Monday, February 26, 2007

Interesting Comments/Journalistic Ethics

Oregonian reporter Arthur Gregg Sulzberger writes on response to Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto's recent problems compared with what happened to Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth.

Sulzberger’s answers to why there was a difference in treatment run from racism to the difference between being elected (only the voters can throw you out) and appointed (if the Mayor or county commissioners find you a political liability, say “goodbye”).

Some of the people quoted in the article say funny things.

For example, the elected Portland City Auditor, thinks the sheriff should be appointed because the corrections officers union is too rich and strong and apparently has undue power over voters:

City Auditor Gary Blackmer says the corrections deputies union plays a big role in who is elected sheriff.

"There is no other elected office that is so dominated by a single collective bargaining group with a lot of money," says Blackmer, who, as county auditor, pushed for the position to be made appointed. "To a certain degree, the union decides who its boss will be."

Then there are elected County Commissioners Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffey and elected Judge Dale Koch:

Commissioners Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffey have said the sheriff should be appointed, a change voters would have to approve.

"I don't think that there's any doubt that had Giusto served at the pleasure of the county commission rather than being elected, he would have been fired," says Multnomah County Presiding Judge Dale Koch.

Giusto could be removed only through a recall election. Such votes are rare, labor-intensive and almost always unsuccessful.

Both Naito and Rojo de Steffey know about recall elections. The Oregonian backed a recall effort directed at them that failed to get needed signatures on time. Had Naito and Rojo de Steffey been appointed officials at the time, they probably would have been fired. Instead, they were re-elected--just like Giusto.

What’s not quite so funny as the above quotations is Sulzberger’s use of anonymous comments to tar Giusto. (A tactic also followed by fellow Oregonian reporter Michael Milstein in a January 29 article Experts square off on climate change on Oregon climatologist George Taylor which I commented on here.)

Discontent [with Giusto] has surged in recent months, however, with deputies growing embarrassed by the negative publicity. Privately, deputies question the ethical compass of a man who now carries a host of nicknames at the jails, including "The Teflon Sheriff" and "Porno Pants."

"I have trouble coming to work every day," says one longtime law enforcement deputy, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "My stomach turns."

"He's so Teflon-coated, nothing sticks to him," says another longtime deputy. "I wish he was gone. He's a sleazeball."

[emphasis mine]

Is it ethical for reporters to publish anonymous slurs and criticisms of professional and personal conduct? Apparently it is for Oregonian reporters. One wonders if Sulzberger, son of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., would like his nicknames and negative comments by anonymous co-workers to be published. Fortunately for Sulzberger, no Oregonian reporter is covering him.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

You Gotta Feel Sorry

The Oregonian reports that glacier study at a plum global warming research project came up with head scratching data. Two of Greenland’s largest glaciers, which had shown dramatic shrinkage in 2004 and 2005, unaccountably had shrinkage last year at only the normal rate.

Ian Howat, a researcher with the University of Washington and University of Colorado, was at a loss to explain why except that the glacier’s shape is now “stretched and thinned”.

The variability in such a short time underscores the problem in assuming that glacial melting and sea level rise will occur on a steady upward trajectory, said Ian Howat, a researcher with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory and the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center.

"While the rates of shrinking of these two glaciers have stabilized, we don't know whether they will remain stable, grow or continue to collapse in the near future" because the glaciers' shape changed greatly, becoming stretched and thinned, Howat said.

"Future warming may lead to rapid pulses of retreat and increased discharge rather than a long, steady drawdown."

Meanwhile, Lonnie Thompson, from Ohio State University, studying a Peruvian glacier, said his glacier may be gone in five years.

Lonnie Thompson, a professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, said that the retreat of the Qori Kalis glacier in Peru exceeds any other retreat in at least the past 5,000 years.

The glacier is one of several tongues of ice retreating on the Quelccaya Ice Cap, the largest body of ice in the tropics, said Thompson, who said the retreat of glaciers worldwide is evidence of global warming.

Lonnie Thompson, reporting on a sparse glacial area, had dramatic global warming news. Poor Ian Howat, who should have had continuing mega evidence of global warming in Greenland, had at the best mixed, if not negative global warming news to report. Warning that shrinkage rate of the Greenland glaciers could escalate, remain stable or even go down, Howat was true to his data in saying that scientists don’t really understand global melting.

Could that mean that they don’t really understand global warming all that well either?

