Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Wingard Report

Read the following analysis of the philosophical difference between the Democrat and Republican parties. It is very insightful. Then go subscribe to the on-line newsletter from which it came - The Wingard Report. Just email I personally guarantee it is a newsletter you will find worthy of reading every time you find it in your mailbox (unlike most every other newsletter you probably get.)

Republicans are from Mars, Democrats are from Venus Part I
From the Wingard Report, November 30th

Recently, I was asked by a well meaning Democrat to describe the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. With credit to Balint Vazsonyi, my answer was thus:

In the late 1700s two deeply and long held human desires burst into revolution: Freedom and Equality. Men wanted to be free. Men wanted an end to inequality. Over the last 200 years, it has become clear that these two fundamental aspirations are often in opposition to each other. An increase in freedom often produces inequality. An increase in equality often reduces freedom. It’s the tragic realization of the utopian vision.

This is not to say that one can only have freedom or equality. No, you can have both. But there is no perfect equilibrium. Just as a legal system must decide if it wishes to error on the side of innocence or guilt (in effect choosing which injustice it prefers), so too must a society decide whether it wishes to give preference to increasing and protecting freedom, thereby acknowledging that there will be inequality, or whether it wishes to strive for equality, thereby acknowledging that freedom will have to be curtailed to achieve this goal, often by force.

This is the central question of the modern era. There is no middle ground. Every political philosophy of the last 200 years admits a preference. This split began early, with the American Revolution choosing Freedom over Equality...the French Revolution choosing Equality over Freedom. The French Revolution (focused on "Egalité") is the mother of Marxism, Communism, Socialism, collectivism. The American Revolution (focused on "Liberty") is the mother of Capitalism, Libertarianism, 19th Century Liberalism.

And so it is that the modern Democrat Party is the heir to the desires and philosophies of the French Revolution. Dems care deeply about inequality in all its forms: economic, educational, spiritual, intellectual. Their focus is the group, the collective, the “greater good.” So it is that they advocate for government programs to balance these inequalities, higher taxes to redistribute wealth, quotas and set asides, a “right” to health care (which comes at a cost of economic freedom to others), etc. This is not to say that Dems don’t support freedom, but they tend to define “freedom” in terms of whether equity goals are being met. (If you don’t have access to basic health care, for instance, then you’re not really free.)

The modern Republican Party places a higher priority on freedom. This includes economic freedom, rights to property, to raise children according to your own beliefs, to bear arms in your own defense, et al (which all come at a cost in equality). Republicans care about equality, but they tend to define “Equality” in terms of opportunity, not results. (You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.)

Again, both sides value Freedom and Equality. But in both cases, there is a point where support for the lesser value stops. REPs stop supporting equality when it begins to erode other people’s freedoms. DEMs stop supporting freedom when it stands in the way of achieving ever greater equality.

Regulation in the pursuit of Social Justice (read "Equality") is the great debate of our time, and has only intensified over the last 100 years. The war of ideas rages on. The modern Democrat Party has been on the offense, pushing policies that curtail freedom to achieve their higher goals of eradicating or reducing inequality.

The modern Republican Party is in the defensive position, defending principles of freedom, acknowledging the inherent inequality that must result, and advocating for the personal responsibility that must accompany any such philosophy. Seen through this rubric, debates over such things as environmental laws, tax increases or tax cuts, national health care, free-trade policies, affirmative action, land use policy (just to name a few) come into clearer focus.

Who is right? Well obviously that depends on what you value most: Freedom or Equality (recognizing that we all value both). My own biased answer is that history has not been kind to those who placed equality ahead of freedom. In the end, they got neither.

NOTE: I expect the greatest argument against my theory to be raised by people who think Republican and Democrat stands on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia are motivated by exactly the opposite preferences that I just attributed to them. I disagree and will explain in the next issue of TWR.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Calling their bluff

Big editorial this week in the Oregonian about how stupid Oregon's kicker law is.

They say it is a "random, ridiculous law," and they especially disdain the corporate kicker, because most of it goes to out of state corporations, so the money disappears from our economy.

What a wonderful chance for the Oregonian to put its money where its mouth is! Guess who is an out-of-state corporation that will be getting a kicker this year? Newhouse, who owns the Oregonian.

I hereby call on the Oregonian to return, in full, the kicker they receive this year to the state government coffers.

After all, they have lamented for years the underfunded schools and other state services. They have supported every tax increase that has come down the pike. They think the kicker is bad policy? Nothing stops them from sending theirs back.

When they do it, I'll be more willing to take their constant cries for more revenue seriously.

[BTW - I do think that the kicker in its current form is not the best policy. Basing it on actual receipts compared to forecast doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd much rather see a spending limit, coupled with a rainy day fund and a mechanism that returns all tax receipts in excess to the taxpayers.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Would you put Rex Burkholder in charge of your happiness?

You just have to read this to believe it. Over on, Rex Burkholder indulges in his latest fantasy about how his transportation agenda is proven by research to increase our happiness.

Go ahead - click on it and read it, because you really have to hear it in his own words to get a full measure of what this guy is all about. Remember - he is a publicly elected official, thought to be square in the mainstream of the Portland political firmament.

