Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Please visit my new weblog site, OlsonOnline.

Monday, April 26, 2004

In his column entitled "Class Warfare",
Jim Wallis, the perspicacious editor of Sojourners, characterizes the
right wing's position on taxes this way:

"I did a right-wing talk show the other night on Fox News. Whenever you mention poverty in a venue like that, they scream that you're engaging in class warfare and promptly declare war on you."

Of course, I'm only assuming he brought up the issue of taxes, based on what he says in the remainder of the column, which is all about the unfairness of
the federal and state tax codes. Unfair to the poor, that is.

He first mentions the unconscionably regressive nature of Alabama's
tax system, as documented in Susan Pace Hamill's study entitled "An Argument
for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics", and the effort of conservative Governor Bob Riley to effect just such a reform (which was repudiated by Alabama voters in a referendum.) Wallis point out that, "People (in Alabama) with incomes below $13,000 pay 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, while those who make more than $229,000 pay 4 percent. How's that for fair?" How indeed?

He also reveals the exclusion of low-income working families from the child tax credit at
the federal level. And the dramatic redistribution of income nationally upward.

There are two obvious points to be taken from these revelations. First, there are revenue sources available to us (see last post.) We just need to muster the political will to enact true progressive tax reform.

Secondly, there is a moral as well as a fiscal dimension to this issue.
As Wallis suggests, if the Old Testament prophets Amos and Isaiah were around today, "they would surely be preaching about our tax and budget policies that enrich the wealthy and make misery for the poor. And I don't think they would have worried much when accused of class warfare."

Saturday, April 24, 2004

In response to a letter from state Senator Kate Brown, Don McIntire, the anti-government and anti -tax head of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, in typical contrarian fashion, claims:

"There aren't any new revenue sources. The source is always the same -- us. When she and other politicians talk about new sources of taxation, what they really mean is new methods of taxing the same folks. "

Well, maybe there aren't any brand new sources of money, but there are certainly under-taxed segments of our civil society, which bluntly speaking, are not carrying a fair share of the load. I'll name three:
corporations, business property owners, and wealthy citizens.

According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, too many corporations get by with paying the corporate minimum tax - $10 dollars a year.

Businesses pay a far smaller share of the overall tax burden than they used to, largely due to the passage of Measure 5, which managed to shift the property tax away from businesses and on to individuals. As I reported in my March 12, 2003 post, the trend of lower overall business taxes relative to individual taxes was exacerbated by Measure 5. In my Feb 11 post, I cite this report from the OCPP which documents the diminishing business tax burden.

And lastly, Oregon's tax system is regressive. Even Adam Smith, the patron saint of capitalism, argued for a tax system in which the rich would pay
proportionately more. Oregon's income tax is flat and
the overall tax burden is regressive. The poorest 20% pay a greater share of their income in taxes than do the richest Oregonians.

We need a reform of our tax system now!

Friday, April 23, 2004

George Monbiot (see previous post) looks like Hugh Grant.
I can even imagine him, when speaking, sounding a bit like Hugh Grant. But that's neither here nor there, except that Monbiot writes with the same subtle wit and irony that we've come to expect from High Grant-delivered movie dialogue.

Take for example the column he penned in July of 2003, entitled "America Is a Religion". (Click on religion in the archive section.) It's funny, but it's also serious, and intelligent, analysis.

In the column, Monbiot says this:

"What is lacking in the Pentagon and the White House is not intelligence (or not, at any rate, of the kind we are considering here), but receptivity. Theirs is not a failure of information, but a failure of ideology."

And this:

"The United States is no longer just a nation. It is now a religion. Its soldiers have entered Iraq to liberate its people not only from their dictator, their oil and their sovereignty, but also from their darkness. As George Bush told his troops on the day he announced victory, 'wherever you go, you carry a message of hope - a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "To the captives, 'come out,' and to those in darkness, 'be free.' "

And this:

"So American soldiers are no longer merely terrestrial combatants; they have become missionaries. They are no longer simply killing enemies; they are casting out demons. The people who reconstructed the faces of Uday and Qusay Hussein carelessly forgot to restore the pair of little horns on each brow, but the understanding that these were opponents from a different realm was transmitted nonetheless. Like all those who send missionaries abroad, the high priests of America cannot conceive that the infidels might resist through their own free will; if they refuse to convert, it is the work of the devil, in his current guise as the former dictator of Iraq."

Monbiot is both a wit and a sage. And a pretty good historian. He ends each
column with footnotes referencing his sources.

You rarely find stuff like this in the American press.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

In my March 23 post, I described how
my (conservative) brother-in-law called me on the morning of September 11, 2001 and said, "We need an American mandate in Israel!" He had obviously concluded, as I wrote then, that "American support for Israel was at the heart of Arab enmity toward the United States."

Now we have reports (click here and here) about the rage among Arabs over the American decision to back Ariel Sharon in his desire to keep some settlements in the Palestinian
West Bank, and, perhaps more significantly, as the Reuters article said, "that Palestinian refugees should not expect to reclaim their homes in what is now Israel." In other words, Bush has flip-flopped on the Palestinian right of return.

The question remains, given the precarious state of the American presence in Iraq, why?

Here's one answer from British author and academic George Monbiot. He claims it's all about American electoral politics:

"Governments stand or fall on domestic issues. For 85% of the US electorate, the Middle East is a foreign issue, and therefore of secondary interest when they enter the polling booth. For 15% of the electorate, the Middle East is not just a domestic matter, it's a personal one: if the president fails to start a conflagration there, his core voters don't get to sit at the right hand of God. Bush, in other words, stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli aggression than he stands to lose by restraining it. He would be mad to listen to these people. He would also be mad not to."

The 15% of the electorate Monbiot refers to are those fundamentalist Christians who believe, quite literally, of course, that the apocalyptic battle of Amageddon must take place in Israel after the temple is restored. But, as
Monbiot writes, "... before the big battle begins, all 'true believers' (ie those who believe what THEY believe) will be lifted out of their clothes and wafted up to heaven during an event called the Rapture."

As a motive for George W. Bush's otherwise inexplicable decision to back Sharon, that sounds quite plausible.

Even more plausible given what ex-Senator Max Cleland said yesterday on the O'Franken Factor: With the Bush administration, "it's about power, not policy."

For more on George Monbiot, a knowledgable and delightful writer, click here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Reports that only 18% of public school sophomores passed this year's state math problem solving test (as opposed to 51% in the past two years) drew this reponse from charter school advocate Rob Kremer:

"Faddish assessments such as Oregon's math problem-solving tests are not suited for use as large-scale, high-stakes tests," he said.

Well, I can agree with the second part of that criticism. No test should be used for large-scale school evaluations.
And, furthermore, no testing program should be used as the basis of a reward/punishment system of school accountability currently required under No Child Left Behind.

