Friday, September 29, 2006

Kulongoski calls for sales tax

The only thing you need to know about the first gubernatorial debate that aired last night was that Ted Kulongoski reaffirmed that he wants a sales tax.

"You're darned right I do!" I think was the exact quote.

Ok then.

Sounds as if the Governor has give Ron Saxton everything he needs to go over the top.

Thanks, Guv.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hibbitts poll

Tim Hibbitts released a poll today showing Kulongoski with a 5 point lead, 43% to 38%.

I have a ton of respect for Hibbitts work and so I have no doubts about the accuracy of what his polls shows. I know Tim a little bit, and I can say without any reservation that his polling data is of the highest standard.

A five point Kulongoski lead at this point in the campaign is both good and bad news for both Kulongoski and Saxton - which means there is something there for both candidates to both spin and dread.

Five weeks out and Kulongoski is far away from a majority. That is not good news for him. There are 12% undecided - which normally breaks disproportionately to the challenger.

On the other hand, Saxton has had the airwaves to himself for three or four weeks, and he is still 5% behind. Kulongoski's ads have just started, and it won't be long until his negative ads start to run, which will drive down Saxton's support. You can make the argument that Saxton would have needed to be in the lead after having the TV airwaves to himself if he were going to pull it out.

Bottom line, this race is very competitive. Tim Hibbitts says he thinks Kulongoski is still the favorite, and I have a hard time disagreeing. But favorites get beat all the time.

Don't fall into the trap of presuming that Tim Hibbitts' poll is inaccurate or ideologically biased. It isn't. He is a consummate professional. And he is also one of the most astute anylists of the Oregon political scene. You can trust that his data is an accurate reflection of current reality, period.

If you would have told Ron Saxton three months ago that Ben Westlend was going to withdraw from the race and Mary Starrett was going to jump in the race, but he was still going to be only down by 5 points at this point, I'll bet he'd be thrilled.

So it is a very competitive race. Fasten your seat belts.

Update: 6:30 am Sept. 28

The minor party candidates have gathered about 9% of the vote between them. Mary Starrett is at 4%. I never thought her candidacy would be anything but a fringe vanity candidacy, and it looks like it's not. It's hard to make an argument that she'll climb from here. She had her moment in the spotlight when the media tried to trump her up as a spoiler, but in the end she'll get just a tad more than the Green Party and Libertarian candidates.

Her candidacy does give us a good idea of how many hard core single issue abortion voters there are in Oregon, and I am glad to see there aren't that many. Not because I disdain the pro-life part of the Republican party - I don't. I'm one of them.

Starrett's candidacy, despite her protestations to the contrary, was always about the abortion issue and the abortion issue alone. She tried to catch on with voters by making the absurd-on-its-face argument that there isn't any difference between Ron Saxton and Ted Kulongoski, so she was the only true conservative in the race.

While I realize she made this claim to try and shed her single issue reputation, the problem is that nobody bought it. Ron Saxton has done a very good job of defining the substantial differences between himself and the Governor. To claim there's not a dime's worth of difference between them does nothing but marginalize the person making the claim.

Which is where Mary Starrett seems to be ending up - a marginal candidate who attracts the single issue abortion voters. It doesn't really affect the race because Saxton wasn't going to get these voters anyway.

Saxton and open enrollment

Front page ariticle in the Tribune yesterday, picked up by the Oregonian today, is making a big deal out of basically nothing.

Ron Saxton, it seems, wanted to get his son Andy into Lincoln High Schools International Baccalaurate program, but they lived in the wrong part of town for him to automatically qualify. So, the Saxtons moved into an apartment in the right part of town for a year to establish the proper residency for the school.

At the same time he filed to run for school board, and he used his old address as his permanent residency (which he fully intended to move back into as soon as it was within the rules for him to do so.)

The newspapers and the Democrats are making a big deal out of this.

Two issues here:

1) Did he act improperly in filing to run for school board under his old (permanent) address even though he was living in the apartment? No, say the Secretary of State's office. At the time, Ron even checked it all out with the SOS and the school district, and was told that it was OK.

2) Is it OK for a person with the means to move to access a desired program for his son?

