- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, March 28, on interfering in elections:

Anyone who wants to see the extent to which entities from outside the United States are becoming involved in U.S. elections need look no further than Oregon’s 4th Congressional District.

The district, which includes Lane County, has been represented by Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio since 1987. His Republican challenger in the last four general elections has been Cave Junction chemist Art Robinson - DeFazio’s polar opposite on most issues.

In 2014, Robinson received help from a London-based firm, Cambridge Analytica. The company has been in the news recently because of the scandal involving Facebook users’ private information.

The company ended up in this unwelcome spotlight when several former employees became whistle blowers. One of them told British lawmakers that Cambridge Analytica had gathered personal information on about 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or permission. This information was allegedly used in efforts to manipulate voters during the last U.S. general election.

One of Cambridge Analytica’s clients was the Trump campaign. (The company and the Trump administration have both denied that this information was used by the Trump campaign.)

Another client was the Robinson campaign in Oregon. The plan, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post, was to rehabilitate Robinson’s image with voters “by presenting him as a sympathetic family man and serious scientist rather than as the extremely right-wing, unstable ‘mad scientist’ caricature created by the opposition… .”

Robinson lost the 2014 election, but the firm likely didn’t consider its work wasted. Robinson told Willamette Week that Cambridge Analytica was using his campaign as a way to learn about U.S. politics.

The nonpartisan watchdog organization Common Cause filed a request with the U.S. Department of Justice this week for an investigation into whether Cambridge Analytica violated prohibitions on foreign entities involving themselves in U.S. elections (bit.ly/2IbfXOv). Among the campaigns listed in the filing is the Art Robinson for Congress campaign.

The filing, among other things, cites specific tactics Cambridge Analytica employees boasted of using in elections the company was involved in. The employees described how the personal information harvested on social media allowed the company to manipulate voters by creating profiles and identifying personality traits.

Whether it comes from the Department of Justice or another non-partisan federal entity, a thorough investigation into all of this is desperately needed to preserve, or restore, Americans’ faith in their political system, provide the tools to prevent further attempts at meddling, and to punish any wrongdoers who have violated U.S. rules, regulations or laws. Failure to do so leaves the door open to further violations of the American electoral process.

“In 2014, (Cambridge Analytica) chose four states - Oregon was one - to come and learn about American politics so they could work in later elections,” Robinson said.

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East Oregonian, March 27, on the hashtag #DeleteFacebook:

Across the world, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook has been trending on Twitter, Google and, most ironically, on Facebook itself.

It is in immediate response to the news that Facebook allowed companies to steal data from its users (as many as 50 million), which was then fed to disreputable political groups with the aim to manipulate Facebook users and elections.

Facebook has plenty to answer for in this case. They knew the data was stolen years ago, but told no one - not even those users who had been compromised. They kept it quiet until the story broke publicly.

But the problem is bigger than dumb actions that failed to secure our data. Facebook must also answer for the online atmosphere they have created. Their company culture is to move fast and break things, then go back later to see what they must do to clean up the mess. And that culture has trickled down to the user experience. What used to be an online space for sharing life updates and baby photos has become a space for anger and vitriol, fake news and product placement. Trolls run amok. The most awful responses engender the most responses. It’s a continual loop that builds anger and division.

As a media source with a robust Facebook following, it sometimes feels like we’re feeding the rotten system. We have long ago stopped posting crime stories, where comment sections often spiral out of control, to our page. But we pledge to do more. Or, rather, less.

We know that media has lost a lot of ground to Facebook. We feel it here at the East Oregonian, both in our advertising and newsroom departments.

On the ad side, we know that online advertising is now an $83 billion a year enterprise, but Google and Facebook gobble up almost 60 percent of that pie. Traditional media of all kinds supply the nutrients that the online community feeds on, but the middle men get the bulk of the benefit.

From the news side, more than half of our website visits come to us via Facebook, which means that’s where most of our social media resources are spent. Twitter accounts for little more than 1 percent of our daily visits. (Incidentally, Kathy Aney’s 2015 story about the former Rajneesh camp turned into a Young Life retreat property has been one of our top read stories of the last month. It is linked to the Wikipedia pages of Young Life and the Rajneesh).

