dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Slow Big Tech with a Digital Advertising Tax

June 17th, 2021 by dk
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Congress wants to curb the power of Big Tech. They also would like to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure (broadly defined), if only they can agree on how to pay for it. These two goals could intersect. A digital advertising tax could do both. It would also strengthen democracy itself against the widening and accelerating power of capitalism.

I don’t propose this concept lightly. I’ve run daily newspapers. I owned a couple of weeklies. I sold advertising myself. I know it’s the lifeblood of most popular media. I also know that we were always comfortingly clumsy at matching advertisers to audiences.

We could show our readership numbers from outfits like Verified Audit or Audit Bureau of Circulations. We could give business owners demographic or psychographic details about who would likely see their ads. It was always painted with a broad brush because it was the only brush we had.

It feels quaint now, looking back, because the world is very different today. Traditional media outlets still focus on the big picture, not the granular details. Direct mail can show which addresses received their envelopes, but not how many people opened them.

Contrast that with modern digital advertising — podcasts, email campaigns, websites, and social media marketing. Each can report exactly how many people they reach — to an unsettling degree. How much time we spend looking or listening can be tracked precisely. So it is.

It’s called surveillance capitalism. We get content for free (or nearly free) in return for allowing advertisers to track our movements. Surveillance anywhere risks becoming surveillance everywhere. A digital advertising tax would slow this trajectory.

Snippets of code follow our online habits. Patents are pending to track users’ eye movements on a screen, or to distinguish between multiple users of a shared device. Will your fitbit measure what images get your heart racing? That’s already possible.

Because Google and Facebook and Amazon can match you so ruthlessly with ads you might find attractive, it’s no longer a fair fight. Truth be told, we love being targeted. It feels good to be “known.” It’s only not creepy because we’ve accepted the system’s anodyne names. Who’s against clicks, cookies and clouds?

How much is spent on online advertising in the United States? Estimates range from $125 billion to nearly $1 trillion per year. All agree it’s growing at an accelerating pace.

Fortunately, most advertising is used to sell things that people don’t actually need. Nobody walks barefoot into a shoe store. Any advertising surtax would be passed on in higher prices, but it would have minimal effect on basic foodstuffs, generics, and low-cost leaders.

America remains vibrant after a quarter of a millennium by maintaining a constant tension between democracy and capitalism. Democracy posits that we are all equal. Capitalism pits us against one another to gain economic advantage.

We must rebalance that tension. It’s not healthy to think of ourselves as customers first and citizens second. Our society might not survive if we came to consider ourselves as consumers only. Think of this as a new vice tax. Nobody loves digital advertising, so tax it.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Summer is Here. Everything Must Go.

June 11th, 2021 by dk
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Summer is officially underway when the mower doesn’t have to be used twice a day to beat back the jungle that our lawns want to become. Our temperate rain forest brings brutal fecundity. Neighbors mow in the rain because the growth won’t slow. Soon those same neighbors will be watering their lawns to refute the late summer drought. 

For those of us who are less horticulturally inclined, something else sprouts up reliably this time of year, adding bright colors and excitement to street corners everywhere. Like that mound of grass clippings in corners of yards, neon placards point to sites of organic recycling, cultural compost, if you like — or even if you don’t.

The season of yard sales has begun. Driveways are suddenly filled with spare toaster ovens, outgrown clothing, and keepsakes that need new keepers. Neighbors often meet for the first time over spare change purchases, even if they have lived on the same street for years. Commerce continually creates community, if you like — and I don’t.

It’s not often said (or admitted in some circles) but we do yard sales better than almost any place I know. The key to a healthy resale ecosystem is a fertile mix of diversity and desperation. If yard sales are too much alike, the hunt for “something special” peters out quickly. Bargains are to yard-salers what white truffles are to mushroom hunters.

College towns always have a leg up in the yard sale world. Whether it’s college kids, grad students, or instructors denied tenure, many will leave Eugene for good this month. “Everything Must Go” precedes them going themselves. All the versions of midlife crisis add to the mix — marriages ending, Peace Corps calling, downsizing for sanity’s sake.

This year offers extra bounty, but also a reason to be wary. Like morels flourishing in the burned forests upriver, our ecosystem has been disrupted. People have been cooped up for over a year, staring incessantly at their coop. We all want to say what Oscar Wilde did on his deathbed: “This wallpaper is dreadful, one of us will have to go.”