#1, it seems, is not even an issue, even though my friend Jack Bog seems to want to hang him for it. He asked everybody about it at the time and got the OK, and even now the powers that be say it was OK.

#2, it seems, is something that is ENTIRELY consistent with Ron Saxton's education message. He wants to give EVERY child the chance to do what he was able to do because he had the means. It strikes him as unfair that just because he has money, he is able to work within the established rules to use that money and gain access to the program he wants for his kid.

Ron Saxton supports open enrollment, which would mean a kid in NE Portland could attend a Beaverton school without having to get the permission from a bureaucrat. So that parent wouldn't have to move to Beaverton just so his kid could attend the school of his choice.

So, far from being a liability in this campaign, Ron Saxton should use this issue to point out that school district boundaries are a leading cause of inequities in the school system. He should make the point that it is totally unfair that right now, only parents such as he, who have financial means, have the ability to send their kids to the school of their choice.

The system traps everyone else. That might be convenient for the bureaucrats, but it is not they who are the primary customer of the public school system!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

$70,000 welfare families

The big news yesterday wasn't that Ted Kulongoski proposed yet another tax (this time an 85 cent hike in cigarette taxes.) No, that is pretty much a weekly event, and is becoming entirely unremarkable as the Governor appears hell-bent on proving Ron Saxton's claim that he is a one-trick tax and spend pony.

No, the real news was in how he proposed using the $150 million or so that he claimed the tax increase would yield: he wants to lure upper-middle class families into depending on state welfare programs.

The Governor proposes to provide free health care for the children of any family making $40,000 or less, and subsidize on a sliding scale families up to $70,000.

Last time I looked, a $70,000 family income was well above the average in Oregon. To suggest that families of this level of income should have direct subsidies from the state reveals an awful lot about Kulongoski's view of the appropriate role of government in a free society.

I hope Ron Saxton uses this opportunity to not just oppose the tax (which he already has) but to also have the philosophical discussion and point out the dramatic difference between he and the Governor in their views on what the state government should be doing.

If I was Ron Saxton I'd be willing to just put it on the line. Place an all-in bet: if Oregonians think families with $70K incomes should be subsidized, vote for Ted. If not, vote for Ron.

Because if a majoirty of Oregonians think such families should be subsidized, then Ron shouldn't want to lead this state anyway - it is beyond hope.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A whole lotta nerve

In Governor Kulongoski's recent radio and TV ads, he takes bows for Jessica's Law.

What chutzpah! All last session he sat idly by while the Democrat senate majority leader Kate Brown bottled the bill up. Kulongoski did absolutely nothing to get the bill moved out of the senate.

The only reason they passed the bill in the special session was because they wanted to take it off the table for the upcoming election cycle. Signatures were being collected to put it on the ballot, and rather than let Republicans hammer Democrats on the issue during the elections, they made it part of the special session deal (in which Repblicans, as usual, got totally worked.)

So for Ted Kulongoski to make Jessica's law a centerpiece of his very first campaign ad is cynical in the extreme. I hope Ron Saxton jumps all over Teddy on this issue in the debates.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Saxton has pulled even

Ron Saxton has gained a ton of momentum in the last few weeks. His campaign has zeroed in on what I believe is the winning message: taxes.

Kulongoski is a serial tax hiker, and Ron Saxton will not raise your taxes.

The Kulongiski camp is squealing about Ron's latest TV ads which say Ted supports a sales tax and keeping the kickers. Kulongoski says he is no longer proposing these things so it is unfair for Ron to hang them around his neck.

Sorry, dude. You don't get to run away from positions you took just a few short months ago. It is absolutely fair game for Ron to tell voters that Ted supports a sales tax and keeping the kicker.

The tax issue, I have said for months, is the winner in this race. This election will swing, as usual, on the independent voter. Most independents are fiscal conservatives, but are independent because they are uncomfortable with the social conservative platform of the Republican party. That is why Republican candidates regularly get 45% of the vote while Republican issues such as Measures 37, 38 and 40 get 60%.

Ron Saxton aligns himself directly with this 60% of the voters when he speaks strongly against higher taxes. The voting public is in no mood for higher taxes, but Kulongoski seemingly can't help himself - he keeps proposing new taxes.