We’re not the only ones pulling back on Facebook. Elon Musk, a notable naysayer of Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, shared the #DeleteFacebook hashtag. He deleted the Facebook pages for his many companies, such as Tesla and SpaceX. He said the company gives him “the willies.”

Unfortunately we’re not rich enough to pull off such a brash move, cutting the cord with an important but troubled driver of traffic. But we do plan to reduce our reliance on Facebook as an audience generator. We will limit our posts this week on the site, and post fewer and fewer stories as the weeks go on.

We think it will be better for our bottom line, and also for the mental health of our readers. All our Facebook fans know it is no longer a place to have a civilized discussion. It has been dominated by the loudest, meanest, snarkiest, angriest voices from all sides of the political and social spectrum. And it’s clear that the more time you spend away from Facebook, the happier, more productive, and better informed you are.

But to help support your mental sanity and our bottom line, we’re asking you to visit www.eastoregonian.com more often and sign up for our daily newsletter. Our print readers get all the goodies delivered to their mailbox each day, but others who just scroll on Facebook miss the majority of our work. And if we are posting there less often, we don’t want you to miss even more. In our newspaper and on our website, we hope you find the news you’re after and none of the bullies and trolls you encounter on Facebook.

Of course different opinions will be welcome. Our letters to the editors section remains vibrant both online and in print. Your thoughts are welcome and your feedback on the job we do will always be heard and considered.

But you can rest safe in knowing that you can read and comment on news without anyone sucking up your data, following your every move or harassing you on every post.

Because the crux of being alive in the modern world at this moment is that each time you use Facebook - or for that matter products from Google or Amazon or Apple - you are giving away your personal data. You are giving away a piece of your liberty.

Remember: If you don’t pay for a product, you are the product.

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The Oregonian/OregonLive, March 27, on Rep. Bill Post being a gasoline thrower:

There are those leaders who seek to shed light on a controversial issue, and there are those who seek to shed heat.

Count Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer in the latter category.

Post, fired up by an initiative petition to ban assault weapons in Oregon, lashed out at the three religious leaders behind the effort, sharing their home addresses and phone numbers on Facebook. Post, as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Hillary Borrud reported, put up a screen shot of the petitioners’ information that had been filed with the state. According to Borrud’s piece, he posted the photo with the suggestion “should anyone want to make a phone call or send a note….” The original wording appears to have since been deleted although the screenshot remains.

Not surprisingly, the three backers have been getting plenty of colorful feedback with varying degrees of civility. One caller left a message for one of the petitioners to “burn in Hell.” Others have sent nasty emails and Facebook messages. But the group remains focused on securing the necessary signatures to qualify IP 43 for the November ballot, Pastor W. J. Mark Knutson, one of the three petitioners, told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board.

To be clear, Post did not break any laws by sharing that information, which is publicly available. And realistically, anyone who files an initiative petition - particularly on something as controversial as gun control - should be prepared for the possibility that those who disagree will focus their ire on them.

But sharing such information on a Facebook page for people vehemently against such a measure is hardly an innocent act. Post is clearly encouraging opponents to flood the petitioners with calls and messages. As an experienced politician, Post should be well aware that that’s not how you defeat initiative petitions which, ultimately, are decided by voters. In fact, the only thing that you might achieve is intimidating or harassing the petitioners into pulling the initiative back. Is that what he was aiming to do?

Unfortunately, Post did not respond to an email or phone call from The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board to answer that.

Post’s sharing of the information is poor judgment, through and through. It’s unfortunate that a legislator would somehow mistake inciting mass harassment for leadership. If he wants to defeat this petition, he should put forward a thoughtful, rational and defensible argument that focuses on any shortcomings of the policies or raises questions about their consequences. He can encourage people to refuse to sign the petition, in hopes it will fail to qualify for the ballot, or to vote against it if it does. But his tactic of obliquely encouraging opponents to directly dial the three initiative backers smacks of middle school.

It’s comforting to know that some callers showed the maturity that Post failed to exhibit. Rabbi Michael Cahana, one of three petitioners behind IP 43, told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board of one phone message he received. The man, Cahana recalled, said that he absolutely disagreed with the initiative petition but that he also absolutely defended Cahana’s right to put it out there. They have since traded a few text messages about the issue, even though it’s unlikely either will convince the other to change his mind.

A calm disagreement about an intensely emotional issue. Perhaps Post will take a page and try that himself.

