Saturday, February 28, 2004

If you're at all concerned about America's foreign policy, both past and present, and if you have no real idea about what's going on in Haiti, then read this from MADRE, an international woman's human rights group.

I particularly liked this characterization of the Haitian opposition:

"Like the so-called opposition to the Chavez government of Venezuela, Haiti’s opposition represents only a small minority (8 percent of the population according to a 2000 poll)."

I've argued before that Chavez is a democratically elected president, a populist claiming to represent the poor majority of Venezuelans. Others claim that he's merely inept, and he's bringing the country to ruin. Perhaps there's some truth in that.

But there can be no doubt about the American intrusion into the domestic politics of Venezuela which resulted in the short lived coup and deposition of Chavez. While Chavez is still in power, the United States is red-faced over yet another bungled attempt at nation-shaping in Latin America.

The evidence strongly points to the same devious foreign policy at work in Haiti.

Here's the mission statement for
MADRE. You can decide for yourself whether it's a legitimate organization.
Back on Nov. 23, I wrote a post highly critical of former PUC Commissioner Joan Smith for calling the proposed sale of PGE to Texas Pacific "good for consumers". One of the reasons she listed was that we (the consumers) "are protected", presumably by the PUC, which did a such a bang-up job of protecting us from the depredations of Enron.

Now Dan Meek, Public Utility District proponent and fellow Stanford man (go Cardinal!), steps into the fray with a SoapBox column in yesterday's Tribune, blasting that paper's characterization of the PUC as "rigorous" and "hardnosed" in its 1997 approval of the sale of PGE to Enron. Here's part of what he says:

"The so-called 'layers of protection around the utility' supposedly erected by the PUC did not protect ratepayers from the largest utility rate increase in Oregon history, the $400 million annual hike the PUC granted to Enron/PGE in 2001. This overall 42 percent rate increase was 'justified' by the chaos in West Coast energy markets that is now known to have been created by Enron's market manipulations, assisted by PGE's own energy traders."

He also reveals the costs to consumers of the Enron takeover despite the supposed "protection" of the PUC:

"Beyond that [unpaid taxes and rate hikes], PGE extracted more than $400 million in profits for its sole shareholder, Enron, and sent Enron more than $80 million in dividends every year (until the bankruptcy). So, since 1997, we have paid Enron and PGE over $1.4 billion more than we should have, even if we disregard the following figures:
- More than $100 million lost by PGE employees in their 401k retirement plans, where they were required to hold Enron stock
- The $82 million that the attorney general says was lost by the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System when Enron's stock price collapsed in 2001."

It's good to have a utility expert on your side.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

David Reinhard, an educational no-nothing, attempts to tell us in today's Oregonian the "rest of the story" about the Department of Education's "Closing the Achievement Gap" conference in Portland this Saturday.

The rest of the story, according to Reinhard, is that Abigail Thernstrom, "one of the nation's leading experts on the achievement gap", is in town for a lunch at the Cascade Policy Institute, but wasn't invited to speak at the state conference. That's a shame, because like Reinhard and the libertarians at Cascade, Thernstrom is really big on charter schools.

Well, here's the real "rest of the story". As I said in my Dec. 3 post,
Thernstrom claims in her book, No Excuses, that certain schools are successful in changing the "culture" of traditional non-achievers, which, to her way of thinking, is the key to closing the gap. The certain schools she cites are all charter schools. Here's an example of one from my post:

"The KIPP academy in the South Bronx is one such example. The school day at KIPP runs from 7:25 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and a half day on Saturday, plus an extra three weeks in the summer. 'Teachers pledge to be available to students and parents by cell phone at all hours. Parents sign contracts promising to be available to the school.' Is such a school replicable? Probably not, by the Thernstoms own admission. They say that the teachers at KIPP are 'running for sainthood.'

More tellingly, and this is the fundamental problem with the charter school model, Kahlenberg (the reviewer) says, 'Though students (at KIPP) are admitted by lottery, only the most motivated of poor families apply - ... .' The implication is that a certain segment of the school age population is left behind by this approach. "

The above mentioned Kahlenberg is Richard Kahlenberg, who reviewed her book for the Washington Post.

That, and the fact that Abigail Thernstrom is a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, founded by Reagan's CIA chief William Casey, is the real rest of the story.
Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, had to this to say in response to Secretary of Education Rod Paige's characterization of the NEA as a "terrorist" organization.

Rod Paige should be fired. He's a fraud and a disgrace. He refuses to answer questions about the inflated test scores and deflated dropout numbers in Houston, where Paige was superintendent, that undergird the so-called "Texas Education Miracle". I wrote about the "miracle" in my Dec. 4 post and cited this article from the NY Times.

Paige is apparently troubled by the NEA's "opposition" to the No Child Left Behind Act.
Actually, they want to reform it. Click here to read their suggestions for making the legislation more workable, and helpful, to public schools.

Of course some believe (that would include me) that NCLB is a deliberate first step in a campaign to subvert public education, the most successful and democratic governmental initiative in our nation's history.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Does class size make a difference in the academic achievement of students?