One caution merits our attention this year. Desperation may be in fuller bloom than in other years. We have among us those who couldn’t work, or couldn’t work enough, or who didn’t navigate the pandemic relief options. People facing eviction or foreclosure may not be in the mood to haggle prices. If Barbie doll legs are priced at three-for-a-dollar, show some respect. Paying full price might keep somebody in their home.

Apart from that caveat, enjoy the season and relish the hunt. You never know what you might find. When my boys were young, we always did our Saturday yard-saling by bicycle. It slowed us down, we got good exercise, we learned new neighborhoods, and we limited our purchases to what we could carry home.

For memorable weekend adventures, you need only Bill Sullivan’s hiking guidebooks or a willingness to follow hand-drawn arrows stapled to telephone poles. In both cases you’ll see things you never knew existed. And so nearby!

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Leaving Our Lairs, Hopefully

June 10th, 2021 by dk
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I’m not one who uses the word “hopefully” very often. Hope is a high order of consciousness and it shouldn’t be separated from its pronouned agent. As a sentence adverb, it slathers a situation with hope, rather than assigning hope to any individual. It’s no less passive than “God-willing” but far more tolerated.

Wordsmithing prudes like me allow the word to remain only because it retains an important purpose, however seldom employed. And so I say, without chagrin except from habit, that Oregon is hopefully exiting its pandemic quarantine. We cannot be certain the move won’t require quick or eventual reversal, but we are full of hope.

We hope that future generations will seek our stories from the past 14 months as unique and exotic. We hope what we endured does not recur. We hope the lessons learned individually can be applied to whatever awaits us. We might even hope that society is better for the disruption that is ending soon, is ending finally, is ending hopefully.

Historical recreation dramas often include a scene where the main character is leaving a place. The protagonist only intuits what the audience knows — they will never return. So they pause, looking back at what they are leaving, engraving a mental image. That’s us, now, hopefully reviewing where we’ve been because it’s not where we’re going.

Unless you have young children or other rambunctious animals, you’ve probably built a lair for yourself over the past year. Describe it in detail to somebody else so that its memory might be captured — a shrine, a tableau, a fixed point in a world that promises to begin turning again.

Over my decades of weekly ruminating, I always typed at my desk unless I was traveling. Even then I would try to replicate the same posture and pace. I sat on telephone books to keep my elbows arched as normal, my feet flat on the ground, my chest leaning forward. Those kinesthetic signals somehow informed my fingers and my brain to focus.

But a year ago I taught myself to write from my oversized chair, legs crossed at the ankles, watching the comings and goings on my quiet street. The table to my left is piled high with reading to be completed. Scribbled notes are strewn on a smaller table to my right. I sit between them like an oversized desktop gnome, perched between the in-box and the out-box.

My electric tea kettle sits in a corner of the left-hand table, simmering all day. My mug of warm comfort emits a lazy steam, barely in my visual frame to the right. Phone and iPad charge on the left, Daytimer always ready to the right. I’ve been sitting in this spot for hours every day, for months on end. You probably have something similar.

Apart from the phone ringing or the cat getting restless, there have been very few  interruptions. For a while I kept my nail clippers on the leftward table. Time traveled that slowly. But now, hopefully, the pace will accelerate. I’m ready. I hope you are too.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Biden’s weekends

June 6th, 2021 by dk
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President Joe Biden has spent fewer weekends in the White House than any modern American president. I think that’s a good thing. He has gone to Camp David as many weekends as he has stayed in Washington (five). He has returned to his home in Wilmington almost twice as often, weekending in Delaware nine times.

Maybe the ice cream is better in Delaware. He may be missing his growly dog. Biden logged over 8,000 Amtrak trips during his long Senate tenure, heading home almost every night. Air Force One doesn’t make the 100-mile trip much faster, but he no longer has to worry about his phone calls being overheard.

Critics may claim that Biden is treating the presidency as a 9-to-5 job and his official residency as a high-end version of corporate housing — a Residence Inn for the world’s most powerful executive. (I’m sure the White House staff could produce a do-it-yourself waffle maker if that’s the vibe he wants.)

