials run & which don’t. He will fire any reporter who he thinks is slanting the news. He will no longer run stories from the Washington Post or other newspapers he thinks are “slanted” toward the liberal side. He will also reject all letters to the editor on national topics because he said liberals and progressives submit 10 to 1 the number of letters that conservatives submit. He’ll only accept letters about “local” and “regional” issues – without defining those terms.

1 This statement contains numerous falsehoods regarding Mr. Saslow and the improvements that he announced on February 28. First, Mr. Saslow will not “take over from an editorial board to decide which editorials run & which don’t.” This statement conveys the false and misleading impression that Mr. Saslow will fully usurp the editorial board’s process. To the contrary, Mr. Saslow has said that although that he will have more input in that process, he will continue to allow the board to make decisions regarding editorial content. As the Mail Tribune’s Editor-in-Chief, Justine Umberson, confirmed in an editorial published on March 14, 2021,2 “editorial opinions will not be [Mr. Saslow’s] alone, but will be a consensus of the [editorial] board.”

Second, Mr. Saslow will not “fire any reporter who he thinks is slanting the news.” This statement conveys the false and misleading impression that Mr. Saslow will arbitrarily and immediately terminate any reporter who authors a story diverging from Mr. Saslow’s personal opinions. This is not true. Mr. Saslow explained that reporters who inject their personal bias into fact-based reporting—regardless of what that personal bias is and regardless of whether it accords or does not accord with Mr. Saslow’s personal opinions—would have their “continued employment” “reevaluated.” Especially when viewed within the context of Mr. Saslow’s editorial, it is clear that his statement applied to news stories and not opinion pieces. This is because, as Mr. Umberson noted in his editorial, the Mail Tribune, “risk[s] [its] credibility when we try to be activists, appeal to activists, or try to slant news reporting in any manner.”

Third, it is unequivocally false that Mr. Saslow “will no longer run stories from the Washington Post or other newspapers he thinks are ‘slanted’ toward the liberal side.” The Mail Tribune will continue to publish both Washington Post new stories and opinion pieces. “We will continue to run feature stories such as food and entertainment articles from The Washington Post, and we are not dropping Post editorials or columnists from the opinion pages,” Mr. Umberson has affirmed.

Fourth, Mr. Saslow will not “reject all letters to the editor on national topics” and “only accept letters about ‘local’ and ‘regional’ issues” Mr. Saslow expressly stated in his editorial that the Mail Tribune will continue to publish on its website letters to the editor regarding national topics.

These false statements were not merely limited to the website. In an effort to draw more attention to your statements, you have continued to post, re-post, promote, and amplify them on your publically [sic] viewable social media accounts. You have linked to the petition on your Facebook page no less than seven times in the past month, including in: a comment to your own February 28, 2021, 7:20pm post; a comment to your own February 28, 2021, 10:43pm post; a post on March 1, 2021, at 11:20pm; a post on March 4, 2021, at 1 See “Save the Medford Mail Tribune from its owner's changes!,” CHANGE.ORG,

2 See Justin Umberson, “Judge newspaper on our work, not interpretation of changes,” MAILTRIBUNE.COM (Mar, 14, 2021),

Allen Hallmark  March 26, 2021  Page 3

12:06am; a post on March 5, 2021, at 8:25pm; a comment to your own March 13, 2021, 7:32pm post; and a comment to your own March 14, 2021, 3:29pm post. You also linked to the petition on your Twitter account on March 1, 2021, at 11:43pm and on March 5, 2021, at 3:07pm.

In addition to re-posting that petition multiple times, you also published standalone social media posts with yet additional false and misleading statements. For example, in a Facebook post on February 28, 2021 at 4:02pm, you falsely stated that Mr. Saslow would allow “[n]o more reprints from that biased Washington Post,” and “from now on the paper will run only [letters to the editor] that focus on local and regional issues.” In your March 13, 2021, 7:32pm Facebook post, you falsely stated that “[s]tories from The Washington Post and ‘other slanted sources’ will soon no longer appear’ and that “[t]he [Mail Tribune] will no longer publish letters to the editor about
national news topics.”