Tomorrow should be fun. On the heels of his campaign complaining about Saxton's TV ads, Kulongiski is apparently going to propose a big health care initiative, paid for by a hike in cigarette taxes!

He's trying to change the subject so he can talk about something the D's have an adavantage in, but he proposes a new tax to pay for it? This gives Saxton a perfect avenue to keep the subject on taxes.

"Stop me before I tax again!"

Is it a coincidence that if you spell "Saxton" backwards, it almost spells "no taxes?"

Friday, September 22, 2006

They simply cannot be parodied

Several years ago I wrote a parody for BrainstormNW Magazine that applied the arguments against abstinence-only sex education to drug education.

I argued, tongue in cheek, that we ought to teach kids how to use drugs safely, because they are going to do it anyway, even if we tell them not to. (This essentially is the argument the "safe sex" advocates use.)

I of course thought I was being absurd. Who would ever support teaching kids how to safely use drugs?

The Oregon Department of Education, that's who.

Hat tip to Daniel at the Daniel's Political Musings blog - the Oregon Department of Education has a very helpful FAQ on AIDS that tells kids where to buy needles and what is the proper concentration of bleach to use when cleaning shared needles.

Below is the parody I wrote back in 2000. I never imagined that they would actually do what I suggested.

Practice Safe Drug Use

In Oregon, schools are rightly required to have an AIDS curriculum in every grade K-12. But Oregon’s AIDS prevention efforts leave a gaping hole that risks the well being of our children.

Many Oregon districts, thankfully, have beat back the groups who insist the schools teach "abstinence only" sex education curriculum. Indeed, it is irresponsible to not teach kids about safe sexual practices, since a good percentage of them will almost certainly be sexually active, despite so-called "abstinence" training.

Denying kids access to good information and the tools to practice safe sex - birth control and disease prevention - will save many unwanted pregnancies -- and many cases of sexually transmitted disease.

This entails teaching kids about the emotional and health risks – as well as the pleasures – of sex. Schools rightly offer non-judgmental counseling for students considering becoming sexually active or considering an abortion, as well as frank classroom discussion about human sexuality and sexual practices. And yes, schools make available condoms.

Denying that kids will be sexually active, or pretending that abstinence-only education will prevent them from doing so, is a head-in-the-sand attempt by a small segment of society to impose its values on everyone else. It does so at the expense of unwanted children, and preventable disease. Ruined lives.

But these AIDS prevention efforts only go halfway. We know for a fact that the vast majority of AIDS infections come from two high risk behaviors, not just one: unprotected sex and shared-needle intravenous drug use.

Educators have shown the political toughness to ignore the "abstinence only" crowd and teach safe sex, but they cling slavishly to an "abstinence-only" (Just Say No!) drug education policy.

They do so at the tragic cost of the spread of preventable AIDS cases.

It is indisputable that a good percentage of kids will experiment with drugs, even with the school telling them to abstain. Pretending we can keep them from doing so is as much a head-in-the-sand approach with drugs as it is with sex.

Denying kids access to good information and the tools to use drugs as safely as possible will save lives, prevent future addictions, and minimize the spread of AIDS from needles.

Yes, as with sex education, this entails teaching kids about various drugs, appropriate dosages, and the effects, the risks –and the pleasures - involved with drug use. As with sex education the schools should offer non-judgmental counseling for students considering using drugs. There should be frank classroom discussion about drug use, and schools should distribute sterile needles for those students who choose to use intravenous drugs.

Why do school officials think they can dissuade kids from taking drugs but not from having sex? Perhaps they just lack the courage - or the intellectual honesty - to apply to drug education the same reasoning they apply to sex.

Or vice versa.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Does it help the environment if I consume more resources than necessary to avail myself of a product? Of course not - the whole point of conservation is to use the minimum amount of resources possible.

So explain to me why it is considered "earth friendly," or "green" to install hugely cost ineffecient wind or solar systems to produce energy for my home?

The cost of any product reflects the amount of resources that went into producing it. So if an alternative energy system costs more than the energy I can get from the power grid, that means I have HARMED the environment (since I've intentionally used more resources than necessary to produce my electricity) rather than helped it.

