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426 posts
  • Opinion
Rocky Mountain News employees as they learned in 2009 that the newspaper would close.
Rocky Mountain News employees as they learned in 2009 that the newspaper would close. (Judy Dehaas / Associated Press)

It’s nice to be needed.

A new working paper by three Midwestern economists finds a correlation between the closure of local newspapers and increased long-term borrowing costs for local governments.

The authors, Paul Gao at the University of Notre Dame and Chang Lee and Dermot Murphy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, speculate that government spending increases when there are no journalists, or radically fewer of them, peering over local officials’ shoulders.

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  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
(Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press)

“I think that nonconformity is part of the American DNA. And in today’s culture, the nonconformists are conservatives.”

That quote comes from White House senior advisor Stephen Miller — one of President Trump’s key confidants — in a McKay Coppins profile in the Atlantic. I highly suggest popping over there now if you haven’t read it yet. It’s beyond instructive.

Miller, a 32-year-old right-wing activist from liberal Santa Monica, is portrayed as a vessel of rage and mockery with few definitive beliefs — other than a vague desire to punish “criminals” and to keep immigrants out of the country.

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  • Opinion
Christian Bales celebrated graduation day with a bullhorn.
Christian Bales celebrated graduation day with a bullhorn. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)

Last week I attended the banquet of the speech and debate society of my old high school in Pittsburgh, where my friend and freshman-year debate partner Jack Kennedy was honored for his service to the society,  as competitor and later coach.

The next night Jack and his wife Kasey hosted our gang of Baby Boomer debate nerds – the men graduates of Central Catholic High School, the women alumnae of the Catholic girls’ schools we competed against – and the reminiscences flowed.

One topic was the Central yearbook I co-edited, which was notorious for its irreverent humor.  For example, a photo of a Christian Brother who covered his bulletin board with devotional portraits of popes was captioned: “Brother Gregorian pauses near his papal pinups.”  

  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • The Swamp
The cast of ABC’s “Roseanne” in happier days, before the network canceled the series.
The cast of ABC’s “Roseanne” in happier days, before the network canceled the series. (Robert Trachtenberg/ABC via Getty Images)

A week after its season finale, “Roseanne” went out with a bang. And oddly enough, Republicans ought to be thankful.

As my colleague Carla Hall noted, ABC canceled the show Tuesday after star Roseanne Barr tweeted that a former top advisor to President Obama was the love child of talking apes and the Muslim Brotherhood. That was beyond the pale, even for a show whose debut attracted 18 million viewers.

The revival of a hit show from the 1990s, “Roseanne” had been seen in some quarters as a triumph for President Trump and his followers. A personal friend of Trump’s, Barr played the matriarch of a blue-collar Midwestern family who not just supported Trump, but channeled some of his rougher edges. In fact, after the show’s blockbuster premier, Trump himself tweeted, “[I]t was about us!”

  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • The Swamp
Actress Roseanne Barr attends the Disney ABC Television TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena in January 2018.
Actress Roseanne Barr attends the Disney ABC Television TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena in January 2018. (Valerie Macon)

Of course ABC had to cancel the reboot of the “Roseanne” show (ridiculously popular as it was). What star Roseanne Barr tweeted about Valerie Jarrett, a longtime aide to former President Obama, was repugnantly racist and disgusting. It’s mind-boggling that anyone with a mainstream media platform (as opposed to some dank corner of the Darknet) would be spewing this offensive stuff. Oh, wait — I forgot President Trump.

OK, his Twitter oeuvre may walk right up to the edge of old-school animalistic racism and not go over it, as Barr did. She tweeted, “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” referring to Jarrett, who is black and not Muslim.

Intimating that black people look like apes or monkeys has been part of racist imagery since the 19th century.  That it still persists today is disturbing. Just as disturbing, we live in a world where there are few consequences for public figures saying anything vicious, racist, sexist or xenophobic. At least Barr feigned an apology. Trump never does.

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  • The Golden State
A mockup of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 26, 2015.
A mockup of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California voters, like their leaders, want to have it both ways on high-speed rail.