His starting point is that when we decide public policy (such as transportation) we should care less about economic efficiency and more about increasing the "happiness" of our citizens.

From there, just ask people what makes them most happy, then we can design a transportation system to fulfill those needs! It's simple. According to Rex, tops on the list of happy factors is time spent with family and friends. (Actually, he says sex is #1, but he avoided suggesting a way to accomodate carnal urges in transportation policy.)

So, Rex says, the "obvious" policy is to decrease commute times by having jobs located near where people live, and - get this - make commuting more "sociable." (Meaning, force people to crowd themselves into busses and light rail, so they can enjoy the community.)

What a coincidence! It just happens to confirm the smart growth agenda!

If we want to reduce commute times for the most people, maybe having a road system that is built for current use patterns might be a good idea. But Rex and his smart growth buddies have made sure that the bulk of transporation dollars go to non-road projects such as light rail, streetcar, riverwalks, and bike lanes.

Rex writes: "If the purpose of government is to meet the needs and desires of its citizens, shouldn't we be asking them what makes them happy?"

No, Rex, that is not the purpose of government, at least not in our country. But Rex thinks that such a notion is somewhere in our founding documents. He writes: "If we really want to meet the most basic of human values, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, to increase satisfaction with our lives...."

This is scary stuff. I always thought the basic human value expressed in the Declaration was that we have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I'm pretty sure the Founders didn't say the government was responsible for making us happy.

But the irony is that Rex's policies do the precise opposite of what he pretends. Skyrocketing housing prices and ever worsening traffic jams - those aren't exactly high "happy factor" phenomena, but Rex's policies have brought them about.

He's not talking about what will make the vast majority of us happy. We just want to be able to move around the region without too much hassle, and to be able to afford a nice house and yard for our families in a nice neighborhood.

That is not how Rex wants us to live. Rex will make us happy. We will use transit and be thankful for the chance to have social interaction during our commute. We will live in little boxes close to where we work and shop. We will play catch with our kids in the public park, so we can be part of the community. We will love big brother.

Oregonian lectures GM on cost structure

I was surprised to open the editorial page of today's Oregonian and see a very large lead editorial about General Motors' problems. (You no doubt saw that they are laying off 30,000 workers and closing a bunch of production facilities.)

The Oregonian lamented GM's fiscal woes, and then had some stern advice: "get your cost structure in line with revenues."

I just had to laugh at the irony. The Oregonian presumes to lecture GM, a private company headquartered 2000 miles away, on their too high cost structure. Have they ever taken a similar tone with the Portland School District - a public entity in their own city that has similar cost structure issues? Not to my recollection.

They only tone I ever hear from the O on PPS is the excruciatingly monotonous "raise your taxes" chime. To be consistent, they should lecture GM to raise its prices on all its cars.

Why would the Portland Oregonian even chime in on the fiscal condition of GM? What are they now, securities analysts? And if cutting costs is the remedy for a private company whose revenues aren't matching their capacity, why isn't it also the answer for a school district?

Curious indeed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A short history lesson for the cut and run crowd

I used to argue with people who said that Iraq was Bush's Vietnam.

With the recent call by Congressman Murtha to immediately withdraw, followed up by Earl Blumenauer's piece in the Oregonian calling for us to get National Guard troops out right away, I'm starting to see some eerie parallels. I'm thinking Iraq is indeed just like Vietnam, but not in the way the left means.

The whole point of our presence in Vietnam was to prevent the North Vietnam communists from taking over South Vietnam, and to keep the Pol-Pot led Khmer Rouge from taking over the Cambodian government led by Lon Nol.

The anti-war left in American hated the war, because we were preventing the spread of their ideology. Jane Fonda and her husband, former radical turned congressman Tom Hayden, organized an "Indo-China Peace Campaign" to try and lobby Congress to cut off aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam. They even took a camera crew to certain parts of "liberated" South Vietnam to make a propaganda film showing how if the communists took over they would create a utopian agrarian society based on justice and equality.

Nixon negotiated a truce with North Vietnam and we pulled our troops out in 1973, but U.S. aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam continued. Nixon hoped that with the aid, the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam could be preserved.

But he resigned in disgrace shortly thereafter, and in the next election, Republicans got hammered. A bunch of anti-war lefties were swept into Congress, and in their first act of the 1975 session, they rescinded all aid to both South Vietnam and Cambodia.

Republicans at the time warned that if we end our involvement, there would be a bloodbath. John Kerry argued that Republicans were just trying to "stir up anti-communist hysteria."

Within days, communists had overrun Saigon, executing tens of thousands of Vietnamese, and more than a million fled. The Pol-Pot led Khmer Rouge swarmed into Phnom Penh, which led to the slaughter of about two million souls in the "Killing Fields."

You'd think the left would learn. But the same basic story played out in China and Russia before Vietnam, and there too, the political left in the U.S. didn't see them as a threat.

Now they want us out of Iraq. People like me say if we leave there will be a bloodbath, as Sunni's and Baathists take back what they think is theirs. The left has no credible response, but people like Earl Blumenauer want us out anyway.

I've never seen Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, John Kerry, John Dallums, Bella Azbug, David Bonior, or any one of the prominent anti-war crowd from the Vietnam era ever admit that they succeeded in enabling the slaughter of millions of Indo-Chinese.