With student- teacher ratios certain to rise in Oregon in the next biennium, that's the question confronting educators and policy makers. Public school critics and anti-tax zealots argue that evidence for the benefits of smaller classes is skimpy and inconclusive. But a close look at the research, not to mention the intuitive sense of people who actually work in the schools, demonstrates definitively and overwhelmingly the beneficial impacts of small classrooms on students, especially in the early grades.

The first sophisticated study of class size was Project STAR (Student Teacher Achievement
Ratio) in Tennessee conducted over a four year period in the mid 1980's. It was followed by a series of studies in the 90's (see the research link above) that corroborated the findings of the Tennessee project:

"The students in the smaller classes, according to the student testing in STAR, performed better than the students in the larger classes did. This was the case for white and minority students in smaller classes, and for smaller class students from inner-city, urban, suburban, and rural schools.

In fourth grade, students from smaller classes still performed better than the students from larger classes did. "At least through eighth grade, a decreasing but significant higher academic achievement level for the students from the smaller classes persists," according to the Department of Education report."

A review of the research on class size by Bruce Biddle and David Berliner led to these conclusions:

"extra gains from small classes in the early grades generates substantial advantages for students in American schools."

"extra gains from small classes in the early grades are found for various academic topics"

"extra gains from small classes .... are greater for students who have traditionally been educationally disadvantaged... ."

But what about the upper grades- middle schools and high schools? Biddle and Berliner suggest that early gains from small classes carry over into the upper grades. But the more important issue in secondary schools is the number of daily student contacts for teachers in traditional settings.

If secondary schools were to emulate the integrated nature of classroom learning that naturally occurs in elementary schools, which is, after all, the essence of school reform, teachers would find themselves responsible for much smaller groups of students at any given period of time, say a term or a semester. Given a choice, virtually all teachers would prefer 50 or 100 students per day to the 150 to 200 the current structure imposes on them.

All of this, of course, costs money. There's no way around it, despite the "big school" successes hyped in the Oregonian recently.

And therein lies, as Hamlet said, "the rub."

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Lawyer Steve Novick came up with a clever response in today's Tribune to those who argue that government should privatize services -outsource them- in order to save money and to operate more efficiently. Here's the letter he wrote:

Fine advice: 'Remember the trash cans'

The story on the price of trash cans, showing that TriMet is paying $645 to $915 per can while the city of Portland pays $238, was very interesting (Talkin' trash, Feb. 17). Portland, it seems, should be very proud; city maintenance workers make trash cans themselves, while TriMet pays a private vendor for its much more expensive cans.

Ironically, Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute weighed in to criticize TriMet's high costs. Cascade is a think tank that consistently argues that governments could save money by contracting services out to private vendors. In this case, TriMet took Cascade's advice, the city didn't, and the city is saving hundreds of dollars per garbage can.

The next time Cascade calls for a government service to be privatized, opponents will have a rallying cry: "Remember the trash cans!"

Steve Novick
Citizens for Oregon's Future
Southeast Portland

The Cascade Policy Institute is the local version of the Cato Institute, and cousin to the Bandon -based Thoreau Institute, all libertarian think tanks.
My favorite talk show host, Joe Uris, is on a roll.

Last week he interviewed Ron Susskind, the author of The Price of Loyalty, a look inside the Bush White House.

This morning his in-studio guest for the entire program was David Cay Johnston, the best selling author of Perfectly Legal, an exhaustive examination of the federal tax code, which, according to Johnston, is "rigged to benefit the super rich and cheat the rest of us."

The essential point of the book is that the super rich, those making millions (and billions, in some cases) are being subsidized by middle class taxpayers through increased payroll taxes and the alternative minimum tax, which now hits people making as "little" as $30,000 a year.

A couple of other interesting points he made in the interview:

- the typical 25 year-old makes on average two dollars less per hour now than a 25 year-old made 30 years ago.

- If everybody voted, especially the lowest wage earners, we would have a far different country.

David Cay Johnston will be in town through Friday. Friday evening he speaks at the downtown Unitarian Church.

KBOO doesn't publish transcripts on its website, but here's an interview with Johnston on NOW with Bill Moyers, which coincidentally ran on the same show that Joe Uris was supposed to be on.

And here's another site that has links to Johnston's home page and articles he's written in the past on tax policy.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Here are some other recent articles on the politicization of science in the Bush Adminiatration (see my Feb. 19 post):

Click here for a March report from the American Pyschological Association.

Click here for a Washinton Post article on the administration using science to boost the "conservative agenda."

The bottom line is that Bush needs to go. That imperative should supercede, at least temporarily, any squabbles among progressive thinkers abut the relative ideological merits of the remaining Democratic candidates, or the benefits of hearing third party voices in national debates.

Nader is wrong. In this election, whether it's Bush vs. Kerry or Bush vs. Edwards, there are significant differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. Four more years of Bush, despite the tantalizing prospects of great political theater, could irreparably damage the environment, our legal system (think federal and Supreme Court nominations), our public schools, civil rights, the economy, and the health of our citizens, from both an inadequate system of health care and the almost certain probability of terrorists attacks both at home and wherever Americans can be found overseas. And given the
warmongering of Bush and his neoconservative advisors, we'll have lots of people on foreign soil.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Last night I saw a remarkable documentary at the Hollywood theater about the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters in Florida and the theft of the 2000 presidential election.

The film is called Unprecedented.