But I strongly disagree with the "faddish assessments" characterization of the problem solving method of student evaluation, which is all too reminiscent of the conservative (Kremer is definitely an educational conservative) attacks on the educational innovations of "the 60's", which, as we all know, began the downward slide from excellence to mediocrity to the outright failure of public education. Let's get back to the basics. Let's get back to phonics. And traditional grammar. So the conservatives say, at least.

Well, let me ask Mr. Kremer this: If we are going to evaluate student learning, what better way to do it than by asking students to demonstrate their learning by solving real world problems, problems that require students to apply acquired knowledge from a variety of disciplines? And to demonstrate their ability to think? Letter grades, perhaps? Or scores from multiple choice tests?

Here's what Oregon's testing coordinator says about the problem solving
component of the state's battery of tests:

" 'Oregon testing officials say the tests are a crucial component in determining student performance. The state's employers insist that they want workers who can solve problems in teams and who can communicate with others about their problem-solving, which are skills not measured on a multiple-choice test,' said Steve Slater, Oregon's testing coordinator."

Problem solving is an innovation in authentic assessment which we need to see more of. Problem solving exercises are difficult to write and even more difficult to score. But they're unique in the world of testing and measurement.
Kids actually learn from them while their skills are being evaluated.

See my posts from April 7th and 8th for more on testing and NCLB, and this one from Jan. 30.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Historians typically rely on "converging lines of evidence" from separate sources to assess the probability of the truth of an historical event. In other words, is there sufficient evidence to conclude that the event actually occurred? Or as
noted scholar Groucho Marx asked, "Who you gonna believe? Me, or your own eyes?

The event in question here is the decison to invade Iraq. The converging lines of evidence come most recently from Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack, from Paul O'Neill, and from Richard Clarke. All suggest that the decision to invade Iraq was made shortly after 9/11, and, in the case of O'Neill and Clarke, was a priority of the Bush Administration before the terrorist attacks.

From the Woodward book:

"Bush told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Nov. 21, 2001 -- less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan -- to prepare for possible war with Iraq, and kept some members of his closest circle in the dark, Woodward said."

O'Neill, in his "60 Minutes" interview accused Bush of an obsession with Iraq shortly after his inauguration:

" 'From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,' says O?Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11."

And Clarke, both in his book and his "60 Minutes" interview makes it clear that Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, and Bush himself were fixated on Iraq both before and after 9/11.

The issue here is not strictly whether invading Iraq was the right thing to do (although I think it was absolutely wrong, on a number of levels).
The issue here is the credibility of Bush and his cronies about when the decision was made.

And I think the evidence is in.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Former school board candidate Jim Davis dropped this bombshell in a call to Joe Uris during yesterday morning's talk show on KBOO.

Davis recalled a gathering at the Mallory Hotel with former Senator Wayne Morris in 1974 when Morris called Neil Goldscmidt "the most corrupt young politician" around.

Now maybe those weren't the exact words used (KBOO doesn't have program transcripts), and maybe Davis doesn't remember precisely what was said, but I know Jim Davis, and I don't believe he would make something like that up.

But given the iconography that surrounds Goldschmidt dating back to his days as wunderkind mayor of Portland, I found the comment interesting, to say the least.

In other interesting local news, former Clinton U.S. Forest Service Chief, Jack Ward Thomas, says "...it's time to give up cutting old-growth trees and instead accelerate other public land logging... ."

Given that more than 70% of Oregonians want old growth forests left alone, that sounds like a good idea. We'll see how far it goes. Just never underestimate the timber industry's rapacious appetite for those big logs.

While we're on the environment, this article from the Guardian claims that our President "has had a 'devastating impact' on global sustainable development and set the world back more than ten years... ."
It seems that even the British agree that Bush has been an environmental disaster.

After his bumbling and thoroughly inarticulate performance in last night's news conference, who in his right mind could vote for George W. Bush in the upcoming election?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Another letter posted on the EDDRA site (see previous post) from Kenneth Bernstein
affirms what I've said again and again about the limitations of standardized testing in determining which schools are succeeding, or failing. Here's the pertinent section of the letter:

"Further, proposals in NCLB based on the idea that schools are 'failing' [and I
won't debate that point here] are also somewhat specious, because they usually
look only at the overall scores for the school, not the scores of the individual
receiving the voucher. If that individual has a score that is not 'failing' one
could reasonably argue that the school is not failing that student
, regardless of its overall performance, and that therefoe that child should not be entitled to a transfer with voucher $$.

"Of course, none of this even addresses the idea of the fallacy of attempting to use a test of individuals and using those scores to evaluate the school. Most professional organizations having anything to do with either education or measurement criticize such an approach - the same instrument does not allow one to draw valid inferences at two different levels, even if we did not have the further problem that such one-shot tests are themselves subject to large errors of measurement, that the disaggregation of scores required under NCLB leads to such small subgroups that variance year to year may simply be an artifact of the different membership of those groups year to year, and that by
and large there is no control in any of the testing for factors outside of the
control of schools orteachers that have impact on such scores, such as prior
knowledge, access, or lack thereof, to reinforcing activities outside the school,

I've suggested that the Portland School Board take an official stance on the issue of NCLB, and further, on the district's policy of virtual open enrollment, which has the ultimate effect of leaving the least able students behind. All, of course, based on the egregious reliance on achievement test scores to judge the "quality" of individual schools.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

A few of the letters posted on the EDDRA group e-mail site (Gerald Bracey's Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency) have been quite eloquent in their criticism of No Child Left Behind and school choice. Here are three that, to my mind, stand out.

Marty Solomon's scathing deconstruction of NCLB echoes much of what I have written. Here's the letter:

The Problems with No Child Left Behind
By Marty Solomon

In a misguided attempt to strengthen public education, the No Child Left Behind legislation will actually damage our schools.

Under NCLB, all children are required to reach academic proficiency, or acceptable academic levels established by each state. While states have defined minimum acceptable standards for regular students, they never envisioned that disabled children would also be able to attain those levels. But the NCLB law makes no exceptions---disabled children, which now make up 13% of all school kids, must pass the same tests as regular students.

The impact of this requirement will result in states needing to lower standards for all children because states are not allowed to have a different standard for disabled youngsters. Yet those lower standards will still be too high for most disabled kids. So the unintended consequence of a mistaken attempt to ?raise the bar? will actually result of a lowering of that same minimum level of accomplishment for most students while being still too high for the learning disabled.

In addition, under NCLB, if any subgroup of children within a school does not demonstrate proficiency for two years in a row, that school is labeled a ?failing? school. Research shows that throughout the nation, poor and minority children, on average, score lower than more affluent, white and Asian children. Significant additional support and tutoring can help non-achievers, but it would cost billions more to provide this level of intensive supplementary instruction. For example, KIPP schools in New York and Texas seem to do amazing things with poor and minority children. But teachers and students attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, spend four more hours in the classroom on Saturdays, have two hours of homework every night and spend one month of each summer in class. Further, parents must sign a contract to work almost as hard as the children.