Not merely satisfied to keep to social media, you also provided false and misleading statements to the Ashland Chronicle for publication on its website, including in the March 10, 2021 article entitled “Exclusive Interview by Susanne Severeid with Allen Hallmark Regarding the Petition to Challenge the Trib’s New Direction.”3 That article, which republished the false and misleading introduction to your petition, contained several new defamatory statements from you regarding Mr. Saslow. You were quoted therein as stating that Mr. Saslow “is threatening his reporting staff that if they write anything that HE considers to be slanted that they could lose their jobs,” and that he “wants this paper to reflect what his beliefs are now.” You also stated 
that Mr. Saslow “comes up with this bull—t about how they’re going to no longer print [letters to the editor] that are about national issues and you can only submit letters about local or regional.”

All of these statements are provably false. They constitute statements of fact regarding Mr. Saslow’s actions, beliefs, and intentions that are directly contrary to what Mr. Saslow wrote in his February 28 editorial. The falsity of your statements were further laid bare by Mr.Umberson’s subsequent editorial—a copy of which you posted to your Facebook page on March 14, 2021, at 3:29pm, and were thus indisputably aware of. Despite knowing that these statements were false, you allowed them to remain available for the public to read online and have continued to doubled-down on them in the weeks since.

The statements at issue here are defamatory for the simple reason that they portray Mr. Saslow as compromised, untrustworthy, and biased in his capacity as publisher of the Mail Tribune. In doing so, they falsely attribute to Mr. Saslow a lack of independence and integrity that is “incompatible with the proper conduct” of a news publisher and are defamatory per se. See Elizabeth Retail Props., LLC v. KeyBank Nat’l Ass’n, 83 F. Supp. 3d 972, 993 (D. Or. 2014) ("In the professional context, a statement is defamatory if it is false and ascribes to another conduct, characteristics or a condition incompatible with the proper conduct of his lawful business, trade, 
or profession. Statements falsely alleging facts that are 'likely to lead people to question a plaintiff's fitness to perform his job' are defamatory per se.") (citation and alterations omitted); 3 See Susanne Severeid, “Exclusive Interview by Susanne Severeid with Allen Hallmark Regarding the Petition to Challenge the Trib’s New Direction,” ASHLAND CHRONICLE (Mar. 10, 2021),

Allen Hallmark  March 26, 2021  Page 4

see also, e.g., Or. Nerve Ctr., Ltd. Liab. Co. v. Law lor Winston, LLP, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17586, at *29-30 (D. Or. Feb. 7, 2013) (“defendant’s statement creates a reasonable defamatory inference that [plaintiff] is a ‘hired gun’ who was paid specifically to deny the existence of RSD/CRPS without any medical independence”).

Even if your statements cannot be read as ascribing characteristics to Mr. Saslow that are incompatible with proper conduct in his business, they at the very least “tend[ ] to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which” Mr. Saslow is held or “excite adverse, derogatory or unpleasant feelings or opinions against him,” and are therefore defamatory for that independent reason. Elizabeth Retail, 83 F. Supp. 3d at 993.

Accordingly, we hereby demand on behalf of Mr. Saslow that you (i) remove the petition entitled “Save the Medford Mail Tribune from its owner's changes!”; (ii) remove the aforementioned posts on your Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as any other social media posts you may have published that contain similar false or misleading statements regarding Mr. Saslow; (iii) inform the Ashland Chronicle that you have removed the petition and that you are formally retracting the aforementioned statements that were published in Ms. Severeid’s March 10, 2021 article; and (iv) no later than Friday, April 2, 2021, provide me with your written assurance, by email or otherwise, that you have complied with the foregoing demands and will continue to do so. Please be advised that if you refuse to comply with, or choose to ignore, the above demands, my client will assume that you do not wish to resolve this matter amicably.

In light of the foregoing, and as required by law, you must also immediately take appropriate steps to preserve all documents and data (in paper, electronic, or other form) that are relevant to your unlawful defamatory conduct set forth above. This includes, without limitation, any relevant emails on your personal account (e.g., Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo) and current work account (if any), as well as any relevant text messages and voicemails. Your destruction of any such documents or data could subject you to severe legal penalties.

Please note that this letter is not intended to be a complete statement of all facts, evidence, or relevant legal principles. Nothing stated in or omitted from this letter should be construed as or deemed to be a waiver, relinquishment, or compromise of any of Mr. Saslow’s or Rosebud Media’s legal or equitable rights, remedies, claims, or arguments, all of which are hereby expressly reserved.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Frank D. D'Angelo


cc: Steven Saslow, Rosebud Media LLC (via email/BCC