And if the left succeeds in getting us out of Iraq prematurely, and the inevitable happens there, don't expect Early Blumenauer to apologize for the carnage.

Hey - I guess I'd be reluctant to admit it if the ideology I spent my life spreading had resulted in the mass murder of more than 100 million people in a single century.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Another reason to eliminate ESD's

Did you catch wind of the tawdry goings-on at Willamette ESD? Just another example of why ESD's have to go: the people who run them think they are their own private feifdoms.

The short story: the migrant education director, Nicolasa Mohs, was a disaster of an employee. Nepotism, padded expense reports, misuse of ESD resources - you name it. The ESD had the good sense to fire her.

So she filed an "intent to sue" letter, which claimed she was the victim of favoritism paid to her co-worker, who she claimed was having a lesbian affair with the ESD superintendent. The super decided she better settle, and so gave the woman a consulting contract for $8,000+ a month, and paid her attorney fees!

[Update 11-22: The Statesman Journal has a follow-up article discussing what possible official action might be taken against the ESD Superintendent. For some reason, while explaining what happened, the S/J left out the very significant detail that the "intent to sue" letter charged that the Sup't was having a lesbian affair with the co-worker. This is relevant because it goes directly to the question of why the sup't would settle so quickly a discrimination case that seems so weak. Why would the S/J leave that out?]

Now it's all blowing up in their faces, as it well should. One board member resigned, because the super never consulted the board on the settlement.

This kind of stuff is all too common at ESD's. The problem is that ESD's fly under the radar screen of public awareness. Most people have very little idea what they do, who runs them, and how they operate, so the administrators usually do what they want and are never held accountable.

The "leaders" of ESD's make a good deal of money. They are compensated like school district superintendents, yet the job is nowhere near as difficult, time consuming or stressful. ESD's receive direct funds from the state in the neighborhood of $100 million per year - yet there is very little public scrutiny or even awareness of what they do with the funds.

What DO they do? Well, lots of things. ESD's provide all sorts of services to school districts. Data management, payroll, nursing, itinerant special education, ESL, and a host of other things. For the money the ESD's get from the state, they are supposed to provide a basket of services to districts that are negotiated. These are called "resolution services."

For services not on the resolution services list, ESD's charge fees to districts. They also get grants for various projects they run. A publicly elected board is supposed to oversee them.

Here's the deal: why do we provide direct funding to ESD's in the first place? It makes no sense to give the money to the ESD's, and then have them negotiate with all the school districts in their territory to decide what services to provide.

Why not just send that money to the school districts, and if they need to purchase those services, they can negotiate with the ESD's (or another provider) for them? That would force the ESD's compete for the business. If they are the best provider, great. If not, they shouldn't be guaranteed the contracts.

There is no reason why ESD superintendents should make $130,000 a year with annuity, car allowance, expense accounts, etc. These positions are really pretty much functionary. Mid-level bureaucrats. Yet they run around as if they are big shot education leaders - it would be funny if it was not the taxpayer dime. You can bet your bottom dollar if the ESD's had to compete, provide services at a competitive price, they wouldn't be blowing their budgets on overpaid bureaucrats, which is precisely what most ESD superintendents are.

I've pitched this idea in the legislature, and never got much traction. Every session there are bills to "consolidate" ESD's, supposedly to get better efficiency. That misses the point - ESD's should be ended as we know them.

Make them compete. If they provide valuable services, then school districts will pay for them. If not, they don't deserve the money.

"Special" to the Oregonian

I always love it when I open the Sunday Oregonian editorial page and see the byline of University of Oregon professor Garrett Epps, because I know I'm going to be treated to a thousand words or so of condescension, illogic, straw man arguments, and erratic swerves off the road to offend conservatives.

His piece today did not disappoint. He argued that a judge should not care about popular sentiment when deciding a constitutional question, and conservatives who are screaming about Judge Mary Merten James overturning the desires of 61% of the voters misunderstand the role of the courts.

Well, I'll deal with his rather lame argument in a minute. But first I just HAVE to point out a glaring faux paus in his opening paragraph. He sets up a football analogy: a receiver in the end zone dives for a catch and hits the turf.

Epps writes "Touchdown! No! Fumble!"

An ivory tower metrosexual professor like Epps really should be careful about using football analogies. You can't fumble in the end zone, you dumb dumb. It's either a touchdown or an incomplete pass.

I have to admit some guilty delight in his failed football analogy. I envision a nerd watching a football game, trying a little too hard to prove he's one of the guys, only to confirm to every one else watching that he is, after all, just a hopeless dork.

So what does the dork do when guys shun him? He insults them to his dorky friends. And that was the entire point of Epps op-ed piece, billed as "Special to the Oregonian."

His entire argument was built on disproving a position that I've never heard anyone take - a classic straw man. He writes that conservatives think:

"Any judge whose decisions are unpopular ..... is a judicial activist or is legislating from the bench."

And he goes on to prove this is wrong, arguing that the role of the judge is to decide constitutionality, regardless of how popular or unpopular the law in question is.