While such a program might be possible in public schools, there is not even a fraction of the resources provided by the NCLB to fund such a massive new initiative. Thus, the public schools are mandated to do something which is virtually impossible and the teachers and children have been condemned to failure.

Finally, under NCLB, if children attend a failing school, they are eligible to transfer to another school with transportation provided, if space is available. The implication of this is astounding. The best schools in any town are generally those in the highest priced neighborhoods. Why? Because the most educated people, on average, have the best jobs and the most money. They buy in upscale neighborhoods. Their children are ?learning ready? when they start school. Those neighborhoods have the best schools because they have the best students.

"Failing" schools will generally be those with the poorest and minority students and those are the kids that will be bused to the best schools. Does this sound familiar? It should because it is deja vous. The same busing plan destroyed our inner cities in the 60?s and 70?s because poor children were bused to more affluent neighborhoods where those homeowners fled to the suburbs. This provision of NCLB will result in busing all over again. But the untold ?gotcha? is that when there is not enough room in other public schools to accommodate all students who want to transfer, the next version of NCLB will mandate vouchers to private schools. That seems to be the real, underlying rationale for NCLB in the first place.

In summary, the No Child Left Behind legislation, makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the most disadvantaged and most deprived children to be successful, it ignores high achievers by requiring only minimal proficiency, it insures failure by not providing nearly enough money for the needed one-on-one supplementary tutoring and it will result in the destruction of entire neighborhoods through a new round of busing.

If Asama Bin Laden wanted to destroy our public school system, he couldn?t have designed a better plan.

Here's another one from Dick Allington (with my emphasis added):

"Why is it that these 'free market' school choice types want the government to
fund their schools? Why is it that most want funds from the public trough but reject the achievement testing accountability model that operates in the
public schools?
A free market of educational choice already exists and it isn't doing well financially and no one really knows how the free market students are
doing academically. I'm not at all sure why we bother even arguing with these
ideologues given the huge holes in their arguments. I suggest they work harder
on funding their faith-based efforts -- it takes a lot of faith in the
markets to see any rationality in their proposals -- for schooling alternatives."

Finally, a letter from Jill Kerper Mora (again with my emphasis added):

"At the very core of this discussion is the question: What are we trying to accomplish with the 'school choice' provision of NCLB? As an educator, I am baffled by the apparent inability of policymakers to match solutions up with perceived problems. If the problem that 'school choice' is designed to address is the lack of educational opportunities in 'underperforming schools,' then it seems only logical and rationale to examine the means for improving the performance of those schools. Parents will always prefer neighborhood schools, for a variety of sound logistical, social and educational reasons. The time, expense and difficulty involved in sending children out of the neighborhood to go to school on a daily basis are daunting, and prohibitive for most parents. Consequently, if the conditions exist that Mr. Stansfield describes, such as lack of safety, disaffected teachers, constant disruptions, lack of respect for teachers, etc. in neighborhood schools, these are the problems that must be addressed. The difficulty we educators have with the 'school choice' provision is that it does nothing to address the real problems of schools, while draining these already struggling schools of resources and further destabilizing the school environments. The policy supposedly provides an 'escape valve' for those parents who no longer have a commitment to their neighborhood schools, and who feel entitled to abandon them rather than work to improve them. In other words, it is a policy that makes matters worse instead of better.

"One of the less frequently discussed aspects of these counter-productive policies such as labeling schools and "school choice" is the impact on teachers as a labor force. At the risk of stating the obvious, teachers are subject to the vagueries of human nature. It is human nature to want to play on a winning team. Few of us are motivated, out of altruism or missionary zeal, to join a team with a long losing streak--one which is about to be disbanded by the powers that be and abandoned by the fans and other supporters. So what incentive exists for better teachers, more skilled administrators, and more dedicated and involved parents to work to improve and support an 'underperforming school'? In NCLB, the federal government is enforcing a policy that sounds the death knell for the most beleaguered neighborhood schools. Is this really the role we want the government to play in public education? Aren't we as Americans capable of logical and rational problem-solving by rejecting policies that do not move us toward accomplishing our goals and finding solutions that work?

"I reject the notion that we educators should 'stay out of politics' when the politics work against our efforts to improve education for all our nation's children."

Amen, amen, and amen again!

Read my Jan. 30 post for a flavor of my repeated criticisms of NCLB.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Is Vicki Phillips the right choice for Portland Schools Superintendent?

This article from the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal raises some doubts
not only about the particulars of her "successful " tenure as Superintendent in Lancaster, but also about her management style:

"At least one of Phillips' most vocal critics in Lancaster, Anna Smith, thought the investigations could have been part of the reason Phillips is leaving Harrisburg.

" 'I think there are two reasons she left,' said Smith, a city parent. 'She wasn't getting her way in Harrisburg and she couldn't stand the pressure of the investigations.' Smith was called and interviewed by an Oregonian reporter Monday night on Phillip's tenure in the city district.

'I was honest with her,'' said Smith. 'The first year we had a lot of faith in her, but as she started to bring her people in, a lot of good principals were shoved out.' Smith said there are widely varying opinions on the subject of test scores within the district."

And this:

" 'She (Phillips) started out very well liked, very positive, very much in the public eye,' Smith said. 'But Vicki could never handle criticism well.' School board member Michael Winterstein, who served with Phillips and helped hire Curry as her successor, agreed with Smith that Phillips often dismissed criticism rather than confront it."

What I fear is that the board is so narrowly focused on closing the achievement gap that the only criterion by which superintendent candidates are judged is a record of improved test scores.

I further fear that the board has hired a thin skinned, abrasive leader with a top-down management style. That doesn't bode well for the kind of school reform that the district so desperately needs.

Whether Vicki Phillips actually becomes a "visionary leader", as board co-chair
Lolenzo Poe described her, I guess only time will tell.


Orwellian double-speak, or Bush propaganda to deflect attention from, and to marginalize, a serious environmental issue? Both, emphatically!

Anyway, here's an op-ed piece from the Tribune by Jonathan Patz of Johns Hopkins University, and an expert on the health effects of global "clmate change", or warming.

He also wrote this longer piece on the same topic. In it, he concludes:

"The health effects expected from global climate change, however, will involve exposure factors (or processes) that will likely be ecologically-based and difficult to quantify over extended time scales. (24) This relationship between ecosystem stability and long-term human health underscores the importance of far-sighted sustainable development and reinforces the need for integration of sustainable health and development policies."

In other words, Mr. Bush, ratify the Kyoto Treaty and start thinking beyond the 2004 election.

As I've said before, Bush is the worst environmental President in history. That's reason enough to show him the door in 2004.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

For the past few days I've found myself embroiled in a discussion (through the EDDRA
e-mail group) of school choice, school privatization, and the role of NCLB in the whole debate. In response to one participant who made reference to "objective criteria" for determining "poorly performing" schools, I fired off this letter:

"I'm curious about how you define the "objective criteria" that determine which
schools are "underperforming". Actually, I'm even more curious about how one
defines an underperforming school. Or a failing school.