Why don't people get this? Do people really not understand economics?

The Oregonian today has a front page article about the trend toward wind and solar systems in homes. They interview homeowners who have installed the systems and even give some thumbnail cost/savings examples.

Of course the entire premise of the more-than-a-full page spread is that installing alternative electricity production systems is environment friendly, and the people who do it are doing their part to save the earth.

Guess what? The exact opposite is true.

Would you invest $23,000 to get $618 per year? If so, please contact me. One of the people profiled in the article installed a wind turbine system for that cost and return. Now, of course, she got $12,000 in subsidies, but even after the subsidies it is a marginal economic return.

But it is the unsubsidized cost of the system that is relevant when we consider the impact on the earth. The cost of the system reflects the resources of the planet involved in producing it. In the final analysis, the bulk of what anything costs is the energy it took to make it.

The wind turbines had to be manufactured, the raw materials mined, grown and fabricated. Transportation, installation - a large part of the cost is energy.

So spending $23,000 in energy to save $618 in energy makes no sense at all, even from an environmental viewpoint.

Nowhere in the Oregonian's big article was the point made that even with the huge subsidies in every one of their profiles the alternative energy system was a bad investment. And they certainly didn't make the point that a bad economic investment means it is also a bad environmental investment.

Take a look at the numbers they gave in their examples:

Wind turbine system:
Cost: $23,208
Subsidy: $12,000
Annual savings: $618
This is a 2.6% return. No rational business would make this investment. Especially since it ignores maintenance and replacement costs.

Even after the $12,000 subsidy the return is a paltry 5.5%.

The other systms profiled in the article were similar - solar systems for electricity, water heating and heat all had 5-6% annual returns after the subsidy, ignoring maintenance and replacement costs.

This is not "green."

But it does allow the owners to significantly increase their "smug coefficients," not to mention their "moral preening" multiplier.

This quote fromthe wind turbine owner:

"I've always worried about things like this more than others," he said. "The point is, even before they run out, supplies will be low, and there will be misery all around -- economic, political, environmental.

"Something has to happen. I haven't seen a lot of movement by government. Why not me?"

I gotta get this guys phone number. I have some investments I want to sell him.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The beginning of the end for Fuzzy Math?

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has made an abrupt about face in its recommendations for how math should be taught.

The NCTM, since 1989, has been the nations most influential advocate of "New, New Math," or "Fuzzy Math." If you have kids who have gone through Oregon's public school system, you've seen it. I've written about it here and here.

The philosophy of New New Math is that kids shouldn't be directly taught and drilled in math facts, but rather should strive for higher conceptual understanding of math by figuring stuff out for themselves. This of course sounds stupid to anybody with half a brain, but apparently that excludes most math curriculum experts in the public school system.

This philosphy of math education, which Oregon has totally adopted, results in so-called math "standards," such as this one from Oregon's fifth grade standards:

"Develop and evaluate strategies for computing with decimals and fractions"

What kind of standard is this? Why would we want our fifth graders to be developing strategies for computing with decimals? Don't we already know what the best "strategies" are for adding and subtracting decimals?

I always thought it was the job of the teacher to know what the best strategies are, and to teach these strategies to the kids. But no, not in the world of "New, New math." These days the 10 year olds are perfectly capable of not only developing their own personal strategies for working with decimals, but they can evaluate them as well. This is the kind of nonsense that results from New New Math.

When the NCTM came out with their first "Math Standards" document in 1989, it was welcomed by the math teaching establishment and the education bureaucracy who were on the cusp of the Goals 2000 "standards" movement. It immediately touched off a backlash that became known as the "math wars."

Goals 2000 gave federal money to states to develop standards based on national criteria. The NCTM's standards became the de-facto national criteria, even though the NCTM itself admitted that they had never been tested empirically.

But the recommendations happened to completely jive with the progressive mindset of math educators nationwide (as opposed to college math professors, who roundly rejected the NCTM philosophy.) The math education priesthood proceeded to codify the NCTM philosophy in state math standards and create new curriculum programs based on it.