You can also view an intro to the film at unprecedented.org.
In my Feb. 11 post I raised concerns about the State Board of Higher Education's apparent inclination, under new board president Neil Goldschmidt, to cut funding for the Chancellor's office, thereby limiting the power and the efficacy of the one entity charged with coordinating the mission of higher education in the state for the benefit of all its citizens.

Today's article in the Oregonian confirms my suspicions.

The article says that the state board was established in 1929 "...to oversee a growing collection of schools behind a statewide mission, rather than have them battle over self-interest." It further quotes current Chancellor Ricahrd Jarvis as saying "...if duties are eliminated from his office, campuses will have to expend resources to pick up the slack.

"Duplication is the great myth of all of this," he said. "I don't know of anything we do that you could throw away and say we don't need to do that."

Given the lack of state financial support, a fundamental mission of the state board should be to make higher education affordable and available to all Oregonians. That's what the Chancellor's office is best positioned to do:

"Students traditionally have looked to the chancellor's office as a buffer against actions by individual universities. For example, when university presidents sought higher tuition to make up for state budget cuts this past fall, the board approved Jarvis' recommendation to phase in the costs."

It seems to me that the state board's hacking away at the Chancellor's office is a classic example of penny wise, pound foolish.

I don't know. As I've said before, I report, you decide.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Here's more evidence that Bush is the worst environmental President in history.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a report saying "the Bush Administration has, among other abuses, suppressed and distorted scientific analysis from federal agencies, and taken actions that have undermined the quality of scientific advisory panels."

“Across a broad range of issues, the administration has undermined the quality of the scientific advisory system and the morale of the government’s outstanding scientific personnel,” said Dr. Kurt Gottfried, emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University and Chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Whether the issue is lead paint, clean air or climate change, this behavior has serious consequences for all Americans.”

Eleven of the signatories to the report are Nobel Prize winners.

Critics of Bush are often denigrated as deranged or demented. But perhaps the real mental illness is manifested in the Bush Administrtion's tax and fiscal policies.

How so?

On the one hand it champions massive tax cuts and backs efforts through surrogates, like Dick Armey, Russ Walker, and our own Kevin Mannix, to defeat attempts to raise state taxes. On the other hand, it talks up its job retraining program which state and locally funded community colleges are supposed to handle.

Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that picture?

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, and a couple of other functionaries, visited PCC Rock Creek yesterday and spoke to a select group (invitation only) while labor demonstrators raised their voices outside- a safe distance from the building where the meeting was held.

Here's some of the coverage from the Oregonian's business section:

"At an invitation-only event Wednesday morning at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus near Hillsboro, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Treasury Secretary John Snow, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Small Business Administrator Hector Barreto pushed the president's $250 million plan to use community colleges to train workers for "21st century jobs."

"In this dynamic, changing economy, there is a place to go," Evans said.

"The secretaries appeared at PCC under tight security. An estimated 120 business people and college staff members attended, leaving several dozen seats in the auditorium empty. Campus security kept out those without invitations.

Inside, Chao, Evans, Snow and Barreto shared a stage with three PCC students who found jobs in the local health care and high-tech industries."

But apparently not all the rabble rousers were kept out:

"Chao cut short a question-and-answer session after a faculty union representative told her that laid-off workers were missing out on training because of money shortages.

"What we've seen is a decrease in money for training," said Michael Cannarella, a labor relations specialist for the college's faculty federation.

Chao called the statement "untrue" and repeated the department's dedication to training.

"I don't know where you got that number," she said before closing questioning. "

Elaine got a little testy there. After all, the meeting was supposed to be a closed, and therefore , safe venue. But the department Chao heads provided the numbers which backed up Cannarella's assertion:

"According to the U.S. Department of Labor, money budgeted for dislocated worker training nationwide fell from $1.6 billion for the program year spanning July 2000 to June 2001 to $1.4 billion this program year, which began in July. Oregon's share declined during the same period from $30.4 million to $25.7 million."

Gee, that sounds like a decrease in funding to me.

Here are two other stories, one from the Miami Herald, and the other from Citizens for Tax Justice (scroll down to the state by state comparisons) which further my argument that Bush fiscal policy is schizophrenic. Or just plain crazy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Who cares about movie award shows anyway? Let's talk about something that, ultimately, really matters.

"Terrorism was understood as an ongoing threat that required vigilance, but it was not grounds for war. "

That's from a memorandum to "opinion leaders" written by Elizabeth Tulis, a senior research associate (do such groups have junior associates?) with the Project for the New American Century summarizing a critique of the Clinton Administration's counterterrorism policies.

The Project for the New American Century is the manifesto of neoconservatism, adherents of which comprise a quirky group of warmongers that has hijacked the Bush Administration. It counts among them such noted criminals and hypocrites as Eliot Abrams and William Bennett.

Back to the quote. Terrorism is a threat, and it indeed requires vigilance. Perhaps if the Bush Administration had taken terrorism seriously, and been a little more vigilant, 9-11 might have been averted.

Just a thought.
I beg to differ, David Walker. Far from being "one of the best actors in Hollywood", Bill Murray has to be one of the worst! Besides that, he's not even very funny. Ted Mahar described him as an actor "with limited range",
which is, politely speaking, a gross understatement. He has no range whatsoever.

