Monday, September 26, 2005

Imagine the headline: "A capitalist, but a friend of Nazis"

Did you catch the long and prominently placed obituary in the Oregonian about Ben Brostoff?

He was a Polish immigrant who came to the U.S., made a fortune in the pizza business, but was always enamored with communism. He took trips to Russia and China to admire their governments, which apparently never lost their shine to him even after the collapes of the Soviet bloc.

The article is written in a very positive tone. Almost like: "isn't it charming, this guy who made millions selling pizza was an open communist sympathizer all his life."

Why is it that it is considered OK to have cozied up to communism? The Soviet communists murdered tens of millions of people. It is the bloodiest government in the history of the planet - yet for some reason it is considered cute to be a communist.

Hitler never aspired to the kind of bloodbath brought about by Stalin. Yet I doubt a successful businessman who admired Nazi Germany would get a glowing obituary in the Oregonian.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Closed PPS schools still vacant.

Remember the five elementary schools that PPS closed despite great controversy and opposition last spring? The plan was to lease out the facilities and make some money. Turns out, according to this story in the Tribune, that months later, four of the five buildings are still vacant, because the market wouldn't pay what the district was asking.

Well, Duh. A few years ago I looked into leasing one of the district's vacant facilities. They wanted $12 a square foot. That's about twice what school facilities are worth.

According to the story, the district thinks the newly closed facilities are worth $9-12/SF, but only one of the five buildings has found a tenant, and that is the Multnomah ESD. Great - one tax funded entity leases from another. Big net gain for taxpayers.

The district facilities guy is even quoted as saying that if a tenant needs access to the facility to make leasehold improvements, that they have to pay the rent during the time it takes to make the improvements! That's not how it usually works. Little wonder they can't find tenants.

I would happily lease the Applegate site from them for $6/sf for one of my Arthur Academy Charter Schools But the district wants more.

Actually, I think that PPS should let us use the facility for nothing. Arthur Academy is a public school educating PPS students. School buildings were paid for by taxpayers for the purpose of educating public school students. By what moral standard does the district charge money for public school students to use a facility for the purpose taxpayers intended?

I've asked this very question to Vicki Phillips, Julia Brim Edwards, David Wynde, Bobbie Regan and Dilafruz Williams. Not one of them would answer it.

So they not only want us to pay money to lease the public school facility that we want to use to educate Portland Public School kids, but they are also way off the market in their asking price!

Could it be they don't want to do anything that might help a charter school succeed?

Call me a cynic.

Just 2%... and our schools would be great. (We promise)

A local anesthesiologist wrote a piece for the Tribune that called for a 2% sales tax as a dedicated funding source for schools.

Click through to the link and read the column. It's really pretty funny in the over-the-top assertions that he makes, which he apparently thinks the reader should take on faith.

Here is what he says will happen if we send the extra $2 1/2 billion or so to schools:

"The quality of public education soars. The best teachers in the country compete to work in Oregon. Students learn more, learn faster and stay interested longer. Literacy rises. More literate high school graduates seek jobs with high potential, or plan for higher education. Welfare use drops. Recreational drug use declines. Teenage pregnancies go down. Prisons slowly empty as fewer criminals enter. New businesses look favorably on Oregon for relocation sites. And all of us enjoy safer streets."

Wow! A panacea! More money for schools will solve all our problems. Peace and prosperity will reign!

I just wonder - is the guy really that gullible? Or is his wife a teachers union boss?

Why use private dollars when we can spend tax money?

You may have seen the article about the new school that Portland School District wants to build in the Columbia Villa housing project.

They need a 550-student elementary school for the new neighborhood, and their plan is to close down nearby Ball Elementary, because it is in need of substantial repair. The problem is the District doesn't have the money to build the school.

So they have tried to put together a creative financing package that includes a bank loan, fundraising, tax credits and about a million dollars from the city of Portland. Last week the city said "No Dinero."

So they are stuck. Turns out that NOT building the school will cost them a million dollars or so since they will have to do the repairs to Ball, and bus the kids from Columbia Villa there.

Here's the punchline: they could have a brand new public school built on that parcel of land using no taxpayer money, but they turned down the offer.

How? Well, Portland School District approved a charter elementary school a few years ago that never opened because it could not find a facility. The charter school would have happily built the school on the Columbia Villa site, and offered to work with the district and the Housing Authority of Portland to make it happen.

The district had no interest. They would rather spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to build a school rather than get the school for free. Why?

Well that would be a good question for the school board.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Penn & Teller on PETA

I didn't even know Penn & Teller, the offbeat comedian duo, did political stuff.

But you have to go watch this video exposing PETA for the radical violent hypocrites they are.

It's about 15 minutes long. Must see.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Is it any wonder our kids don't understand economics?

I got an email this morning from a friend whose son is a junior at Wilson High School. He attended the back to school night, and couldn't believe what his son's economics teacher proudly displayed as the first assignment of the year.