Most school districts in Oregon use one or another variant of it. Oregon's standards clearly reflect the philosophy.

Now, 15 years later, the NCTM is saying "We were wrong!"

After destroying a generation of math students, my daughter included, I am not too willing to just forgive them and say "welcome to the real world." I suppose it is a good thing that they have seen the error in their ways, but I wonder why they have any credibility in the first place.

Who from the NCTM is going to stand up and take the blame for leading the nation down a 15 year long bunny trail of math failure?

We all know the answer: being in the public education bureaucracy means never having to say you're accountable.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oregon Department of Education again tries to kill Connections Academy

What do educrats and teachers unions hate more than anything? A successful school they do not control.

That explains why the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) is for the second time trying to kill the Oregon Connections Academy charter school. (ORCA) The Oregonian and others wrote about it yesterday.

Here's the background:

In 2005, I helped the Scio School District establish the first virtual charter school in the state. The program is innovative - it is a home based charter school that is a great option for kids who for whatever reason don't respond well to a traditional classroom-based school.

Before the school could even open, the ODE tried to kill it by sponsoring SB1071 in the 2005 legislature. The bill did two things: 1) It required any virtual charter school to get half its kids from inside the sponsoring school district, which would have killed ORCA immediately; and 2) it gave the ODE $2 million to start its own virtual school!

Well, we barely survived the attack. We couldn't stop the bill, but we got the legislative record to establish that the legislature voted for it with the understanding that ORCA would be grandfathered, since it was approved before the bill passed.

One wonders why the ODE needed $2 million to do what tiny Scio School District was able to do for nothing. Staffers at ODE were never required to answer that simple question - the bill passed only because it became part of the end of session package.

So ORCA opened in the fall of 2005 with 700 students from all over the state. They had so many applications that they closed the enrollment. This school year they opened with 1200 students.

I knew at the time it would only be a matter of time before they tried again to kill ORCA. They simply cannot allow something as large and threatening as a virtual charter school that doesn't use unionized teachers and has an education model dramatically different from the rest of the schools to survive.

Sure enough, last week they made their move. On the day that school was set to begin, ORCA received a letter from the ODE that notified them thet state was freezing their funds because their application process, according to the state, was illegal according to Oregon's charter law.

The state had an advisory letter from the Attorney General's office that took issue with ORCA's requirement that each child have a "Learning Coach," who is responsible for certain oversight functions for the student. The state's position is that this requirement constitutes discrimination, since not all families are "willing or able" to provide the Learning Coach.

This opinion is patently ridiculous, because by the same "logic," a charter school couldn't require a family to provide transportation to the school, because some families would not be "willing and able" to drive long distances to attend. So to comply with the AG's advice, a charter would have to provide transportation to any student in the state who wants to go to the school. Absurd.

All the bureaucrats at the ODE are saying that they are sure this issue can be "worked out," and they are not trying close down ORCA, only make sure it follows the law.

Yeah sure. And I suppose that SB 1071 wasn't really an attempt to close the school either, right? We are supposed to believe that they are operating in good faith when they unilaterally decide that an enrollment criteria that has existed for more than a year is not legal, then they shut off funding the day school starts for 1200 students, with total disregard for the effect their action would have on the kids?

These people are our state education officials! It is simply astounding how little they actually care about the kids they are supposedly in charge of serving.

And I love their objection: ORCA requires parent involvement! I thought they LIKED parent involvement! I guess not if they can use it as a basis to harrass a school they want to kill.

Unbelievable. We will fight this, because we have to send a signal to every bureaucrat that they are not going to get away with pulling this kind of crap.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Daughter, the light of my life

Today is my daughter Jessica's 18th birthday.

All the cliche's about how fast it all goes most certainly apply, but I won't bore anybody with them. Instead, I'll indulge myself by describing her.

She is certainly beautiful. She is also talented. She has a professional quality voice - if you attended either of the last two KXL "Talk Fests" you heard her sing the National Anthem or God Bless America.

She is very smart. She works hard in school and gets good grades.

But to really describe Jessica, I have to talk about her spirit. Anybody who knows her will attest - she has the most incredible inner beauty, warm, loving and caring.