"It should seem obvious to any "objective" observer that the only criteria
currently used to rate schools as either "successful" or "failing" are
standardized tests in reading and math, which most reputable researchers dismiss
as entirely inadequate to the task.

"That said, it should seem equally obvious that test scores reflect student
capabilities, NOT the performance of a school. Until we develop and use broader
performance assessments of school programs and school climates, we should all
resolve to refrain from the silliness of labeling schools as either good
(sucessful) or bad (failing)."

To which I received a challenge to back up, with evidence, my "silly" assertion about "reputable researchers" dismissing standardized tests as
"adequate to the task" of judging school performance.

Needless to say, I accepted the challenge. Here's what I wrote:

"Challenge accepted. In addition to researchers, allow me to also include some
educational "thinkers".

Berliner and Amrein, who conclude in their study, "The Impact of High Stakes Tests",
".... students are learning the content of state administered tests and perhaps
little else. This learning does not, however, appear to have any meaningful
carryover effect." Also check the endnotes.

The Northwest Evaluation Association reports a "huge
disparity in proficiency standards
" for test results established by 14 Western

Mony Niell of Fairtest, in this Kappan article is highly critical of standardized testing as a means to judge the performance of schools. Again, check the endnotes.

Marion Brady, one of our EDDRA correspondents, whom I regard as a perceptive
thinker on educational issues, wrote this article to clarify his stand against standardized testing.

And of course, our own Gerald Bracey, both a thinker AND a researcher, has
written frequently about the inadequacy of tests to measure fully what students
get from schools. In his 11th Report on the Condition of Public Education, he says this:

"If 2000 was the year that testing went crazy, 2001 was the year it went
stark raving mad. I have already recounted three of the most outrageous
incidents. Others merely reflect the tyranny of testing. What say we take a
moment to consider a few of the personal qualities that standardized tests do
not measure: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence,
humor, reliability, enthusiasm, civic-mindedness, self-awareness,
self-discipline, empathy, leadership, and compassion."

I consider those I've cited as reputable. If you don't, I welcome your
refutations. Of course, as you probably well know, there are many others.

P.S. I believe that standardized tests are good diagnostic tools when used
properly. Judging school performance is NOT a proper use of the data derived from test scores.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

"Rather, the issue is why the Bush administration is systematically unwilling to clearly convey to the American public an accurate picture of its agenda. The answer is that Bush's dishonesty is not a personal foible or character flaw but rather a response to the fact that his agenda, when stated truthfully, is very unpopular. "

So says Matthew Yglesias in his column for the American Prospect addressing the Bush Administrtion's "credibility gap".

Take the tax cut, for example. Say I'm poor, and I get nothing, nada, zilch from Bush's tax plan. You're rich, and you get a break of $10,000.
Does George W. tell us this, in a straight-forward manner? No, of course not.
He says instead, the average taxpayer gets a cut of $5000.

That's misleading, to say the least, and explains why the majority of Americans, in early 2001, favored tax cuts for middle and lower income and thought the rich paid too little, but then, when polled after listening to the spin, the evasions, the deceptive locutions of the Bush propagandists, favored the tax cuts by a 5 to 3 margin, thinking they were getting what they previously desired.

Yglesias cites this paper by two Yale researchers to drive the point home.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

To follow up on my previous post, here's helpful hint number one, courtesy of Gerald Bracey, as the school board tries to make sense of the No Child Left Behind act:

"The arrival of large numbers of low-scoring students might well convert a successful school into a failing one. At the same time, since the departing students take their low scores with them, the sending school's test scores will automatically rise."


Like me, Bracey is no fan of NCLB, but he is an educational researcher, an expert in testing and measurement, and a clear thinker and lucid writer. He's also, again like me, a strong defender of the public schools.

Here's his (brief) bio.

In my Feb. 26 post, in response to the Secretary of Education's calling the National Education Association a "terrorist organization", I wrote: "Rod Paige should be fired. He's a fraud and a disgrace."

Well, OEA President Kris Kain has a column in the latest edition of OEA Today calling for the Secretary and the Bush Administration to "stop the scare tactics" and "fix" the education law - No Child Left Behind- the NEA stance which caused all the furor in the first place.

In her column (which also appeared in the Feb. 27 Oregonian), Kain says that the law "sets up students and schools for failure."

NCLB has already accomplished this feat (which as I've said before, is the real intent of the law) right here in Portland. Both Jefferson and Roosevelt will probably not meet the NCLB's strict standards for making adequate yearly progress in student achievement, and now the school board must decide what remedies should be put in place.

I would suggest that the board, before it does anything, should pass a resolution calling for a fully funded federal law. And then review the research on the inadequacy of standardized testing to determine
how well students are doing. Hey, I'll help them out with that.

Speaking of the board, negotiations have begun with teachers on a new contract, and, like last time, the difficult issue, the real sticking point, will again be health care benefits. OEA Today deals with the issue of rising health care costs in a lengthy article entitled "The Health Care Headache".

Which brings to mind Paul Krugman's assertion that "...private plans are much less efficient than the government at providing health insurance because they have much higher overhead." And: "Sometimes there's no magic in the free market. In fact, it can be a hindrance. Health insurance is one place where government agencies consistently do a better job than private companies."

Click here to read the entire column.

And while we're rummaging around in OEA Today, here's another article by OEA Executive Director Joann Waller that confronts head-on the often
heard contention that excessive government spending is bad for the ecconomy. In fact, she writes, the "56,000 K-12 jobs" paid for with tax dollars
"supported an additional 51,000 jobs" in the private sector.

Enough said.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Today's Monday Profile in the Oregonian outs Chistopher Frankonis as the author of the local blog, Portland Communique, aka "the one true b!x".

On March 16, I posted his letter to the Tribune as part of a strong defense of the county's decision to issue same sex marriage licenses, a defense I continued in my March 22 post. In that post I quoted U of O Law Professor Robert Tsai as saying:

"Would the issue of gay marriage have been addressed anytime soon without the actions of the Multnomah County Commission?" Tsai asks. "I think not."

As I said then, it's time for the Oregonian to lay off.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

This front page article from the New York Times revisits the voting scandals in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election, but it only tells part of the story.

Indeed, the story refers to the disenfranchisement of voters back
then as a "lingering puzzle":

"In one lingering puzzle from 2000, an unknown number of legal voters were removed from Florida's rolls leading up to the presidential election, after a company working for the state mistakenly identified the voters as felons."

But if you see the documentary film Unprecedented (see my Feb.20
post), or you read the articles of investigative journalist Greg Palast,
you shouldn't be too "puzzled" about what actually happened.

Nor should you be too puzzled by the Bush Administration's heavy-handed reponse
to anyone with the chutzpah to raise the issue publically, as evidenced by what happened to Representative Cynthia McKinney.