The problem of course is that no serious adult ever took the position he tears apart. But it does afford him a prominent place to cast some broadsides and insults at conservatives who criticize Judge James' decision and who want her recalled. And the Oregonian is happy to oblige, by devoting 70% of the front page of the editorial section to his juvenile arguments, complete with a large graphic showing a judge with a gavel, dressed in a referee uniform.

No, Professer Epps, conservatives don't think it is activist simply to overturn a law passed by a vote of the people. Conservatives think it is activist when a judge:

1) Has a conflict of interest in the question at hand (Judge James owns a parcel of real estate about a half mile from a pending Measure 37 claim, and in her ruling she allowed one plaintiff standing due to the fact their property would be effected because of a Measure 37 claim a mile away.)

2) Knows beforehand that the desired outcome is to get rid of the law;

3) Concocts the most tortured, illogical and ludicrous legal arguments to justify the decision, arguments that if applied to dozens of other existing laws would result in their repeal.

THAT is what we call activist, Professor Epps.

Epps argues that perhaps Judge James' decision was wrong, but the forum for that to be decided is in the higher courts, where perhaps the decision will be overturned.

That's not good enough. There are hundreds of already granted and pending Measure 37 claims that are now on hold for two years or so while this works its way through the Oregon Supreme Court. There is a tremedous human and financial impact.

We are supposed to just shrug our shoulders when a judge makes a ruling that is clearly not just erroneous, but fundamentally dishonest?

What if a Circuit Court Judge in Harney County were to rule that Oregon's land use laws were unconstitutional, because they violate Article I Section 18 of Oregon's Constitution, which says that "Private property shall not be taken for public use .... without just compensation."

Would Garrett Epps think THAT judge was activist?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Tribute to Senator Tom Hartung

I was saddened by the news that Tom Hartung passed away.

He was a truly fine man. A total gentleman. He had a distinguished career as a legislator that spanned four decades.

I came to know him in 1997 as his Senate Education Committee was trying to craft a decent charter school law. The effort failed that session, but we tried again in 1999, that time successfully.

Tom was a strong supporter of charter schools, and without his efforts it is certain that there would be no charter law in Oregon today. He was a moderate Republican, which helped bring the charter school issue into the mainstream in Oregon.

He supported me in my run for State Superintendent, which he certainly did not have to do. I am more conservative than he was, and I am sure that his support of me came at some cost to him.

We stayed in touch after he retired from the legislature. We'd chat every couple of months. Even after he retired he kept an active hand in school policy and other political issues. He was a grad of Jefferson High School class of 1950, and it pained him to see what has become of Jefferson today. I know he hoped that the charter law might be a way to save Jefferson, and he was frustrated that there were so many obstacles to making that happen.

Tom Hartung, here's to you. A good man, a life well lived, and a legacy that will grow with every new charter school in the state of Oregon.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Another teacher complains about accountability

Did you see the op-ed piece by the Portland middle school teacher in the Oregonian today?

Parts of it were so rich, I just had to paste it below and add my editorial comments (in red.)

Not Everything that Counts can be Counted

(I pick it up in the fourth paragraph...)
Teachers, who see their students daily, understand that academic improvement is an ongoing process not measurable by slide rule or abacus. Which I guess means that tests cannot measure learning at all. This is always the crux of their complaints about test based accountability. They pretend that the question of "How well does Johnny read?" is so complex and mysterious that only trained teachers who see the kids every day can begin to answer it, and tests are worthless for such purposes. What a crock.

Many of us resent society's cavalier dehumanization of our students, all in the name of "accountability." I love it. By giving kids tests we dehumanize them. Any evidence of this? Even more upsetting is the unspoken truth behind this numeric infatuation: We live in a society that does not trust professional educators to do the job for which they have been trained and hired. She veers unintentionally into some truthful territory here. One might argue that the public has very good reason for this distrust.The elephant in the middle of the room is the sad fact that test scores exist not so much to measure student ability but to reassure taxpayers who are uncomfortable that money taken from their paychecks is going to educate someone else's children. It's hard to understand what she is saying here unless it is just an indirect way of calling people greedy. OF COURSE the tests are to reassure taxpayers that the schools are doing their job. Why does she say this is the "elephant in the room," as if it is something nobody will acknowledge?

Administrators have been put in the untenable position of catering to this societal distrust. In other words, the administrators have to win back public trust by making sure all the kids learn to read and do sums. Principals and superintendents are the visible figureheads of any educational team; they are the obvious targets when test scores -- trumpeted ad nauseam by the media -- indicate that a school or district is "underperforming." In order to maintain job security, they are forced to go along with the illogical idea that a child's ability can be gauged by a number. There it is! A denial that a test score has meaning!

Teachers, on the other hand, concern themselves with whether their students are actually learning, which is seldom quantifiable. Reading and math ability is not quantifiable? Pretty good scam, wouldn't you say, to claim that you are a highly trained professional, and there is no way to measure your effectiveness! No Child Left Behind has forced administrators to be more concerned with numbers than with children or learning. People who should be on the same side -- the side that supports students -- are forced apart by the quick-fix nature of our society.

Real learning requires time and hard work. But most Americans would rather look at a number in a newspaper than visit their local schools or contribute sweat equity to public education. Her contempt for us is palpable. We don't contribute, we just look at a number.