I disagree. Getting away from Washington allows Biden to hear what regular people are talking. (The nation’s capital has very few regular people.) Ovid told the tale about Zeus and Hermes disguising themselves to test the mettle of the people living across the countryside. Most didn’t fare very well. Every president needs a strategy to get outside his workday bubble.

The plot from Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper” couldn’t happen today. President Ulysses Grant, Twain’s contemporary, famously walked all around Washington to clear his head. Grant insisted on paving Washington’s roads, many for the first time. Next time you spend a $50 bill, thank the man for your sidewalks.

Modern presidents have had less luck. Barack Obama failed to convince the White House guards to allow him to drive off when he appeared on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians With Cars Getting Coffee.” Seinfeld offered him this pitch-perfect comedic advice: “Ya gotta sell it!”

Getting out isn’t as easy as it once was. It’s also never been more important. List all the problems facing America and (more importantly) Americans. Are there any that wouldn’t benefit from the President of the United States becoming involved? Biden’s predecessor cared about sporting event protocols, of all things. Changes ensued.

Which issues merit Biden’s involvement? That’s the sort of decision that cannot be well made from inside the Oval Office. By definition, the most important issues are those with the widest scope and far-reaching consequences.

Workaholics don’t make good presidents. Jimmy Carter lost the forest from the trees. Bill Clinton failed to recognize his stress until an intern offered him relief. History judges the quality of presidents’ work, not the quantity of tasks performed.

Which initiatives can be accomplished best by the presidency but not by the president himself? Effective delegating requires a measure of detachment. Gathering courage to do the right thing cannot become confused with hearing arguments about which right things merit attention. Distance helps deliberation.

Go as far as you need as often as you must to clear your head, Mr. President. You deserve it and we all benefit from it.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Greater Idaho: Thinking it Through

May 28th, 2021 by dk
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Oregon’s most sparsely populated counties would like to secede from Oregon and join Idaho, where liberals don’t dominate state politics. I can hardly wait to find out what I think about such a plan. (My fingers don’t always give my brain advance warning on matters that don’t impact me urgently.)

In case you haven’t heard, Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman County residents approved ballot measures this month stating their preference to become Idahoans. If other rural counties follow and the plan succeeds, Idaho would become the third largest state in the union, still with one of the smallest populations.

It won’t happen — this much we know for sure, which  is why my brain was comfortably dormant on the issue. The Oregon legislature would have to approve it, which they won’t. Idaho would then have to consent to take the land, the cows, and the people as their own. Then the federal government would have to officially grant the request. Oddly, Rand-McNally has no role in the decision-making process.

A smaller Oregon might not be so bad. Bend would lose most of its metro area to Idaho, which might slow its reckless expansion. Ashland would be a big loss, but it would be offset by the fact that Oregon would no longer share a border with California. There could be other upsides. The Dakotas might merge to match Greater Idaho’s land grab. We never needed two Dakotas.

I doubt many Wasco residents will want to pay Idaho’s 6 percent sales tax, so they’ll still travel west to what’s left of Oregon to buy things. This points to a larger problem for the would-be secessionists. Idaho doesn’t have an economic engine to support a widened girth, unless they develop commercial-scale potato batteries like the ones we made for fifth grade science fairs.

Long story short, rural Oregon residents need us more than we need them. We’d still be able count mounted antlers in John Day or buy quilts in tiny shops, though quilters may migrate to Oregon coast shops instead, where prices could be six percent cheaper.

Sherman County residents would no longer get annual town hall visits from their senators. Town hall meetings in every county is an Oregon thing. They might miss those.

The land itself wouldn’t change in Idaho’s new western annex, except during fire season. Things might change quickly when flames blow through town and they can’t call on the resources of Portlanders to douse things. Roads will start to crumble. Maintenance costs money. But hey, they’d be able to pump their own gas.

Oregon has lost some of its remarkable balance between urban and rural interests. Things have become weighted mercilessly in Portland’s direction. We feel that even in Eugene. Our eastern neighbors have driven that point home like a wayward weaner calf. We need them to stay so they can keep doing that for us.

Here’s my conclusion. (Thanks, fingers.) Oregon will add a sixth Congressional district in 2022. If that new district focuses on non-Portland concerns, we can have a Greater Oregon.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Can We Have Law Without Order?