What is it with the cult of Saturday Night Live devotees? Sure, it's a funny show. But that doesn't automatically qualify its stars as bona fide movie actors. Certainly not in the case of Bill Murray.

Here's Walker's View from the Couch column.

Oops! It's not David Walker's column after all (although Walker is a fan of Murray and his movies.) It was written- this time- by Mason West.

Who's he?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


Now I've stumbled across yet another libertarian -you know, limited government, limited taxes, free markets, private schools, which will make all of us freer somehow (some of us anyway) -think tank called the Heartland Institute based in Chicago. Its founder is a graduate of -
surprise, surprise- the University of Chicago, which has become the epicenter of the free market, anti-government movement. Or the Evil Empire of right wing politics.

Anyway, here's a short article written by one of the Institute's "senior fellows" about NW
23rd Avenue right here in Portland.

Yeah traffic's bad in NW Portland, but it has ever been thus. I know.
I lived on 23rd and Kearny way back in 1980. But why single out that
neighborhood? Portland has lots of livable, pedestrian friendly neighborhoods that are testaments to good planning.

Take Sellwood, for example. That's where I live now, and because I have a dog, I walk everywhere. That includes trips to coffee shops, a book store, the hardware store, a movie theater ( The Passion of the Christ opens at the Moreland next week), grocery stores, and several restaurants. I walk to the park, to Oaks Bottom, down to the river, and, when the weather's ok, I can ride my bike downtown on the Springwater Corridor trail. In 20 minutes, or so. In fact, my wife works downtown, and she frequently rode to work last summer.

Oh yeah. I forgot. The post office, too.

Lax planning, and free markets, created Beaverton. I'll take Sellwood, and Portland, anytime.

Finally, read this article from the Palm Beach Post about how the voucherized drive to privatize education in Florida has turned , well, disastrous.
It's good to know I'm not the only one who thinks that labeling schools as failing is misguided and logically unsupportable. Here's what letter writer Marilyn Donovan has to say about Bush administration educational policies in today's Oregonian:

"Add to this that schools cannot control attendance, parental support and a host of other factors essential to learning, and to label a school as "failing" is absurd.

The ultimate blow is the withdrawal of funding from a school with low scores. Anyone capable of critical thinking and logic would see that a school where students are lagging needs additional funding and support in order to improve.

Public schools are being weakened, not strengthened by the Bush administration. When your house has leaks and cracks and flaws, you repair them rather than destroy the entire house."

Thank you, Marilyn!

And then there was the front page article about special ed students in Portland, who comprise nearly 14% of the district's enrollment. What do you suppose it costs to educate the most severely disabled of those 6500 students? One hell of a lot more than the average per pupil cost that anti-tax zealots consider extravagant, and wasteful.

How many special ed students do you think are enrolled in the private schools in the Portland area?

Very few, I would imagine.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Jeffrey St. Clair, co-editor of the leftist website Counterpunch, lives in Oregon City!

Now, I'm not a huge fan of Counterpunch, which tends to be radically dogmatic in its take on American culture and politics, but St. Clair writes some good stuff on the environment.
Here's a piece on oil drilling in the Arctic.

Michael Donnelly, who lives in Salem, had this take on Harry Lonsdale's plea to Ralph Nader not to run for President. Apparently, Donnelly served with Lonsdale on the Oregon Natural Resources Council.

Speaking of the environment, which we should do, frequently, given that the Bush Administration's environmental policies have been an unmitigated disaster, and Bush himself has been described as the "worst environmental president in history," here's a good, and reputable, site on ocean ecosystems.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

If you check out the website of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the national anti -tax group that supports Russ Walker's Taxpayers Defense
Fund (today's Oregonian), you'll find that Dick Armey and pals are not only anti-tax and anti-government, but they're also anti-public school.

There's some pretty laughable stuff in their "school choice" platform, but perhaps the silliest bit of propaganda is the contention that through school vouchers and other schemes for transfering public money to the private sector, students can get private school quality education at public school prices.

The only private schools around here that provide superior academics to our local public schools would cost a family two to three times what it costs to educate a student publicly.

Such a deal.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

So apparently my favorite talk radio host, Joe Uris, didn't make the cut on NOW with Bill Moyers. But Lars Larson sure did. Here's the transcript for the entire program.

Scroll down and you can read a fascinating interview with David Cay Johnston, the author of PERFECTLY LEGAL: THE COVERT CAMPAIGN TO RIG OUR TAX SYSTEM TO BENEFIT THE SUPER RICH AND CHEAT EVERYBODY ELSE, and the financial writer for the New York Times.

Here's what he says about what the rich pay in taxes now compared to what they used to pay:

"The 400 highest-income people in America made $174 million each on average in the year 2000. The top tax rate was almost 40 percent. What did they pay? Twenty-two. Twenty-two cents on the dollar. And had the Bush tax cuts been in effect, they would have paid 17 1/2 cents. Everybody else in America paid, on average, 15.3 cents.

Now, in 1992, the top 400 taxpayers in America paid 26 cents. Four cents more out of each dollar. And the rest of us, we paid 13 cents. Two cents less. So. Our tax burden has risen. Those at the top, it's come down. We are shifting the tax burden, through a whole variety of strategies, off the wealthy, and onto the middle class and the upper middle class in America."