Or by the timidity of the mainstream press. Dan Rather suggested in this interview with the BBC that journalists feared being "necklaced" if they spoke critically of the government following 9-11:

"It's an obscene comparison but there was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tyres around people's necks if they dissented. In some ways, the fear is that you will be neck-laced here, you will have a flaming tyre of lack of patriotism put around your neck. It's that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions and to continue to bore-in on the tough questions so often. Again, I'm humbled to say I do not except myself from this criticism."

Today's article in the Times, then, might be excused for its "lingering puzzle" characterization.

Hey, at least it's on the front page.

Saturday, March 27, 2004


George W. Bush continues to burnish his reputation as the worst environmental President ever with this change of rules regarding surveying national forests before logging. The surveys were previously required to determine whether any species, endangered or not, would be harmed by the proposed logging.

And that's as it should be, because a mature forest is an ecosystem, and an ecosystem is dependent on all the species within its complex web of life, from the marquis predators at the top of the food chain, like the spotted owl, or the salmon, down to the so-called lower forms of life, the bacteria and the fungi, which are equally important to the vitality of the whole.

The Endangered Species Act, although perhaps not its original intent, does provide a legal means by which enviromentalists can act to protect
habitat, which is just another word for ecosystem.

And that's the whole point, one that forest industry officials, who undoubtedly lobbied for the change, are well aware of. Here's what one said:

"There's nothing in the law that requires such special protection for species that aren't listed," said Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, a Portland-based timber industry group.

"There's no need to spend millions and millions of dollars having people crawling around on their hands and knees looking for these species anymore," West said.

In other words, it's all about the money, and to hell with these insignificant little creatures that nobody's heard of anyway.

Here's another news article on the issue with a slightly different perspective.

Click here to see a spotted owl in action. And then click here for a succinct explanation of ecosystem interdependency.

Lastly, here's the Rolling Stone article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. that lists all the environmental crimes of George W. Bush.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Joe Conason's latest column is the best analysis I've read
of Richard Clarke's scathing criticism of Bush and friends, and of the carefully scripted, tightly disciplined response of the White House to Clarke's damaging allegations.

For example, here's what he says about VP Dick Cheney, who did his part to smear Clarke on, of all places, the Rush Limbaugh show:

"Vice President Dick Cheney, who now prevaricates shamelessly on Rush Limbaugh's radio program, proclaimed in May 2001 that he would undertake an immediate review of the nation's preparedness to deal with terrorism. As The Washington Post reported in January 2002, that review was postponed until after Sept. 11. The Vice President was busy meeting with energy lobbyists instead of responding to the urgent findings of the Hart-Rudman commission's crucial, multi-volume study of homeland insecurity."

So, who you gonna believe, Cheney or Clarke? That the latter is the correct choice
should be beyond dispute.

Here are a couple of other Conason columns that should be of interest. Click here.
Then click here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

On the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks, my somewhat conservative Republican brother-in-law, an insurance broker and history buff, called me. He said, without preface, "We need an American mandate in Israel, just like the British mandate before Israeli independence."

In other words, he had concluded that American support for Israel was at the heart of
Arab enmity toward the United States. I agreed with him.

Now, for the first time ever, we hear public calls by Palestinians for retribution against
America for its continuing support of Israel, and, by implication, of Ariel Sharon's murderous rampage against Hamas.

David Ignatius in today's Washington post says that
"Sharon has failed:"

"An enraged Hamas has vowed new suicide bombings in retaliation, and governments across the Middle East and Europe issued statements on Monday condemning Israel. 'It's unacceptable, it's unjustified and it's very unlikely to achieve its objective,' said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

"But will the Israeli operation work? That's the question a modern Machiavelli would ask. The killing of Sheik Yassin might be justified -- politically if not morally -- if it stopped the spread of the terrorism Yassin had helped foment. But even by this test, the assassination seems unlikely to achieve its intended result."

The response of the Bush Administration: The assassination of Sheik Yassin is
"troubling". Troubling?

This is yet another example of the failure of Bush foreign policy. It can be argued that the current administration's response to terror is identical to
Sharon's: Bludgeon the "enemy" into submission, then negotiate from a position of absolute strength.

From my humble perspective, violence, in the end, only begets more violence.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The Oregonian continues its relentless assault on the Multnomah County Commission, this time with a front page article claiming that the county decision to issue same sex marriage licenses has damaged the credibiity of government throughout the state:

"The county's secretive decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and its later defiance of Kulongoski's calls for a halt, have been a setback for the governor, who has made rebuilding public trust a hallmark of his administration."

That follows on the heels of David Sarasohn's somewhat equivocal column yesterday citing solid support for the county's decision by local legal scholars, including Robert Tsai
at the U of O Law School, Steven Kanter of Lewis and Clark, and Tobias Wolff of Stanford.

Tsai had this to say:

"They're all taking their oaths very seriously," Robert L. Tsai of the University of Oregon Law School says about the county commissioners. "Whichever way you go, there are costs.

"Suppose the state passed a law saying a county will not issue business licenses to Asian American applicants. I think that the county makes a legal judgment that it will continue to be inclusive until there is a court ruling, doing just what Multnomah County is doing."

And then this:

"Would the issue of gay marriage have been addressed anytime soon without the actions of the Multnomah County Commission?" Tsai asks. "I think not."

Now I've disagreed with County Chair Diane Linn on a number of issues, starting with
her push to house the new Sellwood Branch Library in a leased, and claustrophobic storefront. And in my Feb. 6 post I lay the blame for the defeat of Measure 30 squarely at the feet of Linn.

But let me repeat what I said in my March 13 post: The county (and Linn) did the right thing, absolutely, in their decision to begin issuing same sex marriage licenses.

It's time for the Oregonian to lay off!

Sunday, March 21, 2004


That's all I have to say about Stanford blowng a 13 point lead with less than ten minutes to go and losing to Alabama in the NCAA tournament. Oh well. It's just a game, right? Yeah, right!

The Portland Tribune again did what it does best with its excellent feature article on Ted Hallock, the man responsible for Oregon's landmark bottle bill and, more importantly, Senate Bill 100, which mandated state-wide land use planning. Over the years Oregon has developed a reputation for livability due in large part, thanks to Hallock and Senate Bill 100, to its mostly successful efforts to limit urban sprawl.

That's important, especially in light of the developing ecological disaster in the Southwest. According to the report by Faye Flam, the naturally arid
West may be reverting to its natural state as water resources are depleted. It raises
"fundamental questions about how habitable the booming region truly is":

"A continuing drought could wipe out farmers and ranchers throughout the West, from pinto bean growers in New Mexico to cantaloupe farmers in California's San Joaquin Valley. And it could stifle the sprawling growth of the West's swimming-pool-dotted suburbs.

"Scientists say this present crisis may reflect the true character of the West - an arid land that Americans have not inhabited long enough to fully understand."

In other environmental news, the Oregonian tday ran a feature about the
infamous eco-vigilante Paul Watson, who once tracked a rogue whaling vessel all the way to Portugal and rammed and disabled it with his steel hulled
boat. He now commands a fleet of such boats, one named after famed Canadian author, Farley Mowatt.