Another cliche of parenthood is the nightmare of bringing up a teenage daughter. No such nightmare in our home. Jessica decided years ago that she was going to make it easy on us.

For that, of course, I am thankful. But mostly I am thankful for the person she is. I've learned so much from her. She thinks of me as her teacher and mentor in many things, but what she doesn't know is how much she has taught me.

She's 18 now, and I am madly in love the adult she has become.

Thanks for indulging me.

Children's Bill of Entitlements

This is my BrainstormNW column this month, just hit the streets:

You may have read the glowing newspaper accounts: “Portland children write own bill of rights.” On the cutting edge again, Portland is “the first major U.S. city to have a children's bill of rights written by the very people it affects.”

But if you look into what this so-called Bill of Rights says, and the way in which it came about, you’d be as disturbed as me.

The effort was led by Portland Mayor Tom Potter’s office. The idea was to assemble a convention of hundreds of school age kids, and lead them through a process in which they would decide what their “rights” were, produce a resolution that spells them out, and have the city council vote to adopt them.

We are apparently supposed to believe that the end product these several hundred kids produced - a manifesto which would make Karl Marx proud – was all their own work, and not influenced by the ideology of the adults who ran the convention.

So, what did the kids decide they had a “right” to? You’ll be shocked to learn that they staked a petulant claim to every nanny-state benefit ever devised:

- “We have the right to access adequate nutrition, and the community should provide for this right.”
- “We have the right to any medical care, nutrition, and fitness deemed necessary for our health.”
- “We have the inherent right to shelter.”

And on and on it goes. Nowhere is the word “parent” mentioned in the document, and the word “family” appears only in passing. In sum, it is simply a demand for cradle-to-grave socialism.

To be expected from children, I suppose. After all, kids want to be taken care of. But there were adults in the room too. Apparently, whatever adults were present didn’t understand the first thing about the definition of “rights.” Most liberals don’t.

The original Bill of Rights were limitations on government power. Each and every one spelled out things the government could not do to an individual. Our founders properly understood the meaning of the word “rights” – those inherent freedoms that government cannot take from you.

But Mayor Tom Potter and his staff, and the entire Portland city council (since they voted unanimously to support the document) turn the meaning of the word “rights” on its head. In their world view, rights are not something the government can’t take from you, but rather are things the government must do for you.

But anything government gives to one person must first be taken from another. If rights are benefits that must be granted, it requires someone else’s rights to be taken away. It’s contradictory. Properly understood, rights cannot be government benefits.

The French enlightenment philosopher De Montesquieu wrote that "The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded."

The concept of individual rights is the central organizing principle of our society and our system of government. It is the foundation of our freedoms. It should be the job of every government entity to protect the meaning of “rights” and be vigilant to defend the decay of that meaning.

But now we have government officials actively involved in promoting that decay, taking hundreds of children by hand and leading them down a path to a conclusion based on a flawed understanding of the most important founding principle of our nation.

Imagine the teachable moment that was missed in this childrens’ “convention.” Imagine had they spent the first few sessions teaching the kids the true meaning of the word “rights.” Imagine had they explained to these impressionable minds that everything they want the government to give them had to be first taken from someone else. Well, then the “Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of the City of Portland and Multnomah County” might not have looked as if it were written by Karl Marx himself.
Of course, that would assume there were real adults in the room.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Saxton on the Kicker

Depsite what you might have read in the Oregonian, Ron Saxton does not support keeping the kicker. Not the personal kicker OR the corporate kicker.

His campaign staff last week erroneously made the statement that the corporate kicker was "on the table" as a way of creating a rainy day fund. That is not Saxton's position.

When I read the quote in the Oregonian last week I was concerned, because I think Ron's route to victory is to constantly point out that Kulongoski is a one trick pony - for every problem, he tries to raise taxes. Five times since he ran for governor saying "I do not define leadership as raising taxes," he has advocated raising taxes.

But I talked with Felix Schein today. Saxton does not support keeping either kicker.

If you are worried about Republicans trying to grab the kicker, a better focus for your angst might be the Republican House leadership, who for months have been hinting behind the scenes that they would support taking the corporate kicker.

But Ron Saxton does not.