A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 835 voters found that respondents were pretty equally divided over the high-speed rail line, with 48% expressing at least some support and 43% opposed. Looking that those numbers alone, you might think the public’s ardor for the project hadn’t dimmed all that much; voters approved a ballot measure authorizing the project in 2008 by a margin of only 53% to 47%.

But in the ensuing decade, the cost of the route has doubled to an estimated $77 billion, with state taxpayers on the hook for a considerably larger share. So the pollsters went on to ask a second question: Should the state stop working on the project, in light of the mushrooming cost? Almost half of the respondents said yes, stop the work, while only 31% said keep moving forward.

  • Opinion
  • #MeToo
USC President C.L. Max Nikias, shown attending the university's commencement ceremony May 11, has agreed to step down.
USC President C.L. Max Nikias, shown attending the university's commencement ceremony May 11, has agreed to step down. (Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

It would be a mistake to assume that the USC scandal was simply a matter of leaders at one university going rogue. In fact, it would be dangerous to think that. The departure of university President C.L. Max Nikias satisfies the call for accountability over accusations involving two USC doctors, but it does not begin to resolve a deeper affliction at the nation’s colleges and universities: the unending pressure to raise the institutions’ rankings and bring in more money.

The various college rankings are typically based heavily on fairly empty criteria. US News and World Report, which produces the best known and most closely watched rankings, heavily counts a school’s reputation among other institutions’ faculty and officials. And no matter how extraneous and silly we might find them, the rankings are inextricably linked to fundraising. Raising the rankings means happier alumni and more applicants; it means drawing more star professors, which in turn means more grant money, higher rankings, more applicants. It’s part of why colleges send ridiculous numbers of marketing mailers to high school juniors and seniors. A higher number of applicants means a lower acceptance rate, which for some reason is considered a positive sign of a school’s reputation.

Inevitably, reputation and money are at war with integrity. Things are going to go wrong at campuses, as they tend to do at large organizations. But being straightforward about a college scandal could mean sacrificing reputation, which means sacrificing rankings and applications and – you get it. That’s a big part of why colleges were routinely under-reporting cases of sexual assault and brushing accusations aside. As long as they could be kept under wraps, they couldn’t harm a school’s reputation.

  • Trump
  • Opinion
U. S. Border Patrol agents question undocumented immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Feb. 21 near McAllen, Texas.
U. S. Border Patrol agents question undocumented immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Feb. 21 near McAllen, Texas. (John Moore / Getty Images)

Over the span of two weeks earlier this month, federal agents separated more then 600 children from their parents at the border with Mexico, jailing the adults to await criminal prosecution for crossing the border without permission and sending the children off under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

So much for sending “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as it says on the Statue of Liberty.

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  • Trump
  • The Swamp
President Trump's murky language doesn't obscure his anti-immigration beliefs.
President Trump's murky language doesn't obscure his anti-immigration beliefs. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

A persistent problem for the media — and for the public, for that matter — in listening to President Trump is figuring out what exactly he means, and whether he really means it. That was on clear display with his recent comments about the “animals” he claimed his administration has been kicking out of the country (deportations of immigrants who crossed the border illegally are down compared with the Obama administration, while arrests are up — as is the backlog in immigration courts).

Trump insisted later that he was referring specifically to MS-13 gang members, yet as I wrote the other day, the original statement within the context of the exchange with with local California officials reads differently. The person speaking before him mentioned MS-13, the violent international gang that began in Los Angeles, but Trump’s comments reflected a broader target — immigrants in general.

  • Opinion
  • Rule of Law
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, an Uber driverless car is displayed in a garage in San Francisco.
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, an Uber driverless car is displayed in a garage in San Francisco. (Associated Press)

Uber is shutting down its self-driving car-testing in Arizona, the company announced Wednesday. The decision comes after one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe in March.

Instead, Uber says it will test its autonomous cars in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, where company engineers are based.

It’s worth remembering that Uber left San Francisco in a huff at the end of 2016 because California had the gall to require Uber to get a permit to operate its self-driving cars on public streets. When Uber refused, the California Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the company to take the cars off the road.