Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Here's the plan: the Mayor wants to spend $1.1 million to figure out what "vision" the people of Portland have for what the city will look like in 30 years. He's appointed a 55 member "visioning committee" to spearhead the whole thing.
I wrote about the project when he first announced it, so I won't go into detail here how ridiculous it is to pretend that there is a single unifying vision that Portlanders agree upon.
I find it also a bit funny that he would appoint a committee so big that it has a Committee IQ of below .25 (yes that is point-two-five.)
But mostly, I want to write a little bit about what the Mayor's project (and other similar projects being conducted around the state) reveal about the Mayor's "theory of change."
What do I mean by "theory of change?"
Basically, I mean: what do you think drives change? What impels social institutions to reform? What forces bring it about? Look at any politician's programs, and you can tell a lot about how he or she thinks change happens.
Potter has appointed a committee to talk to the people in the hope that a unified vision will emerge, which he can then lead them toward. He thinks this is really important. He even said that visioning was "the most important thing he'll do as mayor."
There are a couple assumptions that underlie this effort. 1) There exists among the citizens a single coherent vision, agreed upon by everybody, about what Portland should be. 2) The leader's job is to figure out what this is, and lead the people toward it.
The leader, then, in the Potter view, is less of a leader than an implementor. His job is to divine where people want to be led, then to be an efficient technocrat by getting them to this place in the most efficient manner.
I think this is, well, absurd. There is no such thing as a shared vision. That is the language of collectivism. There is a majority vision, to be sure. Politics is an exercise in deciding on which is the majority vision and the winner gets to make it happen, if he or she has the skill.
But there is no such thing as a shared vision in any political body as large and diverse as the city of Portland.
The funny thing about Potter's project is that for more than two decades Portland has indeed pursued a vision. It happens to be a vision that I disagree with, but apparently a majority of Portlanders don't, and so it has been implemented with all the usual efficiency of government (insider's graft, sham processes, budgetary shamanism, public relations initiatives, etc.)
So now, after decades of implementing this vision, Potter wants to conduct a million dollar visioning initiative?
OK, let me fantasize for a moment. Imagine that every public meeting, every forum, and every outreach session that the committee of 55 (with a committee IQ of .25) held was completely void of any "new urbanist" perspective. Imagine if in every meeting the Mayor and his committee heard only from people who: reject light rail, think we need more road capacity, think "sustainability" is code for "radical environmentalism, think transit oriented developments are a waste of resources, love Wal-Mart, and think Homer Williams is a whore.
Do you think the Visioning Committee would dutifully report that Portland should embark on a long term vision of paving over light rail lines and increasing road capacity?
No Way! This is not an attempt to divine the people's vision; it's an attempt to pretend that the current vision is supported by the people!
And the theory of change? Technocratic. Decide how we want the place to look, and put the proper programs in place to make it look that way.
As opposed to a dynamic theory of change. A dynamic theory cares not a whit about what the future will look like. It is futile to guess! In 1985, how many of us could predict and plan for the changes that would come from the internet? Which technocrats effectively planned for that?
My theory of change, at least as it applies to politics, is quite different. I believe change to established institutions never happens from within. It is only brought about by pressure. Institutions will NEVER reform themselves, even if a committee is charged with doing so.
That means if you want to improve an institution (say, public schools) the LAST thing you'd want to do is appoint a committee of "stakeholders" to figure out what to do.
Yet what is the most common thing we see politicians propose? A "Blue Ribbon Committee."
Think of how many such committees we've seen. The Quality Education Comission, for one. A much shorter list: how many have actually reformed an institution?
I spend a lot of my time trying to build a vibrant and robust charter school industry in Oregon. As a theory of change, charter schools are the exact opposite of the "stakeholder/committee" model. They are organic/dynamic, and succeed only when there is enough pressure on the establishment schools to create a market for the charter.
My opinion is that reform never comes from within. It only comes from outside pressure.
Mayor Potter's "Visioning" project will just be further proof.