Although Mowatt is best known for his book, Never Cry Wolf, I think his best and most important work may be his 1952 People of the Deer, a deeply moving account of the Canadian Innuit and the assault on their way of life by Western culture.

It's interesting to note that Mowatt was "denied entry to the United States during the Reagan Administration." That speaks volumes about both Mowatt's environmental ethic and Reagan, who once famously, and idiotically, claimed that "trees cause pollution."

Speaking of Reagan, it must be said that his decision to cut and run
from Lebanon after a terrorist attack killed 240 U.S. Marines is cited frequently as the main reason for the brazen and continuing assault on American assets by today's Islamist extremists.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

To follow up on my last post, here's more on Bush:

" Our country remains under threat of terrorist attack, a threat that has likely increased as a consequence of the international anger at our attack and ongoing occupation of Iraq."

So says Joseph Wilson, he of Niger yellowcake fame and probably better known as the husband of outed CIA spook, Valerie Plame. His article for Salon.com, The Pinocchio Presidency, says the Bush campaign is "characterized by lies and disinformation."

And Josh Marshall says the Bush Administration "should be fired"
for making such a mess of things. Just like he would fire an employee who took a "crap" on his desk. Marshall is sick of the Administration's deflection of criticism:

"Again and again I read -- or hear directly from administration supporters -- this excuse that any questioning of the administration's record in foreign affairs, or Iraq, or even on other matters is just a deplorable focusing on the past, a distraction, when the nation faces grave challenges which we need to focus on solving."

I've been itching to write about the hypocrisy of Bush in his claim to be tough on terrorism. especially since he and his administration all but ignored the warnings of the outgoing Clinton administration that " Al Qaeda posed the worst security threat facing the nation - ... ."

Al Franken claimed as much in his best-selling book, Lies and the Lying Liiars Who Tell Them. Although he was emphatic in his assertion that the Clintonites had written a detailed counter-terrorism plan that they presented to Bush's national security advisors, I wasn't certain how serious he was in that particular chapter of his book, especially since very little has turned up in the mainstream press about it until today's front page NY Times article. All I can say is, it's about time, especially considering how the right wing (Richard Perle, et al) continually pummels Clinton for his "weak" reponse to terrorist attacks.

In the New York Times Magazine article on Franken, Norman Ornstein characterizes
him (Franken) as a serious "policy wonk":

''This is not someone who dabbles in policy and politics. He has a nuanced sense of the issues and reads very widely. We've talked through foreign affairs and defense issues, and I can tell you he is able to deal with the substance of those better than a whole lot of members of the House and Senate I've dealt with.''

Of course, all that is pre 9/11. But Paul Krugman and others accuse Bush of allowing the obsession with Iraq to "distract" him from pursuing the real perpetrators of the World Trade Center catastrophe:

"Polls suggest that a reputation for being tough on terror is just about the only remaining political strength George Bush has. Yet this reputation is based on image, not reality. The truth is that Mr. Bush, while eager to invoke 9/11 on behalf of an unrelated war, has shown consistent reluctance to focus on the terrorists who actually attacked America, or their backers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

This reluctance dates back to Mr. Bush's first months in office. Why, after all, has his inner circle tried so hard to prevent a serious investigation of what happened on 9/11? There has been much speculation about whether officials ignored specific intelligence warnings, but what we know for sure is that the administration disregarded urgent pleas by departing Clinton officials to focus on the threat from Al Qaeda."

It remains to be seen whether Kerry, with a little help from a responsible media, can drive this point home.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Media Transparency describes a
huge right wing propaganda machine which researcher Rob Stein calls the "cohort" -- an "incubator of right-wing, ideological policies that constitute the administration's agenda, and, to the extent that it has one, runs its policy machinery."

The cohort- or right wing propaganda apparatus- includes many well-funded and well known "think tanks". You probably are familiar with the names: the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Hudson Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, the Reason Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and many others, totaling forty- three in all.

It's an eye-opening piece, and well worth the reading.
Half Kenyan, half American, Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate candidate in Illinois to fill the seat of retiring right-winger Peter FitzGerald, may just be the D's best bet for picking up a much needed Senate seat.

But beyond that, he's a poke in the eye of George W. Bush. Why? Well, remember how George W. kicked off his execrable South Carolina primary campaign in 2000 by visiting Bob Jones University? And how, until about a year ago Bob Jones U. banned interracial dating? Well, Obama, as it turns out, is the product of an interracial marriage! His mother is white.

Here's what Obama said about the marriage of his Kenyan father and his white mother:

"In 1960," he wrote, "the year that my parents married, miscegenation still described a felony in over half the states in the Union."

Now of course, George W., always behind the cultural curve, wants to outlaw gay marriage.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


One of my favorite courses as an undergraduate was Constitutional Law, taught by a man named- I kid you not- Howard Dean. And of course the most important case we studied was Marbury vs. Madison, the case in which Chief Justice John Marshall established the doctrine of judicial review. Simply stated, that means the courts can strike down legislation which is contrary to the supreme law of the land, the Constitution. Here's how two law professors described the decision:

"Marshall said it was absolutely clear that all of those who had framed written constitutions, an implicit reference to the various state constitutions, intended those documents to be supreme. As a result, 'an act of the legislature, repugnant to the Constitution, is void.' "

It's this propensity of the courts to to interpret the laws, and especially the Constitution,
that inflames conservatives to raise the cry of judicial activism whenever a court ruling offends them. Some go further, like Tom DeLay, who claims we have a "runaway judiciary."

Meanwhile, back in Oregon, Benton County (Corvallis) is now also issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The revolution gathers steam.

Here's a letter to the editor from today's paper with some concrete reasons why gay marriage is a necessary step in securing equal rights for everyone:

"I was amazed last weekend to hear an opponent of same-sex marriage say the words 'separate but equal.' History has long proved that 'separate' will never be 'equal.' That person proposed civil unions for same-sex couples. Marriage itself is a civil union. It may have religious overtones when performed in a church, synagogue or temple, but it is just as binding and legal when performed by a justice of the peace in a wedding chapel.

Marriage enables one spouse to inherit from the other without paying inheritance taxes, allows one spouse to draw on the other's Social Security and says to the world that this couple is committed beyond a power of attorney agreement.

Marriage in and of itself is not a religious matter, but it is that extra step beyond a civil union, which is not recognized by the federal government as concerns taxation and Social Security, or insurance health benefits and many other everyday rights heterosexual married couples just expect.

Let us not be afraid to take the extra step. It cannot hurt religion. If a religious organization wishes not to perform the ceremony, that is its right. "


This article from the front page of the New York Times says that three members of New York City's Panel on Education Policy were fired for opposing Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan for holding back third graders with deficient skills.