May 27th, 2021 by dk
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Can we have law and order, but without always emphasizing the “law” part? I’m not thinking about mobs disrupting peaceful protests or reckless speeders weaving through traffic. Those problems will always benefit from a badge and a siren.

No, I’m thinking about much more common everyday disruptions. Neighbors having loud parties late into the evening, contractors not showing up on time for appointments, not knowing your pet’s limits in public spaces, abusing the item limit in the grocery express lane. Simple things that keep society flowing smoothly.

To put the same question another way, can we have law if we don’t first have order? Police officers increasingly blame their abusive behavior on being distracted by a gathering crowd. They cannot watch all around them and focus on their immediate task both.

Law without order is the recipe for a totalitarian state. If those with power cannot rely on an orderly society, then every action must be controlled by that power. It must exert total control over others or risk losing all control to chaos.

A friend has a close relative with an alcohol problem. The entire family is concerned. They feel powerless to confront the family abuse, much less stop it. Substance abuse is worrying but helplessness makes it worse. Nobody wants anyone to feel uncomfortable, making them unwitting allies to the inebriant.

Everybody wants to be the “good cop,” leaving nobody to be the “bad cop.” Things too often worsen from there, until violence or abuse requires the presence of an actual cop to play the bad cop.

Here’s where it will get uncomfortable for my liberal friends. It begins with an admission that the other side might be right. Conservatives have long warned us that society cannot function as well if basic family units are allowed to deteriorate. (Yes, I know the policies they promote don’t always help families. Don’t be distracted by the hobgoblin of absolute consistency.)

Families used to be built around a specific division of labor. “Just wait until your father gets home,” was a vivid reminder. A bad cop was nearby. Single parents have fewer options. Can we raise children without fear? We’re trying, but will it work? That internalized voice prompting us to return our grocery cart to its proper place has a tinge of fear.

I ask these questions now because our lives are about to get much more complicated, and very quickly. For the past year, life has been scheduled and controlled like never before. Our options during the pandemic have been severely limited. Meetings and calls have been scripted for efficiency. We effectively eliminated happenstance.

How much have our improvisational skills atrophied during the pandemic? We’re about to find out! When we bump into somebody on the sidewalk (Remember how that used to happen?) and we make promises to each other, will we remember to follow up? It was easier when a keyboard and a pad of sticky notes were within reach.

Everyday order matters. If we slowly learn not to trust one another, external controls will take over. That trend is not easily reversed.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Pirates Plunder Capitalism

May 23rd, 2021 by dk
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The endgame for American capitalism may be coming into view. It’s beginning to look a lot like piracy on the high seas, or gangs of thugs intercepting railroad cars in the middle of nowhere. It’s even become associated with a patriotic name for its headlines as it redefines “the home of the brave.”

Colonial Pipeline was not the profile of courage. They reportedly paid $5 million to cybercriminals who had seized control of Texas oil flowing to the Eastern Seaboard. The private pipeline company might have tried to resolve the issue without paying a ransom, except the American public panicked at the news and gas stations ran dry.

Who knows whether Colonial actually resolved the problem? Why wouldn’t criminals return to plunder another $5 million a few months from now? Cowardice only increases vulnerability. The criminals could have hidden malware and back door access while they had control, making future attacks almost automatic. They were fools if they didn’t.

They took their payout in cryptocurrency, so there’s no hope for tracing the ransom money after the fact. Pirates don’t need to bury their cash somewhere safe while authorities hunt them. Like pirates operating off the coast of Africa, government officials know they’re out there, but lack the resources to bring the bad guys a fair fight.

This is what unbridled capitalism looks like. It also looks like Texans receiving $5,000 power bills after an unexpected cold snap because rates fluctuate by demand without any limits. It looks like Wal-Mart, sending more employees to hospitals’ COVID-19 wards than any other employer while earning record profits.

The public seems able to intuit the razor’s edge that American daily life has become. We hoard toilet paper or gasoline at the first signal that something might be awry. Closer to home, lumber prices have never been higher. Thousands of Oregonians hope to rebuild after last summer’s wildfires, but homebuilders’ bids keep rising with lumber costs.