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Long War for Human Rights

OregonGuy has a great post on his blog tracing The Long War for human rights over the political expediency of excusing mass murder in the name of “self-determination”. Here’s part of his post:

In the past decade we’ve been attacked by Iran, Iraq, Libya, and their proxies. An argument could be made that we’ve been attacked by the Saudis as well, but the discussion of Saudi policy versus governance would be lengthy, so I’ll just posit that the “official” Saudi position has been to support the United States as an ally. (Go ahead and rant off at this point. But what else are stipulations for, but to side-step the grease and go for the guts?)

During this period, the US has attempted peace-keeping. Negotiation. Bribery. Covert and direct aid. We’ve spilled American blood in Germany, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel, Egypt, Crete, Turkey, Indonesia, Yemen……all lost as a result of Islamic Terror. And the list isn’t complete. You’re forgetting the thousands killed on September 11, 2001.

But at that critical moment, a moment where America stood upon the world stage and made one of the greatest political and diplomatic victories of a century……just at that time in 1975 a coup de grace occurred on the world stage. And a counter-coup occurred in America.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Just as it abhorred the political vacuum during the Carter years, government hates the political vacuum we’re dealing with in Congress right now.

And the counter-coup occurred when the men and women at the ramparts of democracy failed to believe in the dream of democracy. Today, to too many people, democracy is a failed policy. The dream of all the world’s people living with the rights to human dignity described by the Helsinki Accords is just another Imperialist, Rethuglican, War-mongering, neo-Nazi plot to subjugate and conquer. Far be it for this writer to point out that sixteen years after the signing of the Helsinki Accords the Baltics would be free of the former Soviet Union, and that Communism would fall. In Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia……freedom and democracy are lived and practiced. Carter ignored the power of democracy. Carter lost.

And we lived through it. And we’ll live through this. More people will die as we fail to face up to the realities of the world we’re living in. Innocent people. People who didn’t choose to fight. That’s the cost of not living up to your responsibilities. People, real women, college kids, farmers, children get killed. And they will when the Lefties in Congress get their way.

Not that Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children want to fight. No one who knows war wants war. But when tasked with the mission, they choose to fight. They go into the battle with full knowledge of the cost of failure. Unlike the men and women of the Twin Towers. Or, the Achille Lauro. Or the men, women and children of Iraq, Kurd, Shia and Sunni. If we don’t choose the mission, the mission will choose us. I just hope few Iraqis will die because America chose not to stand with them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Oregonian vs. Kulongoski--Whose Position Is More Consistent?

On the way to giving advice to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the Oregonian not only ignores its own advice, but is a culprit in helping cause the problem.

G ov. Ted Kulongoski is understandably irked at George Taylor, the headline-grabbing meteorologist who has been using the title "Oregon state climatologist" while undercutting the science behind the governor's global warming policies.

But the smartest thing Kulongoski could do is get over his annoyance and ignore Taylor.

Who gave George Taylor headlines? See this front page article and articles here and here.

Who is not ignoring Taylor in this editorial?

Further, the governor seems to understand political positions, scientific or not, better than Oregonian editors. Science gets highly politicized in important public policy areas. The Oregonian’s own reporters noted that Taylor has had the “state climatologist” title since 1991:

Taylor, who has a master's degree in meteorology, has been widely known as Oregon's state climatologist since 1991 and uses that title. Technically, however, the position was discontinued along with federal funding in the late 1980s. The state-funded Oregon Climate Service tracks weather and generates maps from offices at OSU.

What happened between 1991 and now that this is all of a sudden a big issue--except politics?

The Oregonian’s view of how scientific dialogue should be conducted is a bit odd.

The scientific mainstream and no doubt a solid majority of Oregonians have already moved beyond Taylor on this subject. His widely publicized doubts about global climate change may play well on right-wing talk radio, but there's no evidence he's influencing serious discussion of the issue in this state.

Apparently, the editors do not know that the “scientific mainstream” does not determine scientific truth. Taylor may be right. He may be wrong. But, that the scientific mainstream at a point in time believes this or that does not indicate whether the science is good or lasting. Remember the coming ice age in the 1970's?

Nor does it really matter whether Taylor is “influencing serious discussion of the issue” in Oregon. The strange thing about scientific method is that you can be a minority of one and still be right.

Even less to the point is the editorial assertion that “a solid majority of Oregonians have already moved beyond Taylor”. Science isn’t about opinion polls or majority vote of the people.