The three dissident members of the panel merely asked, if we hold them back, what are we going to do with them? And they had the temerity to ask about the research regarding retention of students, which they discovered, to no one's surprise except maybe Bloomberg's, is overwhelmingly opposed to the policy.
The article is quite explicit in that regard:

"Over the last two decades, dozens of studies have led many educators to conclude that policies forcing students to repeat a grade are costly and counterproductive, resulting in no gains in student achievement and sharp increases in dropout rates. Such policies, like one in New York City in the 1980's, are often quietly abandoned after just a few years.

" 'The problem is not social promotion,' said Jay P. Heubert, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University and co-author of a major National Research Council report on the issue. 'The problem is low achievement, and just about anything we can do for low-achieving kids will be better if we simply leave retention out of the equation.' "

Social promotion is a talking point in the conservative case against public education, an evil to be eradicated, as evidenced by the policy changes being pushed by Mayor Bloomberg who is now in charge of the New York City public school system, even though the research shows he's dead wrong. But who pays attention to the research? Obviously not the politicians.

Judicial activism is the current favorite talking point -catch phrase-
for reactionaries alarmed at the prospect of gay marriage. Or maybe they're not really as alarmed as they are opportunist, viewing this velvet revolution as simply another wedge issue they can turn to their political advantage.

More on "judicial activism" in the next post.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

No, I'm not gay, but I stand firmly behind what I said in my March 13 post, that Multnomah County is doing the right thing, absolutely, in issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. And it's right that the process continues despite the mealy-mouthed pleas by our governor and attorney general for the county to desist until the courts have decided the issue of constitutionality.

That's why I loved it when Commissioner Lisa Naito, a lawyer, accused Attorney General
Hardy Myers and Governor Kulongoski of "convoluted bureaucratic gibberish." Here's Naito's withering response in its entirety:

"But Naito fired a verbal salvo. 'Through some convoluted, bureaucratic gibberish, Myers and the governor advise us to continue to discriminate,' Naito said. 'This is Law School 101. You learn in the first week of class that the Constitution always prevails when state law is wrong.

'The governor could have shown leadership in achieving consistency in our state's civil marriage laws. He did not. He took the politically expedient course and cowers behind a state statute he and the attorney general know violates people's constitutional rights.' "

And in today's Tribune, writer Christopher Frankonis blasts those who criticize the county's decision
on procedural grounds (like the Oregonian's editorial board).
"In reality," he says, " to my mind, it's actually the bogus fixation on the process question that gives energy to the opposition."

He goes on to say, and to me this is the crux of the issue, that "the county in effect had already 'outlawed' gay marriage by having a policy of refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Finally, in the Color Commentary section on the same page of the Tribune, are these comments on the issue from four Portlanders. I especially like Paddy Tillet's take:

""We do not choose our color, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Our constitution recognizes us all as equal despite our differences. Is it bigotry or ignorance that motivates so many people to exclude one category or another from constitutional equality? Multnomah County's decision is a triumph for those fundamental values that underpin our society: equality for every citizen in the eyes of the law."

If the Tribune keeps this up, it may steal all the advertising from Portland's one gay newspaper, Just Out.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The law of unintended consequences strikes again!

The Bush Administration's "attack on Iraq" has apparently driven its favorite European coalition ally, Spain, into the hands of the Socialists! Woohoo! And Spain's new lefty leader has promised immediate withdrawal of all Spanish troops from Iraq.

Probably just in time, too. According to this article from the NY Times, new tactics by Iraqi insurgents have claimed the lives of six more American soldiers.

Despite the mounting casualties (that includes the 200 dead in Spain), U.S. strategy remains stubbornly the same: hunt down and kill all the terrorists in the world. That approach is about as likely to succeed, it seems to me, as the war on drugs.

Back home, in the meantime, the campaign of straight shooter George Bush has suffered another blow because of its recent ads and news releases promoting the Medicare prescription drug bill. It turns out the "journalists" used in the spots aren't really journalists. Is it possible that "Honest George" is attempting to manipulate the media?

And lastly, here's a plea for bigger government from a true straight talker. and proud liberal, Congressman Barney Frank, who believes government is the solution (to joblessness), not the problem.

Barney Frank, by the way, is gay. Openly homosexual. I'm happy that he's in Congress, and not Jerry Falwell. As Martha Stewart would say, "it's a good thing."

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Here's more on Haiti, this from Matthew Miller, a syndicated columnist and fellow at the Center for American Progress, who has actually met Aristide.

The Center also published this column critical of the American response to the Haitian "rebellion". It says in part:

"While Aristide may have led a corrupt and violent government, he was the internationally recognized and elected leader of Haiti, and should have been treated by all sides as such. Instead, the United States allowed the opposition, despite its refusal to participate in the political process for the last several years, a veto in the negotiations. U.S. actions in Haiti send a signal to opposition forces around the world that violence, extremism, and terror are legitimate means of political change, and that the United States values expediency over democracy."

Saturday, March 13, 2004


We are indeed in the midst of a cultural revolution, and right here in P-Town. How else can one describe the sight of hundreds of same-sex couples lined up around the block at the Multnomah Building waiting to get their marriage licenses?

Is the county doing the right thing? Absolutely, despite the weeping and gnashing of teeth at the Oregonian. Here's what Xander Patterson had to say about it in his letter to the editor yesterday:

"Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves not only without any public hearings, but without the constitutional authority to change the law. He waged war on the South to enforce his unilateral decree -- not a very democratic process.

But then, the counterweight to majority rule is the guarantee of all the rights of citizenship to minorities. Whenever judges, or more rarely, politicians, show some leadership in protecting minorities from majority bigotry, they should be applauded. Thanks, commissioners."

And this from letter writer Marilyn Diggs today:

"Issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples is a matter of basic constitutional rights, and we should not submit the 'equal protection' clause of the state constitution or any other constitution to a process of 'public comment' or, worse yet, majority rule."

And, despite the headlines in today's Big O, Attorney General Hardy Myers agrees with county attorney Agnes Sowle that the state law banning same sex marriage is "probably unconstitutional".

That brings us to the more fundamental issue of what's right and what's wrong.
Although I've described myself as a pragmatist, as one who seeks solutions to problems, I readily admit that I have strong beliefs. A sense of moral indignation drives me and underlies virtually everything that I say. I believe in public education, for example. I almost instinctively defend the poor and the oppressed against the rich and the powerful. And I believe in the right of gays and lesbians to get married.

But unlike George Bush, Jerry Falwell, and others like them, my moral universe doesn't encompass many absolutes. I think it's simple-minded to view the world in terms of good and evil. It's symptomatic of lazy and shallow thinking. Here's an editorial from the Toronto Star which says that Bush is convinced he's doing "God's will". "The problem, as U.S. theologian suggests, is not with Bush's sincerity but with his evident conviction that he's doing God's will."