We don’t think very much about how supply and demand formulas actually work. Long story short, if everyone demands at once, there won’t be enough supply. Of anything. We neglect companies who can adjust to spiked demand. We’ve taken our business to the everyday low-price leader instead.

Businesses that compete on price are seldom investing enough in security, maintenance and resiliency. Those expensive add-ons cost money! We reward those who stretch their supply lines thin in pursuit of efficient operations and low, low prices. We shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t take much for those thin lines to snap.

The pirates are seizing on an opportunity that we shrewd shoppers have created for them. Companies promise that they are taking every precaution, but who hasn’t opened a strange email by mistake or hit “reply all” in haste? Humans are not built for excessive efficiency, regardless of company policy.

And so disruptions will occur, probably with increasing frequency. Minor inconveniences will become catastrophes. Panic is becoming the next public pandemic.

This rule of capitalism cannot be escaped: “You get what you pay for” — whether it’s a soup spoon or a society.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Mask messaging could change minds

May 21st, 2021 by dk
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Like it or not, we can’t stop talking about masks. I’m as bored of the topic as you are, but some things can’t be dropped until the goal has been accomplished. During a week when the Middle East is once again aflame, we should remind ourselves that our mask conflicts haven’t actually been going on for all that long.

The Center for Disease Control revised its guidance last week, assuring the public that those who are fully vaccinated can drop their masks and begin to resume their normal lives. That sounded like very good news. Then came the cascade of caveats. Masks are still required on planes, trains, buses, and everywhere businesses choose to require them. Oregon hasn’t dropped its mask requirements. Neither has California.

Sometimes the fine print that gets overlooked is right up front. The new CDC guidelines apply to those who are fully vaccinated. That usually means two shots at least 21 days apart, plus another 14 days of waiting for our immune system to gain full resistance.

Do the math. Oregon first made the vaccine widely available on Monday, April 19. Seniors, teachers, and front-line workers excepted, most Oregonians couldn’t have completed the five-week regimen until Monday, May 24. If you have able-bodied friends who claim they are fully vaccinated now, they either jumped the line for their first shot or they haven’t finished the final 14 days. Either way, they’re scofflaws.

Government officials have been pleading with the public to be honest with themselves and to trust others. Pardon us for wondering what sort of Brigadoon these officials live in. We can’t trust SUV drivers not to park in spaces labeled “Compact Cars Only.” We should trust they are being honest with themselves about their COVID-19 immunity?

I understand that there’s often a gap between good policy and effective messaging. “Keep calm and carry on” was important for Britons to hear during WWII, even if the advice wasn’t helpful to those whose homes were being bombed. Collective action sometimes conflicts with individual circumstances. This may be one of those instances.

American health officials saw vaccine demand slacking, so they altered their messaging strategy. “(Fear and pleading isn’t working. Let’s try envy!) Look at all those happy, maskless people enjoying life, because they are fully vaccinated. Wouldn’t you like to be among them? Get your shots and you too can show the world your smile again!”

Among those at risk now will be the pretenders — those who aren’t yet protected by a vaccine and who abandon the defenses a mask can provide. Their smiles may be short-lived.

On the other hand, this new strategy could work. Maybe people will be honest. Maybe they’ll fake their vaccination bona fides and then feel bad, motivating them to get their shots. Maybe hospitalizations won’t spike. Maybe herd immunity is closer than scientists thought. Maybe masks will be respected if infections rise again.

If we can beat the virus and broker a durable Middle East peace, then maybe we can move on to keeping SUVs out of parking spaces not designed for them.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Finish the vaccine race with an Oregon kick

May 14th, 2021 by dk
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In the endurance race to vaccinate as many Oregonians as possible, Governor Kate Brown has been using a “sit and kick” strategy. We’ve allowed others to keep the lead while we wait for the best opportunity to show that Oregonians finish races better than their peers. We must reach for a higher gear to cross the finish line of herd immunity.

What will the kick look like? It’s easier to describe what it won’t be. It won’t be “steady as she goes.” That won’t get us there. Vaccine skepticism has always had a strong presence in Oregon. When we see a “Question Authority” bumper sticker, we rightly ask “Says who?” Only Oregonians question the authority questioners.

This vaccine effort could become completely worthless if we don’t reach herd immunity as fast as possible. It’s the only effective endgame against this virus and it’s looking like we may not get there. If this wily virus mutates to overcome our vaccines, we’ll have to rerun this race with no recovery time in between. We don’t want to do that.