And our children, regardless of their test scores, are intelligent enough to learn the lesson inherent in this attitude: Why should they put time and effort into learning, when our society so obviously tells them that public education is not worth the time or effort? What self serving moral preening. Society doesn't value her enough, she lectures us. The funny thing is that the "lesson" that she claims is "inherent in this attitude" --- it doesn't follow at all! Even if I buy her argument: 1) test scores don't reflect actual learning; 2) people are lazy and focus only on test scores -- how does this tell children that public education is not worth the time and effort? And she, I guarantee you, thinks she teaches kids critical thinking, when she can't even make a coherent logical argument.

D.M. Suydam teaches language arts at Five Oaks Middle School in Portland.

This little essay reveals attitudes that are not uncommon among public school teachers, I'm afraid. Many teachers reject the notion that learning can be measured at all. They think it is such a mysterious process that a test cannot possibly reveal what a child knows.

Many times they will set up a straw man when arguing against testing and test-based accountability: "there is no way any test can measure all aspects of learning."

Yup. Nobody ever claimed a test could. But we are kinda interested in, say, whether our third graders can read. Can THAT be tested? Of course.

Hey, I'm critical of Oregon's tests, but I am not anti test. I think Oregon's tests are bad because they don't give us reliable information when we try to answer the question "how well does Johnny read?"

But I am a firm believer in tests to monitor teacher effectiveness, and to identify student progress.

But teachers such as this one - we should worry when people like her are in charge of student learning.

Uniformity at the university in the name of diversity

Update on the University of Oregon five year diversity plan which I first discussed here in June.

As reported by one of my favorite bloggers, Professor Plum, (and as many of us predicted would happen as the Diversity Plan was implemented) the U of O has essentially established an ideological litmus test for job applicants. If you want a teaching job at Oregon you must profess that you "share our commitment to diversity."

Take a look at the web site that lists its academic job postings. Almost half of the job descriptions end with the statement:

"We invite applications from qualified candidates who share our commitment to diversity."

Which of course means that if you don't believe in racial preferences, or if you don't accept the liberal dogma on racial/gender/sexual orientation identity politics, or if you think their five year diversity plan is a bunch of politically correct garbage, I guess you aren't qualified.

Sounds like a great way to make sure they are the laughing stock of the academic world for years to come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Portland turns down four charter schools

Displaying an unyielding commitment to the status quo, the Portland School District board denied four separate charter school proposals at their board meeting this week.

Now, PPS hostility to charters is not really news, but there were some interesting - and revealing - aspects to the whole process. Two of the proposals were rejected unanimously. I know nothing about these proposals - for all I know they were horrid, and should have been rejected.

Two of the proposals, however failed on a split vote, and only after the board subcommittee recommended that the proposals be approved. In the testimony and discussion over these two proposals, some educators and board members made some pretty revealing comments.

During the testimony a teacher from Madison High School, Tom Conry, spoke against the proposal to start a "Leadership & Entrepreneurial High School" not far from Madison. Conry and others are in the middle of trying to reform Madison High, and they are afraid that if they let a new charter school open nearby, it might hurt their efforts. I've met Conry - he's a nice fellow. Here's what the Oregonian reported:

He said charter schools, even though they are public, are in a larger sense part of the movement toward privatization because they turn schools into commodities that cater to a few rather than institutions that whole communities support for the benefit of all.

This is the kind of statement that we get all the time from people opposed to charters. How does providing choices in the form of charter schools turn schools into commodities? What does that mean? The funny thing is that Mr. Conry's objection is completely irrelevant. He was trying to convince the school board to deny a charter school, which they can do only for specific legal criteria. These criteria don't include his handwringing over school commoditization.

Conry went on to say:

"This devaluing of the common good is the cancer that will kill us all if we let it," Conry said. "To believe in public schools . . . you have to believe that our lives are important to one another on some noncommercial, nonmarket-based level."

Again, totally irrelevant. But revealing. He's clearly a collectivist. I've read the statement a dozen times and still don't know quite what it means. But what I do know is he is spreading this gobbledygook in his classrooms.

Now, onto the board members. There is good news here: apparently, new board member Sonja Henning has a lot on the ball. Not just because she supported the school, but because she was the one board member who seems to understand that they are dealing with a statute that has specific legal criteria for how they deal with charter proposals.

New member Dan Ryan also seems to get it. He voted in favor of the school, brushing aside concerns that the charter school would hinder plans to reform Madison, saying that high school students not being served don't have another two years to wait to see how reforms take hold at existing schools.

But the old guard on the board; they are hopeless as ever. Doug Morgan admitted that he was "confused." Well, I can't argue with that. He voted no, fretting that the new charter school might "undermine the flexibility and creativity that the board is already trying to encourage at existing schools."

They offer this stuff up as if it has some meaning. How on earth would one school undermine flexibility at another? It doesn't even come close to qualifying for a valid reason to deny a charter school.

I guess what he is saying is that he is against this school because he is afraid that some students might choose to go there.

Later, Morgan told everybody that he has training as an "ethicist," and that this charter proposal presents him with a moral dilemma, presenting him with "two equally compelling goods." He wanted everybody to know how tortured he was about his no vote, saying that in all of his years serving on boards and advisory committees, "None of the weightiness and moral conflict equaled the moral conflict I personally felt in voting on some of the charter proposals."