I love it when this issue surfaces, because it illustrates in such stark terms what is wrong with the school system. Some parents, it turns out, want something better for their children than the failing public school to which they are assigned, and don't have the means to afford tuition or to move to a better area. So they commit the heinous crime of enrolling their child in a better public school than the one the school administrators find it convenient to assign them to.
And what is the reaction of the bureaucracy?:
"There will be consequences if they lie about where they live," said Judy Dauchy, the administrator for the district's enrollment and transfer center.
Only a government monopoly could have this kind of arrogant attitude.
Does the fact that parents want out of one school and into another cause them any concern? It sure wasn't expressed by Ms. Dauchy. No, they want to punish the parents who are rejecting the lousy product they provide.
What should they do? If parents are leaving school A for school B, why not let the management of school B take over school A? Why not punish the people who run school A, rather than punish the customers who want something better for their kids?
Oops, silly me. I used the word "customers." I keep forgetting that in our public school system, parents and students aren't customers, they are captives. Their educational interests are secondary to more important considerations, such as what is convenient for the school district administrators and most of all, the unions.
After all, what could be more inconvenient than parents who won't go along with where their kids are assigned? If they allowed parents to go where they wished, the administrators would have all sorts of management issues such as figuring out how to increase the capacity of the desireable schools, and to adjust the staffing levels of the crappy ones.
That might not even be allowed under the district's own governing document - the collective bargaining contract! It, of course, has final say over such matters, and nothing - certainly not something as unimportant as the desires of parents -- can be allowed to override it.
So, I imagine that Portland School District will have to have an enforcement division. Public employees whose job it is to check up on students by doing home visits to the addresses they claim on their enrollment forms. This is done in other districts.... John Stossell just ran a special on ABC called "Stupid in America" that followed one such investigator and showed how he determined whether a student lived in the home he claimed. The investigator actually went in the house, into the student's bedroom to check if there were clothes in the drawers, books on the shelves, etc, in order to root out those evil parents who don't go along with where the bureuacracy assigns their kids to be uneducated.
By the way, Stossell is coming to Portland this Sunday, speaking at a Cascade Policy Institute dinner.
Imagine the moral foundation of a school system that punishes the parents, rather than the school officials, when a school is so undesireable that parents lie about where they live rather than send their kids there.
This is the school system that is asking for yet another income tax, so it can continue to do business the way it now operates rather than make the structural changes it should have made two decades ago.
Is it any wonder that public support is waning?
Monday, January 30, 2006
What would happen if Al Qaeda succeeded in detonating a nuclear bomb in the US? There would be tens of thousands perhaps dead, but hundreds of thousands more would have radiation sickness.
In 2003, Bush created Project Bioshield, which allocated $6 billion to help develop a biodefense industry that would create drugs that could be used in the event of a terrorist strike. He appointed a Republican political ally, Stewart Simonson, who was a lawyer for Amtrack, to administer the program.
A company called Hollis Eden Pharamaceutical (HEPH - Nasdaq) has developed a very effective drug for radiation poisoning that is far and away the most effective drug for preventing the bleeding and other maladies that come with radiation exposure. [Full disclosure: I own some stock in Hollis Eden. I've owned it for almost two years, having heard about the drug they were testing.]
The Pentagon has partnered with Hollis Eden because it knows its drug is the best. It can be self administered, and stockpiled for long periods of time. Literally millions of doses would be needed, because it has to be stockpiled in major cities - no one knows where the bomb might go off.
Unfortunately, Project Bioshield is run out of Department of Health and Human Services, and when it came time a couple months ago to announce the first big purchase of the radiation treatment drug, what did Stewart Simonson at HHS decide?
They announced they would buy 10,000 doses, and it would not be Hollis Eden's drug, developed with the encouragement of the Pentagon and Project Bioshield, but an inferior drug developed by a competitor. What happens if a nuke hits now? Ten thousand doses is only a small fraction of what is needed.