We cannot settle for “heard immunity” — “I heard something that makes me feel better, so I’m going with that instead of getting a vaccination shot.” We have an opportunity here to show the nation and the world that Oregonians know how to finish a race. Here’s what that extra gear might look like.

Stop talking to vaccine skeptics as citizens. Those who choose and act on behalf of the common good have already gotten their shots. That ship has sailed. Address them as shrewd consumers. Sad but true, this is the only path to empowerment that many Americans perceive. Let them consider themselves “smart shoppers.”

What does a consumer-oriented pitch look like for this next phase of vaccinations? West Virginia and Maryland are experimenting with hard cash. That’s a bad idea for two reasons. First, it heightens concerns that the vaccine must be a trick. Second, this won’t be the last time we need people to get a shot to keep everyone safe from a disease.

Soften the contours of the deal. Make it less starkly transactional. Add a social element to wean them off the addictive individualism. Give them game tickets. Meet them at their favorite bar. Dangle a bigger prize that represents our pooled interests and benefits.

New Yorkers can parlay vaccination for free tickets to a Yankees or Mets game. Erie County in western New York launched an innovative “shot and chaser” program. They set up inside a local brewery. Free beer garnered more shots over the weekend than all the other clinics in that county combined.

We know what motivates Americans. We only need to do it.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown could partner with sports teams and brew pubs tomorrow. Declare a daily $1000 drawing for a lucky vaxxer. Up the ante to $10,000 daily if Oregon’s vaccination rate passes all other states or reaches 85 percent of our population. We can lead the way. Others will follow.

Let’s finish this race on our own terms. Everyone should see that Oregon knows how to kick.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Biden continues our media literacy lesson

May 13th, 2021 by dk
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Four months into this new administration, I’m most impressed by what Joe Biden hasn’t done as president. Namely, he hasn’t taken the bait — over and over. Donald Trump gave us a 5-year master class on how to manipulate the media. His sleight hands couldn’t hide his moves. Now Biden is showing how to not be manipulated by the media.

For much too long, earnest Democrats could not resist rebutting every whopper told by the opposition. Every record must be set straight. In doing so, they invariably repeat the untruths, which give it a wider audience and more credence. Biden won’t play along.

The president’s bully pulpit has changed. Legislators are no longer cowed by voters contacting their offices. They’ve trained their interns to handle such things. The bully pulpit has been replaced with the media megaphone. Whatever the president says today will be on the news tonight.

Message discipline has never been more important and Biden is giving us his own master class. He completely ignores silly stories that others make up about him. Is he a partisan hack, a senile stooge, or the hamburglar-in-chief? The president has nothing to say about these items. Next question?

He watched President Obama flail against the birther imbroglio. The answers only amplified the questions. Any concern addressed from within the White House has been legitimized in the minds of many. Obama learned this lesson too late.

A related lesson: reporters are not always seeking the truth. In today’s hyper-competitive media landscape, they want to generate headlines. The questions are not always fair. What is the correct answer to the question, “Are you still beating your wife?”

You cannot answer “Yes” or “No.” You must reframe the question to your advantage: “I beat my wife at chess, and she beats me at Scrabble and just about everything else. After 25 years of happy marriage, I’ve learned to lose graciously, thanks to all that practice.” Checkmate.

These strategy maneuvers feel like a board game, but with hearts and minds at stake. 

When reporters revealed that almost every endorsement for candidate Trump came from websites built to look like legitimate news sites, they labeled them “fake news.” Trump retaliated by slapping the “fake news” label on any negative press coverage. It worked because he had the media megaphone of the White House.

Now we talk about “the Big Lie” — the claim that rampant voter fraud swung the 2020 election to Biden. Trump’s response? His non-Twitter tweet: “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 … will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”

You see how this works? If Trump can cause confusion about which “big lie” is which, he can keep people from entertaining any new thoughts. When people become confused, they tend to retain their prior preferences.

Biden cannot bring clarity to intentional confusion so he doesn’t try. He has the megaphone now and he’s using it only to display his determination to better Americans’ daily lives. He invites judgment based on his performance, not on how convincingly he parries every accusation hurled his way.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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