The gay-straight moral debate reflects the schism between fundamentalist and progressive Christians. A recent edition of Sojourners, an ecumenical Christian journal, led off with articles by two Presbyterians, one conservative and one liberal, who both had some very interesting things to say about the issue. The conservative writer says this:

" I have often told the story of hearing a conservative spokesman express his views in this way: "We normal people should tell these homosexuals that what they are doing is simply an abomination in the eyes of God." When I heard that, I tell my audiences, I wanted to get up and cry out, "Normal? You are normal? Let?s all applaud for the one sexually normal person in the room!"

The liberal says this:

"And what about the issue of gays and lesbians and the church? Richard Mouw[he's the conservative Presbyterian] and I agree about two matters. First, the question of homosexuality is important. The church cannot avoid it. But second, important as the issue is, it is not a faith-breaker. Each of us thinks that the other, seriously mistaken as the other is, is a Christian, and a Reformed one at that."

The same edition of the magazine has an interview with an evangelical best-selling author who reveals similar evidence of tolerance toward those many fundamentalists reflexively reject. Ghandi, for example, who wasn't "even a Christian". Or Martin Luther King, often dismissed as an adulterer:

"Sojourners: In Soul Survivor you talk about Gandhi. What does a Southern fundamentalist boy take from Gandhi?

Yancey: Gandhi probably made more of an intentional effort to live like Jesus than anyone else, more than any Christian I know. He actually tried to live it.

When I did the book tour on Soul Survivor, Christian radio stations and secular channels would always start with those two people,King and Gandhi, for different reasons. The Christians would say, 'What in the world are you doing with a chapter on Martin Luther King? Didn't you know he was an adulterer? And Gandhi? He's not even a Christian!' That was always the first question I got. These were my friends giving me a chance to defend myself."

I also liked this part about Christian societies:

"Yancey: That worries me a lot. Jacques Ellul makes the comment somewhere, 'How is it that the Christian gospel produces societies, the values of which are the opposite of the Christian gospel?' If you just ask somebody, around the world, 'Tell me what stands out to you about the United States,' they'll say, 'military power, unbelievable wealth by the world's standards, and sexual license.' All three of these are radically anti-Jesus. So how is it that we're viewed as the most Christian country in the world and yet characterized by the least Christian characteristics?"

I've never heard Falwell or Pat Robertson say anything remotely like that.

Lastly, from the same magazine, is this piece on WalMart.

Maybe the question among Christians, in this country at least, should be, "What would Jesus buy?"

Friday, March 12, 2004

Those of you who read this blog know that I am fundamentally opposed to using charter schools and school choice via magnet programs as vehicles for improving public education. First they undermine the whole notion of neighborhood schools (the ones kids can actually walk to.)

Secondly, no matter how much you tinker with the process of selecting students to attend these schools, they inevitably skim the most capable students off the top, and therefore, they leave kids behind. It's kind of like the sales tax. Despite exempting food and other basics, it remains a regressive tax. It falls more heavily on low income people than the rich. It makes much more sense to me to reform the entire system -all the schools- than to siphon money out of the public coffers to set up a handful of of model schools that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Anyway, since I read in the news the other day that Washington passed a charter school bill, it's time to review some of the research.

Let's start with the NEA, which is understandably skeptical of the charter school movement. They published a list of criteria for charter schools, which include these two:

"-Charter schools are public schools and therefore should provide access to all resident students. They should not screen students on the basis of: race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, English-language proficiency, family income, athletic ability, special needs, parental participation in school affairs, intellectual potential, academic achievement or what it costs to educate particular students.

-Students should not be denied access to a charter school because the school is unwilling to arrange for transportation."

The NEA website also has this piece on charter schools that emphasizes the need for accountability as well as the above mentioned access. When I was running for school board, I talked to many parents who were concerned with access to magnet and focus programs. They were convinced that only families of means had adequate access -transportation- to those programs. The same can be said of charter schools.

Another crucial issue in the debate over charter schools is the inherent conflict of visions between the "common schools" tradition and and the "communities of shared interests" approach of charter school advocates, addressed quite succinctly in this study by Policy Analysis for California Education, entitled, aptly, "Charter Schools and Inequality." The authors of the study call it the "selective inclusion of families to advance community cohesion..." by "selecting particular types of families into a charter school" as "a legitimate way of creating a tight communtiy."

That, when you stop to think about it, is a lot different from the melting pot ideal of the common school movement. I think we ought to stir the melting pot a bit more with some school reform ingredients before we abandon the whole experiment in favor of charter schools.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Abigail Therstrom's column in today's Tribune on improving education for black and Hispanic students actually has a couple of pieces that I can sign on to, like letting "...aspiring teachers skip the schools of education that some say actively promote mediocrity and incompetence."

And paying "...more to outstanding teachers willing to work in schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students." (I think I proposed that in my campaign for school board.)

But much of what she proposes just doesn't fly. And it's misleading. (see my posts on the Thernstroms- Feb. 26 and Dec. 3.)

Thernstrom is a big proponent of charter schools. In fact, in her research, charter schools are the only public schools that really work. There are two basic problems with charter schools, however. The first is that, because they are self -selecting, they actually do leave kids behind, which pretty much negates everything else Thernstrom has to say.

Second, Thernstrom, as a good conservative, dismisses additional funding and small class sizes as solutions to the problem (of raising academic performance.) But why do charter schools work? They have small class sizes!

And then there's the implication that private schools are more orderly than public schools, and therefore can attract quality teachers for one third less pay, without explaining how student demographics just might have a role in that, if indeed it is true.

The bottom line is this: We can educate all of our children, regardless of race or family circumstance, and we can attract quality educators to our schools, but it is going to cost more money (as some of Thernstrom's proposals demand).

Or of course, we could redefine living wage as $20 -25 thousand per year, rather than the $40 to 50K that teachers now typically make.

I wonder how much Thernstrom makes each year?
More about Haiti and the evidence for American complicity in the fall of Aristide.

First, I have to say that whether or not the allegations of Aristide's "kidnapping" have any merit, the gall of Colin Powell to suggest that news organizations should have come to him first is almost beyond comprehension. This is a man whose disgraceful dissembling at the U.N. to justify an invasion of Iraq has left him with zero credibility. Who now can believe any of his pronouncements on Bush Administration foreign policy?

But beyond that, many people have raised concerns about the American role in Aristide's ouster.

Senator Chris Dodd said this in an interview on CNN:

"We offered no support, despite the fact this administration signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, which said that any country that asked for support that is democratically elected, others ought to step up and help those governments. We've now set up a new standard. You don't have to be a failed government, just a failed leader in our minds and we won't do anything to support and defend you.

In effect, we're responsible, in no small measure, for Aristide's failure and departure."

Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University wrote this article published in the Taipei Times.

And Heather Williams wrote this for the website CounterPunch:

"The fact that the group in charge of Haiti policy today in the State Department has been literally gunning for Aristide since before his initial election as a champion of democracy in 1990 has been left all but unmentioned by the US press."

And finally these two editorials from The Guardian and from the Star Tribune.

After the debacle in Iraq, I , for one, have had enough of the Bush foreign policy. Even if they serve up Bin Laden on a platter in late October, I say that the time has come:

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