Imagine if it happened. The 60 Minutes story is already out. They could have the millions of doses ready and waiting, but chose to buy only 10,000. What if tens of thousands of people died of radiation poisoning because Project Bioshield refused to do its job, due to the bungling of a railroad lawyer who has no biomedical background?
The Bush Administration would be finished. Karl Rove I hope you are paying attention.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Guess how many companies in Oregon employ that many people and don't already spend 8% on health care? Yep, one: Wal-Mart.
This is not just an Oregon thing. It is part of a coordinated nationwide AFL-CIO led effort to make Wal-Mart buckle under. The unions know they can't successfully unionize Wal-Marts, but they might be able to take away their competitive advantage through ballot measures and state legislatures.
Maryland just passed the same law that Oregon's AFL-CIO is trying to get on the ballot here. Actually, the state legislature overrode the governor's veto to get the law passed. Wal-Mart's next move? They cancelled plans to build a distribution center in Maryland, which would have created 800 jobs. As reported in OpinionJournal.com, the Wal-Mart spokesman said about the decision to cancel the distribution center:
"You have to take a step back and call into question how business-friendly is a state like Maryland when they pass a bill that . . . takes a swipe at one company that provides 15,000 jobs."
EXACTLY. The same goes for Oregon. What does it tell a prospective large employer considering a move to Oregon (or a small company already here that hopes to be a large employer) when the state swerves off the road to punish Wal-Mart because it doesn't provide the benefits the union wants it to?
You think they might have seconds thoughts about Oregon as a place to grow?
You think the AFL-CIO cares?
It will be very interesting to see how Oregon votes on this one. Call it the canary in the mine. If people here are serious about being competitive again, they will reject it. If not, well, good for Clark County.
It is the result of years and years of observations, empirical study and statistical analysis, conducted by my brother, who has a Ph.D. in physics from Cal Tech.
We continue to get illustration after illustration as to the truth of the theorem. In fact, the political science community is ready to say that it is no longer a theorem - it has been proved sufficiently for it now to be known as
Here's the axiom, in layperson's terms: If you want to estimate the intelligence of a committee (IQc), take the average intelligence of the members of the committee (IQ with the bar over it) and divide it by the number of members on the committee squared (N2).
So, how does it play out? Let's say we have a school board, say, Portland, seven members. Generously estimating their average intelligence at 100 (100 is the average intelligence of an adult), then the IQ of the school board is:
100/(7*7) = 2.04
It has been shown that your average vegetable, say, spinach, has an IQ of about 2. After all, it knows to turn toward the sun to get nourishment. So, school boards in Oregon are about as intelligent as spinach.
Now, some school boards are made up of five members. This, according to Kremer's Axiom, actually doubles the committee IQ:
100/(5*5) = 4
It is easy to see that a committee of ten or more people has a committee IQ of 1 or below. That would explain the output of legislatively created committees such as the Quality Education Commission.
It would certainly explain our state legislature. With sixty members in the house, Kremer's Axiom estimates a "Committee IQ of:
100/(60*60) = .028
The Oregon Senate is far, far smarter than the House. Its Committee IQ comes to:
100/(30*30) = .111
So, whenever you are puzzled by the decisions made by city councils, county commissions, school boards, state legislatures, just remember Kremer's Axiom.
And don't even bother estimating the U.S. House of Representatives. The Committee IQ is not significantly higher than zero. As if you needed Kremer's Axiom to know that!
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Friday, January 20, 2006
It should be a lot of fun. Sam has been in the news a lot lately, and I look forward to talking with him about it.
Sam and I disagree about most things (which of course is kind of a pre-requisite to co-host my show with me,) but I like him and respect him for never shying away from explaining his positions with the public. He's a thoughtful guy, really smart, so it should be a good time.
Tune in and call in. 9-11 AM Sunday.
Oh - I will be filling in for Jeff Kropf on Saturday, from 6-9 AM.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Then, when the Tri-Met bus had to squeeze by him, it came within (in his own words) 18" of his handlebars. Well, duh! What does he expect? He was in the car lane!