Oh, brother. It's all about you, Director Morgan. He casts the deciding vote against a charter that would give a choice to students who desperately need it. He willingly sacrifices these kids, for what? Because of some imagined decrease in flexibility and creativity in the other schools.

Sorry, Director Morgan, that doesn't even come close to meeting the standard for a valid reason to deny a charter school. And I doubt that the students you are denying a school they and their parents want care very much about how much moral conflict you personally felt.

In fact they might point out that we all feel moral conflict when we do something we know is wrong.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The OEA: "Working Wonders for Public Education"

The title to this post is the OEA's slogan. "Working Wonders Public Education." It's right there on the banner of their website

You gotta wonder if they laugh when they visit their site. Of course the joke is on us. For years the OEA has tried to cynically pass itself off as a protector and defender of public education, all the while throwing the children under the train in their endless quest for expanded benefits, enhanced authority, and higher pay for teachers.

They know it is a lie. Occasionally they are even honest about it, when they think nobody is looking. Back in the 80's in their OEA Bulletin they made the following, oh-so-revealing statement:

“The major purpose of our association is not the education of children, rather it is, or ought to be the extension and/or preservation of our members’ rights.”
- OEA Bulletin, October 19th, 1981

There is a telling picture in this month's BrainstormNW Magazine of the car driven by one of OEA's lobbyists. The care is a late model BMW. Nice ride. The car has vanity plates. Guess what the plates read?


Yes, it is all for the children. The hypocrisy is palpable.

And that hypocrisy is on display in Sandy, where the teachers are striking in what now is the second longest in Oregon history.

It has been a sad spectacle. According to at least one Sandy board member, the real problem is that the OEA is making Sandy the frontier in getting a few non-economic concessions into a teacher contract, so they can boot-strap them into contracts in other districts when time comes to renegotiate.

This of course is a tried and true union tactic. Get a concession in one place, then use it to leverage the same concession elsewhere. And if they have a local union (the Wy'East Education Association, in this case) willing to strike, they have a better chance of getting their beach head.

In Sandy, the OEA wants more union control over which teachers get laid off in the event the district needs to cut staff (and future staff cuts are virtually assured, since Sandy, like every district in Oregon, has costs going up faster than revenues.) They also want the district, I hear, to recognize same sex couples for medical benefits.

One positive side effect of teacher strikes is that they illustrate union hypocrisy in a way that the general public is pretty much forced to notice and understand. It's hard to insist that you are all about the children when you close the schools for three weeks in order to insist on medical benefits for same sex couples.

People get it, and they start to question the institution of unions in the public sector.

Of course, don't count the Oregonian editorial staff amongst them. The O ran an editorial today that still has me scratching my head. I can't figure out what the point of it was, other than to whine about the strike. They ended the piece with this curious advice:

It might be best if the leaders on both sides of the dispute quit the public gesturing, dump their outside advisers and go back to listen to cooler heads in their own organizations. This strike has gone beyond the point of anybody really winning it. The negotiators must simply find a way to end it -- soon.

Huh? Why did they waste the ink if they have nothing of substance to add? The public employee unions they have supported all these years have grown into a monster that is devouring our public institutions.

The face of the monster is on display in Sandy. The Oregonian doesn't want to face the monster. It sounds like a child, hands over his eyes, saying "make it go away."

It is not going away. If anything, when (and I say when) the Oregon Trail school board capitulates, the monster will just get stronger. It will only weaken when one of two things happens: 1) it devours everything, and there's nothing left to eat; and 2) a courageous public body slays it.

Here's what I would have done if I was dictator of the Oregon Trail School District: I would have started last school year, after it was obvious that contract negotiations were going nowhere, and I would have prepared a "strike survival strategy." Identify substitute teachers and give each a $1000 retainer to be ready to come teach in case of a strike. Prepare a strike plan that laid out the schedule of classes, transportation, after school activities, etc.

When that is all done, go the the union and say: "OK, time to negotiate."

That might have changed the OEA tune just a little bit.

Monday, November 07, 2005

9th Circuit Decision on Sex Education

The 9th circuit has done it again.

It made a decision (and wrote a legal opinion) that seemingly swerves off the road to run over the sensibilities of parents who are worried that the schools are trampling the values they want to teach their kids.

By now you all know the case. Intrusive questions of a sexual nature were asked of 7-10 year old kids as part of a psychology research project. Ten of the 54 questions asked about things of a sexual nature, such as whether the child worried about "Thinking about having sex," "Not trusting people because I think they want sex," and other completely unsuitable questions for a first grader. (You can see all the questions in the judge's opinion, linked above.)

There was a parental consent letter sent home prior to the questionnaire being given, but it didn't reveal that they would be asking questions of a sexual nature. Oddly enough, however, the letter did say, in effect, that if their children experienced emotional trauma from the questions, the district would help them find a therapist to help deal with the damage! I am not making this up.