The Oregonian has no problem with having a state scientist appointed by the governor and overseen by a governor-appointed board, like state geologist Vicki McConnell. But, the editors don’t like the political fallout of appearing to “muzzle” a scientist who disagrees with the administration’s position.

Isn’t that what a political appointment is all about? What happens if the next governor has different views on geology than Kulongoski’s? My guess is the state geologist's views will swing around to the new governor’s position.

Actually it’s Gov. Kulongoski who has the consistent position--not the Oregonian. The governor thinks that those who speak in the state’s name should follow the views of its administrative head. It’s a 100% political view. Neither scientific method nor academic freedom are central issues to him. These are political appointments, and the scientists need to back the administration’s views.

Here’s an idea. Maybe the real answer is not for George Taylor to stop using a title he has used since 1991, but for the state to get out of the business of appointing scientists who pronounce on what is and is not administration-approved science.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Playing Politics with Pensions

An Oregonian article today, Payback slow for pension fund, reports some interesting facts on Oregon pension funds. Though the article title suggests that pension funds are the focus of the article, they aren't. Investing in new Oregon businesses is. The subtitle tells it all: Investing - Few of the millions the Legislature has marked for venture capital get back to Oregon.

But, how's this for an attention grabber from the article?

Most of Oregon's money remains uninvested.

Hello! Why isn't part of Oregon's pensions funds being invested? Because the Oregon legislature has a dual goal for those funds:

We're not making any headway in dealing with emerging industries in Oregon," said Rep. Mitch Greenlick, the Portland Democrat who sponsored the 2003 bill to set up the fund. "I'm sure Credit Suisse is fine, but they haven't set out to meet the objectives that we set up in the first place. In addition to generating returns, we need to make sure our investment dollars are serving a social function."

Along with "generating returns" (which the uninvested funds presently aren't doing), there is a "social function". If the "social function" can't be met in the context of "generating returns", the funds remain uninvested. The apparent problem is that Oregon start-up businesses are not a stable, profit making investment--which is the kind of investment one wants in pension funds.

Granted that the $100 million out of the $60 billion pension fund is not a lot (about 17/100ths of a percent). But this is pension money--not tax money. Pension money should not have a dual purpose. Its purpose should be to fund pensions. Period. To use it for other ends that do not generate normal returns is a breach of trust.

If legislators want to politicize pension funds to help new Oregon businesses, they should direct that it only be their own pension funds.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Apology Needed?

Reporting on a global warming discussion this week between Philip Mote and George Taylor, the Oregonian's Michael Milstein found a number of people to talk against George Taylor’s position. These included Kyle Dittmer, Mark Abbott, Jane Lubchenco, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and Philip Mote. But, Milstein couldn’t find anyone to speak in favor of Taylor’s position.

Maybe Milstein doesn’t know the state climatologist in Delaware has a view similar to Oregon climatologist George Taylor’s.

Milstein’s article does give a fairly clear of Taylor’s position:

In an interview last week, Taylor agreed there is a human influence on climate, but said it's not the dominant factor. Rising levels of carbon dioxide will certainly warm the Earth, he says, and it makes sense to control greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.

"The prudent path is really reducing emissions and adapting to weather extremes," he said.

But he also says there are pros and cons to rising temperatures.

"Increased CO2 is not necessarily a bad thing in every way," says Taylor, well known throughout Oregon and in The Oregonian as the state climatologist. "There are going to be winners and losers, just as there would be if there is global cooling."

The effects, he said, "could be really significant and severe, or they could be benign."

But, beyond the bare statement of Taylor’s case, Milstein uses comments by people who misstate Taylor’s position to deride Taylor. For example, there’s Jane Lubchenco who leaves the impression that Taylor denies “global warming is real”.

Jane Lubchenco, a well-known OSU professor and marine ecologist who led one of the governor's task forces, said Taylor "muddies the water" by leading the public to believe there is still a debate about whether global warming is real.

Milstein also uses anonymous “other scientist” sources to question Taylor’s competence.

Taylor's background is in meteorology, and other scientists say much of his work on climate change has not gone through the full scrutiny of peer review by independent researchers. He has written on the subject for Web sites financed in part by the oil industry.

To use anonymous sources to tar Taylor's professional reputation is below the belt journalism.

Milstein’s follow-up article on the discussion seemed both fair and accurate. But, Michael Milstein should consider apologizing to George Taylor for this one.