In a childlike tantrum, he catches up the the bus as it stops in traffic and blocks it by parking his bike on the street in front of the bus. Reminds me of Tiannanmen Square, when the guy (whose name, as I recall, was Sum Dom Fock) stood in front of the tanks.
Except this bicycle activist, far from becoming a symbol of brave resistance to totalitarian force, is just a childish and entitlement-minded wing nut.
So, we have a stand-off between a bicycle and the bus, crowded with people. One of whom takes matters into his own hands, gets off the bus and basically manhandles the idiot off the street and onto the sidewalk.
Which of course is just what the wing nut wanted, because now he can sue Tri-Met and become a big celebrity in his bike nazi community. He's claiming medical bills, lost work, plus $48K in other damages.
What does he expect? That he can act like that and have no consequence whatever? That he is owed an apology by the bus driver for driving near him when he is not on the bike path?
I saw the video of the whole thing. From what I saw the man who left the bus to take care of the situation didn't really hurt him - he just kind of forced him over to the side of the road where he belonged. It didn't look like he swung at him or anything like that. The last frame that I saw, the bike nazi was still standing over his bike.
No way this guy should get any money, nor even an apology from Tri-Met. HE should be the one apologizing. (If indeed the man did swing at him, push him down or otherwise try to hurt him, I don't condone it. But I have no problem at all if what he did is what I saw on the video - forcibly move him off the road.)
Imagine! He thinks he should be able to throw a tantrum in the middle of the street, holding up an entire busload of people, and NOT be moved forcibly out of the way? What if you were walking down the sidewalk and some idiot blocked your way, and would not let you pass? Would you have the right to forcibly move him? How is this any different?
If you ask me, he got what he deserves. Hurrah for the unidentified man who had the guts to treat this bike nazi like the child he is.
One last thing . . . what do you want to bet that when the man re-boarded he bus, he was met by cheers from everyone on it?
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Today is Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday.
Franklin was an extraordinary genius, on the order of Leonardo da Vinci.
Perhaps the best illustration of his incredible intellect is the "Silence Dogood" letters. The story is amazing.
As a 16 year old he was working as an apprentice in his brother James' newspaper in Boston.
Franklin was much more talented than his brother, who was quite threatened by his younger sibling's precociousness. James wouldn't let Benjamin write anything for the paper - he just ran the press and performed laborer's duties.
Frustrated, Franklin wrote a letter to the newspaper under a pen name, and slipped it under the door of the newspaper at night. The letter was from "Mrs. Silence Dogood," a 45 year old widow of a country parson. In the letter she spoke with the wry wit and self-deprecating wisdom of a mature, worldly woman. The letter shocked and delighted Boston society with her satirical, sometimes racy observations and comments.
He wrote a total of 14 letter from Mrs. Dogood, and by this time was the talk of the town. Readers speculated as to who she could be. Who was this woman, with her sometimes impertinant musings?
In one letter, she satirizes Harvard College, where she wanted to send her son. She describes entering the campus:
"The Passage was kept by two sturdy Porters named "Riches" and "Poverty", and the latter obstinately refused to give Entrance to any who had not first gain'd the Favour of the former; so that I observed, many who came even to the very Gate, were obliged to travel back again as ignorant as they came, for want of this necessary Qualification."
Many scholars consider the Dogood letters to be America's first newspaper columnist.
James Franklin never admitted that it was Benjamin who wrote the Dogood letters. Too embarrasing to admit that your kid brother was so much smarter than you.
Benjamin Franklin was an American genius. Read a biography of him sometime. You won't regret it.
It's also one of the highest rated shows on TV. As I watched it, it struck me - the Democrats just don't understand. They are constantly hammering on Bush's supposed violations of civil liberties, whining about wiretapping terrorist phone calls and subjecting detainees to discomfort.
Meanwhile the nation watches Jack Bauer execute a terrorist in cold bloods as he saves another 60 civilians from sure death. I'm sure a lot of Democrats were watching too, and they are secretly happy, no doubt, with the notion that we have real life Jack Bauers out there protecting us.