The legal questions asked in the lawsuit hinged upon whether the 14th Amendment vested parents with a due process right that gave them exclusive reign over what their children are taught. It is a pretty narrow question. I'm no lawyer, but when I read the opinion, I come to two conclusions:

1) The question the parents asked the courts to decide was the wrong one;
2) The court's opinion is correct on the law.

I know this is not the take of most conservative commentators. I of course think that Palmdale School District's conduct is outrageous. If I was a parent, and read that letter of consent, I would have never consented, and I would have wondered why they were doing a psychological survey when they should be teaching my kid to read and do math.

But the legal question is basically "Do parents have the right to compel the schools to follow their own moral or ethical views on what should be taught to the kids?"

The court said "no," and I think they got it right. If parents did have such a right, how would that work? Parents have different moral and ethical views on a plethora of issues, and they often conflict. How could the schools possibly be an arbiter of such a "right?" They would end up having to teach each child a curriculum tailored to his or her parents moral views.

But for some reason the Judge's opinion contained an explanatory statement that went far beyond the question, and is sure to rankle my conservative comrades:

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote "there is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children . . ."

Now, here's the problem. I think the above statement is demonstrably false. Yes, parents do have this right. They can exercise it by home schooling, or otherwise filtering the information their child is exposed to.

But the CAN'T exercise it by forcing the public school to follow their moral standards.

I don't know why the judge put it this way. Later in the opinion he wrote a more limited explanation. He said the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children (which, coincidentally, was established in an Oregon case called "Pierce vs. Society of Sisters" which stemmed from Oregon's attempt to make private schools illegal, which was found unconstitutional in 1925)

"do not afford parents a right to compel public schools to follow their own idiosyncratic views as to what information the schools may dispense."

I think this is not a particularly controversial proposition. So, in this case, the courts got it right.

This is not to excuse the Palmdale School District. If I were the parents, here is the question I would have been asking:

If a private citizen were to corner my 7 year old daughter and ask her if she "Worries that she touches her private parts too much," or whether she "Thinks about touching other people's private parts," he would be sent to jail and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Yet we let our school officials ask these questions? I would have filed a complaint of sex abuse!

Any school official who thinks these questions are suitable for 7-10 year olds has something wrong with them. But the answer is not to give every parent veto power over the school curriculum.

No, the Palmdale case is just another illustration of the need for school choice. Parents resort to lawsuits when they feel trapped. They are forced to send their child to school, and in most cases they are assigned to their public school based on where they live. They are captives. If their values are trampled by things the school does with their children, they have little recourse other than to sue.

But what if they could just choose another school, one that had a better fit between their values and what the school taught and believed? A few things would happen. First, lawsuits such as the Palmdale case would be rare, because parents would just leave schools such as Palmdale that had such a perverted view of what their role is.

Second, school officials would realize that they can't do this kind of stuff with impunity. They would lose customers! Parents now have little recourse, but if we had school choice, they could vote with their kids feet, and it wouldn't be too long before people such as those who perpetrated the Palmdale questionnaire would be on the outside looking in.

It would be about time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A very public shakedown

It is almost unbelievable that the below op-ed piece, which ran in the Wilsonville Times, could be written by an elected official in America. The reasoning it reveals is summarily collectivist, and is based on the philosophy that one person's need is a claim on another's assets.

I've inserted, in bold, my comments throughout the column.

By Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehann

Ordinance rights a wrong

The City of Wilsonville recently passed an ordinance dealing with the displacement of homeowners who are evicted due to the closure of their mobile home park. [The ordinance requires the owner of the park, who wants to sell the property for about $8.5 million, to spend about $4 million relocating the tenants.]

The protections we put in place are similar to what governments must provide any homeowner when government condemns property for a new road or other public purpose: reasonable relocation costs and compensation for the value of the home. Whether the displaced homeowner owns a mansion or a modest mobile home, we are expected to make them whole. [The difference here, Mayor Lehann, is that when the government condemns property and pays to relocate the prior occupants, the public bears the cost. In this case you want to force that cost on a private person.]

Similarly, if homeowners are displaced by a park closure the landowner must pay the homeowner’s reasonable relocation costs, or if the home cannot be relocated, must compensate the homeowner for the in-place value of the home. [There it is. A bald faced shakedown. There is NO similarity between a government exercising the power of eminent domain and a private landowner selling his property. She is claiming the two are equivalent. They aren't.] The landowner is exempted from the ordinance if they reach a negotiated settlement with the homeowners.

Without these protections for the property rights of both the homeowner and the landowner, [Just exactly how does this "protect" the landowner's property rights? It's an outright theft of $4 million, and she tries to pass it off as protecting his rights? And what property right does the "homeowner" (which is a tenant on rented land) have in this case? This sentence is overtly Orwellian] there is a large transfer of wealth when a park is closed. The wealth of the homeowners is dest
royed and the wealth of the landowner is greatly increased. [She obviously doesn't understand the first thing about wealth creation. The landowner has an asset that has a use far more valuable than as a mobile home park. The renters own none of this wealth. There is NO transfer of wealth when the park is closed. What could she be talking about?]

In most mobile home parks homeowners have made space payments [Space payments? You mean rent?] for years or decades in addition to investing most of their life savings in the purchase of their home. [Yes, and in apartment buildings the tenants pay rent, sometimes for decades. That doesn't mean they own the apartment, or that they should get relocation money if the building is sold.]