His Email:

Wilson High School Back to School Night
Junior Year

My son's first period class: Economics

1st assignment due 9/26/05:

Using Art, Poetry, Music or some other approved creative medium, Illustrate your understanding of one of the following:

Economic Resources
Economic Questions
Production Possibilities Curve
Forms of Exchange

Current events assignment: 5 of these are due per quarter. You may do all 5 early in the quarter, but you may only turn in one per week late in the quarter. (In other words, if he waits until the last 3 weeks, he can only turn in three of these)

Clip an editorial article, and State the subject, the byline The periodical from which you found it. State the who, what when where why and how; state whether the article is fact or an opinion,
[Duh! It's an editorial! - RK] and if it is biased one way or another [Editorials are SUPPOSED to be biased! - RK]. Clearly state your understanding of the subject. [What kind of an instruction is this? It's not just awkwardly worded, it is difficult to understand what it is she is looking for. -RK]

(The teacher said she would deduct points if she had to actually read the article. Remember, this is not Journalism, it is Econ)

This is no joke. We have all seen e-mails and snippets that kid about this, but this is for real. I sat there last night and was shocked.

His class is Economics...not Art, not English Literature, not Music nor Applied sociology.

It occurs to me that several of you may have some Ideas for how my son can best complete this assignment. With your help, I am sure he will get an A in this class.

My response:

You've run into a shining example of "integrated" curriculum. That's where everyone pretends that there's great educational benefit drawn from melding two or more disciplines into one activity or lesson, which almost always results in a completely contrived exercise in which the actual learning objective becomes secondary to the form of the product.

Part of the philosophy here is that every student has a different "learning style" and so it is tyranny to expect all kids to perform an academic exercise in the same way, with the same medium. So things like music and art are fine substitutes for mundane skills like writing clearly. If Johnny isn't a verbal learner, but rather is a visual learner or an auditory learner, it is wrong to require that he produce coursework using the written word. It is perfectly OK for him to, say, perform a rap routine to demonstrate his mastery of economics as it is for him to produce a well articulated essay.

There is so much wrong with this way of thinking that it is hard to know where to start. First, we all know, after all, that his employers are going to similarly adjust what they require from him based on his "learning style," right? What message are we sending our kids when we tell them the world will constantly adjust what it requires based on what their strengths may or may not be? Of course we tell them that they shouldn't worry about getting better at what is difficut for them, and they only have to do what comes easy. There's a great message for our youth.

Second, there is absolutely no good evidence that 1) there are really "learning style" differences and 2) if there were, there still isn't any valid way for a teacher to gauge what student's learning style actually is. It's all just assumption based on theory resulting is some of the most inane classroom procedures ever concocted - a wonderful example of which you have given here.

Finally - just look at the exercise. Forget for a minute the part about using music or art. Even if the teacher had asked them to write an essay about one of those four topics - consider how murky the assignment actually is. What is the teacher asking them to prove they know?

Demonstrate their understanding of Economic Resources? What does that mean? Economic Questions? WHICH economic questions?

How unfocused could it possibly get? This assignment means nothing because any and all responses could be valid.

I am sad to say that this is the kind of stuff that is predominant in our high schools these days. It is an utter and complete waste of time.

However, I do have a suggestion for your son as to what he can do for the assignment. He should demonstrate his understanding of "Forms of Exchange.'

He should compose a rap song, perform it as if he is 50 Cent, in which he proposes to give a street whore drugs in exchange for sex.

Perfectly valid demonstration of the economic principle of barter, one of the original "forms of exchange."

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Pledge

The recent court decision on the pledge was a topic on my radio show today. We've talked about it before, and treaded the usual territory about the meaning of the establishment clause.

I asked a question to my co-host, Marc Abrams, however, that seemed to distill the issue down to its essence.

Since our founding documents say people "are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights," and that the government's role is to "secure these rights" - I asked if liberals would have a problem with students being taught that in our system of government, rights come from God.

He said yes, that would be a problem. Can't do it. He said it would be OK to teach what the Declaration of Independence says about rights coming from God, but that it establishes religion to teach that our Republic is actually based on this notion.

Such are the intellectual contortions necessary to not offend the ACLU these days. Nonsensical.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Global Hype

You knew it had to come.

On the heels of disaster, the agenda had to be moved forward. And you knew the Oregonian would be ready and willing, almost panting to help out.

So we see the big front page story in the Oregonian today:

Researchers Examine Link Between Hurricane Intensity, Global Warming.

Nice charts accompany the headline. They typical reader would take a look at the story, read a few paragraphs, and be left with the decided impression that yep, scientists say Katrina was caused by global warming.

The agenda is moved, another step in the long term effort to convince us all.

Turn to the back page and you'll find the entire page taken up by the text of the story. It almost demands that the typical reader not read it. Who wants to read all the scientific technicalities? We get the point - global warming brings big hurricanes like Katrina.