I hope the D's don't figure out that the civil liberties attacks on Bush are not going to work. I hope they were all watching BrokeBack Mountain win its 45 Golden Globe Awards, as Americans stay away from the movie in droves.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Metro's Open Spaces initiative - They want another $220 million to buy land for habitat protection. What a farce. About 96% of Oregon is open space already. The only reason we feel crowded inside the UGB is because land use laws won't let us build outside of it. So Metro wants money to mitigate a "problem" its own policies have created.
Here's what they don't tell you about the initiative:
- 5% of the total ($10 million) is set aside for "community group programs." That means Metro will dole out money each year to Audubon, Willamette Riverkeepers, and all the other greenie/socialist groups. Our tax money going to these people!
- 10% of the total will go to Metro "administration." Just what we need - keep feeding the beast.
- 10% will go to the cities inside the Metro territory. A payoff to build constituency for the bond measure.
The Oregonian had a nice fluff piece on the plan today. It read like a Metro brochure. Why do they continue pretending they are a newspaper? Why not just insert the press releases from government agencies and save themselves the transcribing.
Alito Confirmation - I was home sick in bed on Tuesday and was able to watch a lot of the hearing. It was pretty funny. Alito is not as dynamic and charming as Roberts, but equally smart. Biden was nauseating (I'll bet he spends an hour a day talking to himself in front of a mirror) and Kennedy was, as usual, offensive.
Watching the proceedings it was pretty apparent that Alito is simply much smarter than anybody on that committee. He'll be confirmed easily, and it'll be a big win for Bush.
Kitzhaber- I didn't think for one second he would run again for governor. His biggest problem is that he is an asshole, and that was nowhere more apparent than in the way he handled this whole affair. He completely screwed his buddy Ted, made him look weak and ineffectual at a time when he's trying to gear up and run for re-election. In his press conference, Kitzhaber was asked if he had told Kulongoski of his decision, and he snapped: "I just did."
Wow - he didn't even have the class to call Teddy and tell him he wasn't running.
The Kitzhaber health care "plan" is not just half baked, it's not even in the oven. Here's what it amounts to: "give me all the money and I'll figure out how to deliver great health care for everybody."
OK John. Maybe you could design something as successful as your Oregon Health Plan.
Legislative nepotism - Big brouhaha about legislators hiring family members as legislative aides ever since crackhead Kelly Wirth abused the system. The O and others are calling for rules and regs covering legislative hiring.
This is so typical - make rules creating a big hassle for everybody because one person abused the system. It is not necessary. Lots of legislators have spouses or children working for them. In most cases they are the most trusted advisors. They have been through their campaigns and have advised them all along the way. They know what is going on. I'd much rather deal with a spouse than some 22 year old who doesn't know anything.
I think abuses are very rare.
The Now Infamous Tram - I just love the fact that the Tram is blowing up in the city of Portland's face.. They richly deserve it. Vera crammed it down the throats of the neighborhood and the other council members, who were all too timid to take her on. Now, she's gone and they are left holding the bag, desperately trying to save face now that the price tag has more than tripled.
The fact is the process by which the Tram got approved is no different than dozens of other scams the city has perpetrated over the last decade. Sham public hearings, cooked numbers justifying the "investment," favored insiders getting sweetheart deals - it happened with Cascade Station, South Waterfront, the Armory remodel, the Airport spur, Cascade Station, Interstate light rail, PGE Park, the Burnside Couplet -- the list goes on and on.
My buddy Randy Leonard says that staff mislead him about the cost of the Tram. OK fine, but this goes so much deeper than one lie about one project. How about the lie about 10,000 biotech jobs coming to South Waterfront? That was the whole justification for the $500 million plus public subsidy.
The Tram is a symbol of the way Portland has done business. It has to change.
Saxton - Since I announced I was supporting Ron Saxton for governor, I've taken a lot of heat. That's OK, but I was surprised at how some people felt it necessary to really try and tear Ron Saxton down.