With notice of closure, the expectation of a secure place to spend their retirement years disappears. Since older mobile homes cannot easily be moved and are usually not allowed to locate in other parks, the owner’s only major asset is immediately made worthless and is likely to be demolished without compensation. Sorry to point this out, but a mobile home that cannot be moved is not a major asset. [It is too bad that these people will have to figure out somewhere else to live. If Mayor Lehann thinks the public should help these people out, she is welcome to make that case and convince taxpayers to do something. But instead she wants to force the park-owner to pay the cost of her welfare dreams.]

In the meantime, the landowner is able to take advantage of decades of space payments [Rent!] and escalating land values to realize windfall profits at the expense of all those homeowners. [I love the rhetoric here. Windfall profits! Expense of homeowners! Where does their rent contract say that the park owner must rent to them in perpetuity?]

This is clearly unfair. [This is what I love about communists like Mayor Lehann. They always whine about unfairness, and their solution is to steal money from someone who has it. Is THAT fair? In their world, yes it is.] In Wilsonville’s case, as in many communities, homeowners in mobile home parks are predominantly senior citizens of modest means. They include many World War II and Korean War veterans, or their widows, who have carefully planned to remain self-sufficient in their retirement years, living independently on modest pensions and Social Security. [And again.... if she wants to help these people - and that may be a worthy goal, ask the public for the money. Don't steal it from some private person just because you have a gun.]

Some retirees supplement their incomes with part-time jobs nearby. Most are longstanding members of the community, including lifelong residents from Wilsonville’s pioneer families. Many of them continue to volunteer their time in public service at the library, Community Center, and local schools. [This justifies stealing from a rich guy?]

Loss of their homes can mean loss of financial independence, and along with it, loss of community, friends, jobs, and much of their social support system. It can also mean loss of the gardens and pets that are a large part of their lives. [That is all true.... so take up a collection.]

These are potentially debilitating losses for anyone, but for people in their 80s and 90s the stress can be truly life-threatening. That is why Wilsonville approached this issue from the standpoint of public health and safety.

After we watched the tragedies unfold in New Orleans, we cannot stand by and expect a physically and financially fragile population — stripped of their assets and without assistance — to manage mass eviction any more than we would expect them to manage mass evacuation.
What do we say? “Why haven’t you relocated? Didn’t you get the notice?” [No, you say "let's find some guy with a "windfall profit" who we can shake down so we don't have to pay to help these people from our own pockets.]

These people are not looking for subsidies, but if through no fault of their own they are suddenly left homeless and made dependent on public assistance then the windfall profits of the landowner will also be realized at the public’s expense. [OK so let me understand this argument. If he sells his park, and the renters have to go on public assistance because they are unable to find other accomodations, then it is his fault and he ought to pay instead of the public. In other words, he is duty-bound to operate his asset as a mobile home park even if there is a far more valuable use. So basically the Mayor's position is that he should be forced by law to be a charitable operation.]

Oregon taxpayers shouldered part of the responsibility in the last legislative session by offering potential tax credits for both the landowner and the homeowner. But the landowner, the one who stands to gain the most from escalating land values, also bears some responsibilities to the homeowners who have purchased homes in good faith — some only days or weeks before receiving notice of intent to sell the park. [If he took new tenants days or weeks prior to selling the land, knowing that he was going to sell it, then they would have a bad faith case in a lawsuit. This can be dealt with easily under existing law without the need for the looters on the city council to shake him down.]

We fully expect to defend this ordinance in court, but we believe we are on solid ground. [Sadly, in Oregon the courts just might side with Wilsonville on this. If they can throw out Measure 37 on the thinnest of all possible legal justifications, they can concoct some legal sounding justification to allow a straight out looting of a private landowner's value for public benefit.]

In the three days since its passage, we have received at least 10 requests for copies from other Oregon cities facing the potential of mass evictions without compensation for homeowners in mobile home parks. [I'm sure this is true. I'll bet the League of Oregon Cities is helping spread the word of how to turn evil capitalists into unwilling charities.] This is clearly an issue that needs our attention.

Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan is serving her third term as mayor. She first joined the City Council in 1992.

It really is quite sad that we have elected officials that think it is OK for a local government to do something like this. If this is OK, then any city anywhere can basically co-opt your property and use its value for whatever purpose they think fulfills someone's need.

Here's a quote I love, quite valid here:

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

-William Pitt, 18 Nov 1783

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Too Much Going On

I haven't posted in a while. So many things going on:

  • Measure 37 tossed with the most ridiculous judicial "reasoning." Recall a possibility.
  • Teachers strike in Sandy - The OEA shows its teeth.
  • Alito nomination sends the left into a tizzy
  • Libby indicted for perjury, lying and obstruction; Rove apparently in the clear, and no underlying crime was charged
  • Wilsonville passes an ordinance that requires a mobile home park owner to pay relocation costs to tenants if he sells the property
  • PDC scheming and scamming continues
  • The Tram will cost at least three times as much as originally thought
  • Regional income tax proposal is being seriously considered
  • Iraq ratifies its constitution; Sunnis join the political process.

The world is sure an interesting place.