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Corvallis Gazette-Times, March 26, on Congress breaking cycle of fire costs:

The oddest thing happened last week in Washington, D.C., as members of Congress (and then President Donald Trump) rushed to keep the government open so that they could blow out of town on spring break:

The spending bill that Congress passed (and which Trump then signed, but not without some veto bluster) included a bipartisan plan that finally takes a big step toward ending the practice known as “fire borrowing.”

Frequent readers of this page know all about fire borrowing: In recent years, the agencies in charge of battling blazes on federal land (the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service) have been forced to raid non-fire-related accounts just to cover firefighting costs.

The current funding mechanism is tied to a 10-year average for wildfires, but as fires burn hotter and longer each year, the amount of money allocated under the formula runs out earlier each year. (The Forest Service and the BLM spent $2.7 billion last year fighting fires, the costliest season on record.)

It’s not as if the firefighters are able to simply walk away from the firelines when those budgets run dry. That’s when the agencies are forced to dip into other accounts.

The worst part of this fire borrowing practice is that the budgets raided to help cover firefighting bills often are for maintenance projects on federal lands, such as efforts to thin forests and to remove the undergrowth that helps to fuel the most intense fires. The result: a vicious cycle as poorly maintained forest lands burn hotter and hotter in succeeding years.

The spending bill approved last week establishes a contingency account through 2027, with annual deposits starting at $2.1 billion and increasing to $2.9 billion. Money from the account would only be used after funds from usual firefighting accounts are exhausted.

The budget deal includes $100 million for fire prevention projects and recreation programs and enables utilities to work with the Forest Service to prevent trees from touching power lines and starting wildfires.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden played a key role in brokering the deal, according to news accounts, but the Democrat was joined by other members of Congress, from both parties.

“Common sense has finally prevailed when it comes to how the Forest Service pays to fight record-breaking forest fires that devastate homes and communities in Oregon and the West,” Wyden said in a statement. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, a Democrat, and Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, a Republican, helped push the effort through the Senate. GOP Reps. Mike Simpson of Idaho and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington also played key roles.

There was complaining among other lawmakers that the measure didn’t do enough to improve the health of the nation’s forests. In particular, Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, was pushing a House-backed bill that called for faster approval of logging projects to reduce the risk of fire in national forests.

In general, we believe it would be worthwhile to get people back to work in our national forests. But Bishop’s House bill is a good example of the kind of legislation that has short-circuited earlier efforts to fix at least part of the fire borrowing problem. Every time a relatively simple fix to the problem was proposed, it got weighted down with a variety of proposals regarding the management of federal lands. Eventually, the extra weight would drag down the proposal, Congress would adjourn and we’d watch our forests go up in smoke as the bills mounted.

Our forests, of course, still will burn this summer. But by focusing on a relatively simple answer, and working across party lines, Congress has taken a big step toward breaking a fiery vicious cycle. We’re gratified, but we must confess: We didn’t think this day ever would arrive.

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Baker City Herald, March 23, on Oregon’s numbers falling short:

In the curious form of mathematics that apparently is practiced in Salem, the way to help rural economies is to fail to renew a state contract that employs 54 people, and a year or so later hire 10 new state employees.

At least those are the numbers that apply in Baker City.

We’re not suggesting that the 10 jobs that will be added to the Baker City office of the Oregon Department of Human Services next month are direct replacements for the 54 positions that Chaves Consulting had at its call center here until February 2017.

But in both cases the workers will field phone calls related to the Oregon Health Plan.

We understand that the task for the new state employees - determining whether Oregonians are eligible for our state’s version of Medicaid - is one that must be done by government workers, according to federal rules.

Yet we’ve seen no evidence that anyone in Salem, from Gov. Kate Brown on down in the executive branch, or in the Legislature, has advocated for changing that onerous and almost certainly unnecessary requirement. Oregon officials have done just that before, though - the recent expansion of the Oregon Health Plan, for instance, required a federal waiver.

What seems clear, though, is that state officials prefer to increase the state’s workforce rather than contract with private companies in rural counties, such as Baker, where jobless rates are higher, and average incomes lower, than the state averages.

This would be more palatable if the numbers of jobs were comparable. But even accounting for the generous benefits that state workers receive, 10 jobs doesn’t have the economic weight of 54.


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