So, you can hardly blame the average guy for not seeing all the disclaimers:

"Scientists caution that it's unknowable at this point whether the damage these potentially more powerful cyclones will bring upon people would be from global warming - or the simple chance of where people choose to build and live."

"Hurricanes more powerful than Katrina swept the Gulf Coast long before global warming."

"Some climate scientists believe that natural cycles are driving the observed variability in hurricane freqauency..."

In fact, the story taken as a whole can be summed up:

"One researcher says global warming might increase hurricanes, but nobody is really sure."

Front page news, ladies and gentlemen, at least if you have an agenda to push.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

They will never stop

Read in the Oregonian today that local school leaders are trying to figure out how to package an income tax for schools that voters will accept.

Former Portland Superintendent Jim Scherzinger is spearheading the effort. According to the story he sent out info to local school districts outlining different prospective rates and how much each district would receive from it.

He's trying to downplay how far along they are, but apparently they are considering having the Metro government be the taxing authority, and the rate would be between .2% and .5%.

This is pretty amazing. They want to get hammered again? Make our day. Put it on the ballot.

I have a different idea. Why can't we approach it this way? Want more money for schools? I've got a suggestion.

It occured to me one day when my local district was pushing a local option tax, and a neighbor who supported the tax said that she thought local districts should have the right to tax themselves more if they so choose.

I thought: you don't really want the right to tax yourself more - you can do that any time you want by sending money straight to the district. Rather, you want to force the people who don't want to pay the tax to pay the tax, using majority rule.

Yes, I understand that majority rule is how we decide such things inour society, but does it always have to be? Maybe there is another way that would raise money for schools without forcing a tax down peoples throats who do not support it.

Here's how it would work:

School district proposes to raise (just to choose a number) $10 million a year through an increased property tax. Only those who vote yes will have the tax added to their property tax statement. The more people who vote yes, the lower the tax assessment on each voter's property.

The district could propose a minimum level of support below which the tax would fail. The campaign, then would be to maximize the number of yes votes in order to distribute the burden among the most taxpayers. But a no vote won't pay the tax at all. Nobody forces anything on anybody.

What is wrong with this?

Portland Tree Police

Just in case you thought that the City of Portland was starting to get it...... I get the email below forwarded from a friend.

Is this really what we want our government to be doing? Were you aware that there is an "Urban Forestry Division" in the Parks and Recreation department?

Of course they don't say what precisely a Tree Liaison will actually do, other than "promote proper tree care" and be a "resource" for the neighborhood. How will that actually manifest itself? " Will they police the neighborhoods to make sure that people treat their trees properly? A cadre of local tree police, deputized by the parks and recs dep't?

Such nonsense, and it is on your dime.

Help care for trees in your neighborhood by becoming a Neighborhood Tree Liaison. A Neighborhood Tree Liaison is a local leader who promotes proper tree care and serves as a resource for his/her neighborhood on tree issues. To become a Neighborhood Tree Liaison you do not need to know a lot about trees.

You do need to have a passion for trees, desire to learn, and the commitment to help. This program offered by Portland Parks Recreation teaches you about tree care, and then works with you to develop tree projects in your community. The Neighborhood Tree Liaison class teaches; tree biology, pruning, planting, preservation, tree identification and common tree diseases.

Classes are hands on, and taught by leading professionals in the tree care industry. The first class is on September 17th. Registration is required, and the cost is $20. For the complete class schedule and to sign up and call Portland Parks Recreation at 503-823-1650 or visit

Karl DawsonPortland Parks
Recreation Urban Forestry Division

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Mainstream Extremists

One of the things that drives me crazy about Portland: complete wing nut extremists who are in positions of significant influence, but who somehow are considered to be solidly in the mainstream because of the piss-poor job old media does of telling the truth about them.

Today's best example: Rex Burkholder, Metro Councillor.

The guy is a card-carrying member of the bike-nazi gang. He hates cars. He wants you to drive less. He makes sure that Portland roads are as congested as possible by "enhancing" major arterials such as Spokane Avenue in Sellwood with "traffic calming" devices. He's a dreamy-eyed social utopian who waxes eloquent about "community" and "happiness quotients."

He is an extremist, but nobody knows it.

A good example of his extremism: his recent post on the "Portland Transport" blog. I've pasted part of it below:

"Think of it if every residential street was only wide enough for one car to pass through at a time, going slow, sharing the road with kids and dogs and soccer games. Is there any reason traffic on a residential street should go faster than 10mph??? "

There you have it. Rex Burkholder wants the speed limit on residential streets to be 10 mph. And this guy is in the mainstream, treated as a credible adult.

I wonder what the people of Portland would think of Rex if he was actually able to implement his speed limit? After a few weeks of driving 10 mph I can guarantee you that 9 out of 10 Portlanders would speed up quickly if they saw Rex in the crosswalk.

Go read the rest of his post. It is amazing.