Let's try to live by Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment just a little bit more, shall we?
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
If you've never seen a John Stossel special, you are in for a treat. He is hard hitting and unafraid to gore oxes of monied interests.
He's coming to town next month to give a lecture sponsored by Cascade Policy Institute. It's February 5th in the evening.... go to their website to register.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
I have taken awhile to make this decision, because we have three very solid Republican candidates. I would happily and enthusiastically support any of them in the general election, but I think Ron Saxton is the best candidate, and so I will work to help him win the primary in May.
Before going into my reasons for supporting Ron, I want to address an important issue: lots of conservative bloggers have been trying to paint Ron Saxton as a liberal, or as an inauthentic Republican - a RINO.
Let me put it simply: They are wrong.
Ron is not only the most fiscally conservative candidate running for governor, I believe he has the best grasp of precisely what is wrong about they way Oregon government operates right now and how to correct it.
On social issues, Ron is conservative where it matters: he would sign a ban on partial birth abortion, and he supports parental notification. He may not be as much as an abortion purist as the other candidates, but I have news for you: it doesn’t matter who the governor is – you’re not going to get more than this.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Ron’s association with Diana Goldschmidt, which, it is claimed, taints him because she is married to Neil Goldschmidt. Diana is a long time loyal Republican, and she supported Ron’s last run for Governor. Ron was instrumental in bringing Diana in to serve as interim superintendent of PPS, which was a very good move.
Did Ron’s firm also have various business dealings with Neil? Of course. Ron was the managing partner of a large law firm in Portland. Goldschmidt was involved with most every significant business deal in the city. Their professional lives inevitably crossed.
The real issue here is that Ron’s opponents want you to believe that he is a part of the “central planning/pro-light-rail/anti-car/anti property rights” culture that Goldschmidt ushered in and that has so badly damaged Portland and Oregon.
He’s not. I know him; I’ve talked with him at length about every one of these issues. I’ve literally drilled him on the gamut of things that drive me crazy about the political culture in Oregon. He’s as disgusted as I am about the way things are done here.
More important, he understands what he needs to do as governor to correct it, starting with a wholesale change of the people at every level of state government.
He understands that we need more roads, and that light rail is a bad investment if our goal is actually to move people as efficiently as possible. He understands that the land use system in Oregon has created hundreds of planning fiefdoms in city halls and county seats in every corner of the state that make building even the simplest structure an expensive and frustrating nightmare.
He understands that government’s job should not be to pick winners and losers, and that our land use laws are one of the single biggest obstacles to job growth in Oregon. (The tax structure is another.) He understands that competition is critical to reforming schools, and that PERS is devouring the budgets of every level of government.
I’ve talked with Ron at length about all of these things and more. I think his rural/farming background combines with his legal/business dealings in his professional life to give him a visceral understanding of what is wrong with Oregon. I don’t think the other candidates grasp it quite as well.
And that is why I am supporting Ron Saxton for governor.
One last thing: Ron has the best chance of any Republican candidate to win in November. Hands down. Any Republican who wants to win a statewide race in Oregon better have some strategy to pull 33-35% of the votes in Multnomah County. Ron is the only one who could do that.
In fact, I think that the primary will be a harder race for Ron to win than the general election.
So I urge you to take another look at Ron Saxton, and make a judgment for yourself. There are plenty of people I respect trying to make him appear to be a latte liberal RINO. I get that – they have chosen sides and are trying to help their candidate.
But it's not true. I like the other candidates both personally and politically, and I will not attempt to run either of them down. They each have many things to recommend them, and I would hope that their supporters would focus their energy on convincing people of these positive attributes rather than trying to denigrate Ron Saxton.
I don't think most people think I am a liberal, nor Don McIntire, who is also supporting Ron.
All I ask is that you take some time to listen to what Ron has to say, and judge for yourself whether he has a good handle on how to turn around the damage done in 25 years of Goldscmidt/Roberts/Katz/Kitz/Kulongoski rule in Oregon.