Where else would you hear this? Not on the network news. Not on the cable channels. Only on NOW with Bill Moyers. The best news show out there.

Friday, February 13, 2004

I love to write about Old Growth Forests. That probably dates back to the summer I spent at OMSI writing an old growth curriculum in collaboration with three of my teaching colleagues. There's a wealth of published information out there, but here's one I found after doing a quick Google search.

The key points are that all of the true forest ecosystems are on public lands, and that only about five percent of them remain standing.
Based on his opinion piece in the Tribune today, Randall O'Toole has either lived in Bandon too long or he is blinded by his dogged adherence to the free market libertarian ideology that informs his world view. What else explains his contention that "congestion" and "intolerable" driving conditions drive families from Portland to the suburbs, where apparently driving around is a breeze.

Hey, Randall, I have a question for you. When is the last time you tried to drive through Beaverton or Clackamas?

I drive around Portland all the time, and the only congestion I deliberately avoid is found on the freeways carrying those car-loving surburbanites home to Vancouver, Wilsonville, Hillsboro, or Oregon City.

O'Toole is associated with some think tank, based in Bandon, called the Thoreau Institute which espouses "free market environmentalism", and shills for the Bush enviromental proposals, like the
Healthy Forests Initiative. In its mission statement, the Thoreau Institute says:

"Institute research has consistently found that big government activities programs that are centrally planned, centrally budgeted, and controlled by prescriptive laws do not work. As an alternative, Institute research now aims to find small government means, including such techniques as user fees, markets, and incentives, to protect the environment."

Its website boasts that through "stewardship contracting" and community partnerships
it has helped conserve hundreds of thousands of acres of "working forests." Working forests? That's simply a euphemism for forests that can be logged. In an environmentally sensitive way, of course.

It seems to me, and I do know something about forest ecology, that the best working forest is one that is left alone so that a true old growth, or ancient, forest ecosystem can work its magic.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Rich Lowry's column claiming that poverty is caused by a "shattered work ethic and sexual irresponsibility" (see the January 31 post) is still eliciting rebuttals from letter writers to the Oregonian.

Here's part of what Jake Wooden had to say yesterday:

"Lowry also writes that if a single mother works full time at the minimum wage, 'she will not be poor.' A fulltime minimum-wage job in Oregon yields a $14,664 annual income. If she has two children in daycare at $800 a month, daycare alone consumes 65 percent of her income.

In other words, it isn't a weak work ethic that is the problem, it is a shortage of jobs that pay enough to truly help many single parents. Just ask the polite 'middle-class' clerk who serves you today at Home Depot, Wal-Mart or Walgreens. Yes, the single mom should work, but decency requires that we offer her more than conservative dogma."

I wonder if Lowry reads letters from regional papers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

It says in the paper this morning that the State Board of Higher Education wants to cut costs by getting rid of employees in the Chancellor's office. That sounds good, until you stop to think about it.

Why? The Chancellor's office of the seven member Oregon University System has been a legitimate advocate for consolidating and moving educational progams within the system to maximize educational opportunities for all Oregon residents. In other words, it has tended to move programs closer to where people live, thus making them more affordable and available to the public. If the ofice is downsized, or even eliminated, as has been proposed by some legislators, responsibility for running the system would devolve to the individual campuses, which would then begin to compete for students and programs, regardless of what's in the best interest of the state as a whole.

The most outspoken advocate of this decentralization is U of O President Dave Frohnmayer. Coincidentally, four of the eleven members on the state board, including the president (Neil Goldschmidt) and vice president have ties to the U of O. None has ties to the state's largest university in the state's most populous city, Portland State.

In my opinion, we don't need three major research universities in the Willamette Valley. We don't need two major universities within forty miles of each other in the sparsely populated southern reaches of the valley. What we do need, however, is a strong educational and research institution within easy reach of the two million inhabitants of the Portland metropolitan area.

Yeah, Portland State is my alma mater (one of them). And I do think that it generally provides an academic experience superior to that of the other public schools in the state (even the private ones, except for Reed College). Not because it has better teachers or better programs (its School of Education is pretty lame). It's better because of the students it attracts, who are generally older and more serious than their counterparts at other state campuses.

The year I matriculated at Portland State, 1964, was the year that four young men rocked the country. No, not the Beatles. That was the year the Portland State College Bowl Team went undefeated and broke all the scoring records in the GE College Bowl contest. Robin Freeman, Jim Westwood, Mike Smith, and my friend, Larry Smith, who remains the most intelligent, and deeply intellectual, person I have ever met, made up the team. Two years later, a charismatic transfer from Reed was elected student body president. His name was Joe Uris.

Mike Smith and Larry Smith are both dead. I don't know about Robin Freeman. But Jim
Westwood and Joe Uris are alive and kicking. They're both prominent and active in the community.

Why aren't they on the State Board of Higher Education?

Don't forget to watch Joe take on Lars Larson Friday at 9:00 on NOW with Bill Moyers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The best local radio talk show, by far, is Joe Uris on KBOO, Tuesday mornings from 7:30 to
9:00. And guess what? Apparently he and his show are going to be featured on this Friday's edition of PBS' NOW with Bill Moyers, by far the best news show on the tube. The topic is right wing talk radio and the pretty anemic response, to date, from the left.

