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Posts published in “Day: January 31, 2017”

Norquist on the center-right


National conservative icon Grover Norquist addressed a group of around 50 grassroots activists Saturday, January 28 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Lake Oswego.

Norquist, the president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, gave the keynote address at the sixth annual Western Liberty Network leadership and training conference.

He began his remarks by stating that the press has been so focused on President Donald Trump’s personality that it has missed the big picture in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Half of the states in the county have Republican governors and majorities in both legislative chambers, he said, and a majority of the nation’s people live in “red states.” Only four states are under complete Democratic control. Oregon and California are the “only blue states you can find without a magnifying glass,” Norquist said.
States such as Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia that have traditionally been run by Democrats now have Republican governors and majorities in their legislative chambers. Norquist predicted that Delaware and Minnesota would be among the next states to flip Republican.

In his remarks, Norquist said that the modern center-right movement is comprised of coalitions whose members’ votes are moved by a desire to be left alone and not have their taxes raised. He described the coalition as “low-maintenance,” and said its members don’t tend to want anything from each other.

“They’re not in conflict on a political level,” Norquist said. “Our friends on the left don’t have that.”

Norquist said that Democratic coalition members, including “coercive utopians,” all remain harmonious with each other as long as there’s money in the middle of the table.

“The left is not made up of friends and allies,” he said.

Conservative coalition members such as homeschoolers and concealed carry permit holders are now being joined by Uber and Lyft drivers who are being threatened with increased government regulations of their new emerging industries.

Norquist said that the structures for Democratic coalition members can be defunded. Approximately 27 states have passed right-to-work laws, he added, and more are set to follow soon.

Over 135,000 government workers in Wisconsin stopped paying union dues after reforms gave them the option to not do so, Norquist said. As a result, around $135 million less is flowing into union coffers per year. Around 30,000 teachers in Michigan are no longer paying union dues, for a total annual loss of $20 million.

During a question and answer session, Norquist predicted that reforms to the Affordable Care Act will involve the distribution of Medicaid block grants to states and separate high-risk pools for persons with preexisting conditions. Once that is accomplished, he said that the Trump administration would tackle tax reform, with one of its components being the complete elimination of federal estate taxes.

Real and fake news purveyors


When President Trump went on one of his periodic anti-media tirades last week, he let out a phrase (well, actually, a lot of them but I'll focus on one here) that merits a closer look.

The quote was, “Much of the media — not all of it — is very, very dishonest. Honestly, it’s fake news. Fake. They make things up.”

Coming from someone who personally makes up a whole lot of things, that merits some consideration. A lot of people probably wonder who and what they can trust in the ever-expanding media universe.

"Much of the media - not all of it." There are a lot of media, and many elements of it often are in conflict. Well, which is which?

Let me offer one simple way to consider this. There are others too but this seems a good place to start.

The "media," like "the government" (or almost any other large component of our society) consists of a whole lot of pieces and players. It consists not only of news publications but many other kinds as well - entertainment operations, trade magazines, academic journals, many more. But all of these can be divided roughly into two categories, "mass market" and "niche."

This is not just a matter of size, though that's important. The more critical component is in who they are trying to reach.

Newspaper history offers an example, since the standard mass-market daily newspaper has at different times operated in both spheres. In the 19th century, most newspapers were in effect niche publications. Cities of any size tended to have several newspapers; big cities might have a dozen or more. These newspapers did not try to write for everybody; they were trying to appeal to specific segments of their local markets, and many of them were overtly political. Newspapers typically identified themselves on their front page as the Republican paper, or the Democratic, or Independent, or maybe something else. People who wanted a broad picture often subscribed to several of them.

That was when newspapers were funded mainly through subscriptions. Somewhat over a century ago there was a strong move toward another business model, much more based around advertising, and it swept the industry. When it did, newspaper publishers and editors found that advertisers wanted to reach a whole community, not just a piece of it.

Here are two things that happened in response. A lot of newspapers consolidated: The number of newspapers in the United States dropped sharply in the early 20th century. The other thing that happened was that, to appeal to not just a segment of a city or region but rather the whole thing, the entire presentation of news had to change. And it did, into something many people probably thought was blander but also something that presented information in a more even handed, and less partisan, way. Editorial pages remained as opinionated as ever, but news columns became more centrist, aimed at reaching everyone. An institutional standard for this was developed, partly by the wire services (the Associated Press and several others over the decades). These services had to feed news reports to many hundreds of newspapers, whose owners and editors had all kinds of different opinions, so they developed a news language and reporting standards that would work broadly. That's the news language and reporting approach we still have today at most daily and many weekly newspapers. It grew out of economic necessity. And while journalists are as fallible as anyone else, it also meant the news reports were mostly, generally, reliable.

That's the dynamic mass media have to work with. They're trying to reach a broad general audience, so the making a practice of slanting reports ideologically works poorly. Mass media will give you, most of the time and allowing for slippage here or there, reliable news, with relatively little slant. They're not perfect, they mess up sometimes, but slantless news is what they aim for.

Niche media is everything else. A niche is something like the old newspapers were: Aimed at one kind of audience and only one, and therefore devoted to pleasing that audience. This leads to all kinds of results. On the positive side, it can yield insights and specialized reporting the mass media never get around to; there are good niche news providers out there. The down side is that the eagerness to produce appealing stuff can mean a slippage of standards, and quite a few niche organizations let go standards of accuracy and fairness in the interest of exciting the base - or simply telling the base what it wants to hear.

I think especially of ideologically-based news organizations. There are, for one example, "market-based" news outlets whose editorial stance is critical of government and taxes and cheers on the free market. Stories that fit within that framework abound, and they may even contain good information and may even be fair and accurate. But don't expect to see much there that undercuts the party line.

This doesn't mean all niche media should be disregarded. I don't by any means intend that they all be lumped in as "fake"; many report with rigor. but it does mean the care and caution given to its pronouncements needs to be higher than for the mass media. It has, simply, fewer incentives to stick to accuracy and fairness.

Who can you trust? No, it's quite as simple as this. But I've found the mass/niche dividing line a useful tool for navigating an ever murkier environment. What probably isn't what the president had in mind.