I just the read the transcript of last Friday's interview with Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law Professor and author of the recent book The Two Income Trap about the growing desperation of middle class families in the current economy.

It turns out that such families are spending less -much less- on clothing, food, and household appliances than they did thirty years, but a lot more on mortgages, health care, day care, and cars (now that mom works, a second car is mandatory.) And the predatory lending policies of banks and credit card companies, with interest rates of up to 30%, are pushing debt, and bankruptcies, to record highs.

Whatever happened to usury laws?

Scroll down and read the really surprising revelation about Hillary Clinton's role in her husband's veto of the stricter bankruptcy law pushed by the financial industry. And then how she changed her mind once she became Senator from the state that is home to
that industry.

NOW airs Friday at 9:00 p.m.

Monday, February 09, 2004


Speaking of February 6 posts, I made two errors in referring to Edison Schools, and unlike President Bush, I'll first apologize, and then correct them.

First, it's Chris Whittle, not Whitten. Secondly, Edison and Whittle didn't declare bankruptcy, although they probably should have.

Here are two descriptions from Fortune Magazine about the travails of Mr. Whittle in his attempt to make money from running schools:

"Alas, instead of the bold assault on bloated, corrupt, and failing school bureaucracies that Whittle envisioned, it has turned into a long, slow, bloody war, like Napoleon reeling through Russia, with few tangible successes, enormous controversy and resentment, and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses since the company opened its first school in 1995."

And from a different article:

"Edison Schools founder and CEO Chris Whittle has always argued that the education business could be lucrative. He kept the faith even as his company which runs 130 elementary, middle, and high schools across the country racked up several hundred million in losses and its stock tumbled from above $30 to the low single digits. Now it turns out Whittle was right, except he's the one getting a lot of the lucre, some of his biggest shareholders argue."

Then there's this account of Whittle's foray into the Philadelphia school system, which says in part,
"... the commercial marketplace of goods and services has a mixed record in filling the
"marketplace of ideas" with what we might call "quality educational

In short, privatization of public services is, at best, extremely risky business.


Here's a troubling quote from Scoobie Davis, scourge of right wing talk show hosts, authors, and assorted other conservative nutcases, in his Feb. 6 post:

"I know some of you out there think I'm callous. Quite the opposite--when a person wasting his or her life on a futile or ridiculous cause (e.g., the Green Party, the LaRouchie movement, or the Unification Church), then when these deluded souls meet a proper adult and are ridiculed, then it's one step in the direction of reassessing their lives and then getting real lives. The last thing these people need is an enabler who humors them--they need reality."

Scoobie, you can't be serious in equating Green Party members with Moonies and LaRouchies. In my run for school board, I was the proud recipient of the Green Party endorsement. I voted for Ralph Nader (in Oregon) in 2000.

But I'm also a pragmatist, as are most other Green Party members. If it's a Bush - Kerry race in November, I'm convinced that all progressive thinkers and left leaning voters will support Kerry. Even those of us who would rather see Dean as the nominee.

I think your endorsement of Clarke is deluded, and that time spent promoting him is a "futile and ridiculous cause," but I won't hold it against you.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Paul Krugman has written another incisive review of two recent books about George W.: Kevin Phillips' American Dynasty, and The Price of Loyalty, by Ron Susskind. Together, the two books go a long way in explaining the psychology and the corruption of the Bush Administration.

This quote from American Dynasty sums it up nicely:

"While the Kennedys and the Rockefellers may have a sense of entitlement, they also display a sense of noblesse oblige—what one might call an urge to repay, with charitable contributions and public service, their good fortune. The Bushes don't have that problem; there are no philanthropists or reformers in the clan. They seek public office but, if anything, they seem to feel that the public is there to serve them."

More gleanings from the mainstream media (ignoring or course the Sunday Oregonian, which as usual, is devoid of content):

Based on her last column, Sister Renee Mitchell is an aspiring rap artist. Apparently you can actually listen to it on the Oregonian's Inside Line. Oh well. At least it was an improvement on her previous effort, an empty rant on wasted tax dollars by local pols.

Her column on the Portland Streetcar drew a feisty (kind of) rebuttal in yesterday's Big O from the Portland Streetcar Citizens Advisory Committee, which said that Mitchell had "missed the big picture." The response concludes by saying, "The Portland Streetcar is not just an accessory but also one of the best economic-development investments the city has made in a long time."

Take that, Jack!

Also in yesteday's O is an article describing the near giddy response of anti-tax crusaders, including the Wall Street Journal and Grover Norquist, to the defeat of Measure 30 in "liberal" Oregon.

In the article, local uberpollster Tim Hibbitts revealed that Oregonians think that the government wastes, on average, 39 cents of every tax dollar received. That's 39 per cent! No wonder the measure went down in flames.

Chuck Sheketoff of the Oregon Center for Public Policy
has this to say about that:

"If there's a message for Democrats across the country, it is that they need to counteract the poison that emanates from Dick Armey and Grover Norquist and the Wall Street Journal that there's this enormous waste in government."

Amen. I would only add that the poison also seeps, perhaps less obviously, from local voices.

Right, Renee? Right, Jack?

Friday, February 06, 2004

The other article in the Tribune well worth reading was this one about the effects of the defeat of Measure 30 on the county budget. My wife works for the county as an RN at the Justice Center and she confirms that some cuts in county health are probable.

But the real meat of the article, from my perspective, is this quote from anti-tax fanatic Russ Walker:

"Russ Walker, director of the Oregon chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which led the fight against Measure 30, said the county could see savings through greater efficiencies and by privatizing services, such as the county jail.
"We spend a lot of money on things we don't need to spend money on, and I'm sure the Multnomah County budget is full of things like that," Walker said. "It's in the way you do business. You can provide a lot of the same services but at a lower cost. You can outsource. And Diane Linn doesn't have to pay for snow days. She helped our campaign with that stunt."

First, he confirms my belief that Diane Linn bears prime responsilbility for the Measure's defeat in Multnomah County, and probably neighboring counties as well.

Secondly , like all government critics, he uses vague and misleading language to characterize the county's budget. The county spends "money on things we don't need to spend money on." He's sure the "budget is full of things like that." Well, if you're so sure, Russ, how about laying them out there for the voting public to see? My wife is a county employee, she works hard in a very demanding and thankless job, and she makes a living wage. Is her position one of the "things" we don't need to be spending money on?

Finally, he plays the conservative trump card - privatization. "You can provide a lot of the same services but at a lower cost. You can outsource."
The lower cost through outsourcing can be achieved only through cutbacks in services or by paying the service providers less.

Privatization of traditionally public services, like schools and prisons, has been exposed countless times as fraudulent, inefficient, and, in the case of corrections, dangerous.
Chris Whitten, of Channel One and Edison Schools, is a prime example of the disastrous
consequences of allowing the private sector to take over management of public schools. Mr. Whitten and Edison declared bankruptcy last year, only to be bailed out by a large infusion of cash from the pension system of Florida's teachers. (Jeb Bush is on the pension board.)

We'll have to wait and see how the investment pans out for Florida's teachers.
Maybe the Portland Tribune does deserve its award as "best non-daily newspaper in the country." Today's edition convinces me.

First there's the article about indicted former PGE Chief Financial Officer Joe Hirko, which makes me feel even better about my yes vote on the proposed Multnomah County PUD, and even more disappointed that it didn't pass. Here are two reasons why.

First, there's the Enron connection, which apparently Hirko had a hand in bringing about:

"It was Hirko and PGE's then-chief executive officer, Ken Harrison, who cultivated a relationship with Enron, which at the time was lusting after a local utility company to give it entree into the wholesale electricity trading business."

You can't convince me that Hirko and Harrison, who, after the collapse of Enron, took his $150 million up to Walla Walla to grow grapes, were wide -eyed innocents in the whole deal. Enough was known about Enron at the time to convince many locals that nothing good could ever come from an Enron-PGE partnership. It's quite clear that PGE management and stockholders were motivated by unadulterated personal greed. Too bad for the rest of the lumpen who worked for PGE.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is this tidbit about Hirko's accrued fortune from his time at the utility:

" Still, Hirko could be shorn of a large share of his assets, the bulk of which are invested in stocks, tax-exempt bonds and money market funds. According to court documents, Hirko holds $4.7 million in money market funds and securities and $3.3 million in Oregon state, county and municipal bonds. He also holds thousands of shares in a fairly broad cross section of corporate America, including some 7,300 shares in Microsoft Corp., 5,500 shares in Pfizer Inc., 5,150 shares in MBNA Corp., 4,900 shares in General Electric and 4,700 shares in Cisco Systems.
He also invested $780,000 in property in South Kona, Hawaii, and spent $150,000 to become a member at the Club at Kukuiulia, a nearby golf club in Keahau. He also owns homes in Sunriver and Portland."

Had PGE been a publically -owned utility, no executive would have amassed such obscene, and arguably unearned, wealth. And PGE rates would not be so ridiculously and unconscionably high.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

In the wake of the defeat of Measure 30, I reviewed some of what I have written about taxation in Oregon.

Probably the most impressive document I came across was the City Club of Portland report on Tax Reform in Oregon. It argues persuasively for progressive reform of the state code. Read my March 12 post for highlights of its recommendations.

Also read my March 8 post on the report from the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

And the March 2 post on the "good idea" from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates a tax surcharge on the highest income brackets as a way out of the budget crises which afflict many of the states. In Oregon, it would have the added benefit of adding a degree of progressivity to our generally regressive tax code.

If Measure 30 had only been about an income tax increase, especially for the upper income brackets, rather than the eight-headed hydra that was presented to the voters, I think it just might have passed.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004


In case you were feeling all alone here in Oregon with its tax troubles, here's an article about Maryland's attempt to secure full funding for its schools.
You can read Jack Bogdanovich's blog here.

Jack's beef apparently is that our local pols waste the tax money that we give them. His favorite targets are the streetcar, the OHSU tram, the Oregon Convention Center, and Homer Williams, as in the developer of the Pearl District and the South Waterfront. One could argue, as people have, that public money spurs private development, which in turn creates jobs, which in turn creates a larger tax base, and that therefore it's money well spent.

Is tax money ever misspent? Well, yeah. But so is the money that falls into the hands of private corporations. For the most part, I trust the government - an open representative government, by the way - to spend money for productive purposes. I'm not overly impressed with the way private citizens - my neighbors and yours- tend to spend their money.

Speaking on Measure 30, I think the overwhelming defeat in Multnomah County can be blamed squarely on Diane Linn. Her public blunders have given ample ammunition to the antitax crowd, including Blogger Jack.

But, you know what? If you don't like the way she's running the county, if you feel that she's a public spendthrift, vote her out of office!
While doing a google search on Phil Stanford (in an attempt to prove that he is secretly an anti-tax right winger, or worse yet, a libertarian), I stumbled across a cool local blog by Chuck Currie, a United Chuch of Christ seminarian and homeless advocate, who crosses swords over Measure 30
with another local blogger, Lewis and Clark law professor Jack Bogdanovich. I actually posted a response to one of Jack's posts. That's a first for me.

Chuck Currie's blog is a lot cooler than mine, at least technologically. But I'll get there some day.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Here's part of a column written by educational reform advocate Marion Bradyfor the Orlando Sentinel:

"School is supposed to be primarily about academics, so that's where I'd start. Until unintended consequences proved me wrong, I'd establish a teacher ratio of 15 or 20 to one, with a maximum of 75 to 100 students per school, maybe 200 at the high-school level. I'd house them in the neighborhood, in a house or education wing of a church. I'd help them put together a curriculum that reflected the seamless, highly efficient way kids learn naturally, and I'd have them work with half the kids in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.

Responsibility for everything else I'd hand back to the local neighborhood, expecting (after they got used to the idea) a startling variety of creative, appropriate strategies for meeting the physical, spiritual and practical needs of the residents. Sports clubs. Bands and orchestras. Apprenticeships. Workshops for art, drama, music, math, science, religion and other fields for which there were interest and aptitude. Every class, every workshop, every activity, would welcome all ages."

I added the emphasis about neighborhood locations, which I think is vitally important,
especially in Portland, the city of neighborhoods. I agree with the other main points as well. The idea of community responsibility for extracurricular activities has always intrigued me, but that's largely dependent on adequate public funding - a good tax base, in other words.

Read the entire column here.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Jay Matthews of the Washington Post has this to say about media coverage of educational issues and test scores:

"With great regularity, mainstream newspapers like mine, as well as popular magazines and the big networks, report on the lack of improvement in our public schools. We use words like "stagnant" or "sluggish" or "static" or "flat" to describe the achievement levels as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the federal government's most important and most respected measure of U.S. schools. The NAEP (rhymes with "tape") reading scores for students aged 9 gained only four points -- from 208 to 212 -- from 1971 to 1999. Thirteen-year-olds gained only four points and 17-year-olds only three. The change in the average verbal SAT score between 1981 and 2002 is even less impressive. It appears to have gone nowhere. It was 504 in 1981, and 21 years later it was still 504. "

In his article "What the Media Are Missing" he goes on to praise Gerald Bracey, the great defender of public schools (and my favorite educational researcher), for his efforts to set the record straight.

Bracey, it seems, took umbrage at the cavalier and erroneous use of aggegate NAEP
and SAT scores by educational writers and public school critics to conclude that public
education had shown no progress, despite increased funding, for the past twenty years. Not true says Bracey. All subgroups (blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians) have improved their scores on the NAEP and the SAT, dramatically in some cases, and yet the aggregate scores (read: averages) suggest little or no gains for either measure over the twenty year period.

How can that be? It's Simpson's Paradox, says Bracey.

Here's what that means: Minority students traditionally have low scores on achievement tests. Even when they improve significantly (as they have over the past twenty years), they still are lower than the scores of white students. But there are significantly more of them, percentage-wise, in the pool of test takers. So therefore when you average those scores with the smaller number of white student scores, voila- you get the numbers that incorrectly show little or no gain.

If that didn't make sense, read Bracey's article on Simpson's Paradox. I did, and it made sense to me. And to Jay Matthews.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

The letters to the editor that really irritate me typically say something like this:

"Here's a fair idea. Those of you in favor of Measure 30 (or Measure 28) send your money in to the government. Those of us opposed will keep our money at home."

Not only irritating, but dangerous, if the increasing number of such letters is any indication of the radical disaffection of a portion of our citizenry from the government of which, despite the anti-tax sentiment, they are still a part.

I don't know what's "fair" about voluntary taxation, which taken to its logical conclusion, would splinter our already tenuous sense of community. But that aside, perhaps I should point out the extent to which the protax community already donates its money to the common cause, especially schools.

Aside from educational "fees" charged to support averything from athletics to art and music, the Portland Schools Foundation constantly solicits money from the community to improve the quality of our schools. In addition, many local schools have their own fund-raising foundations. If I were to hazard a guess as to how much money my family alone kicks in yearly to keep school programs running, it would have to be in excess of $1000.

Do I begrudge the money? No. But I also firmly believe that such fund-raising severely undermines our sense of democracy, our belief that the citizens of a community, through government, can and should act on behalf of the common good. And the mechanism for such action is a fair and universal system of taxation.

That's why I find this silly notion of voluntary taxation both laughable and chilling.

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