Thursday, April 26, 2007

Phillips out at PPS: one step ahead of the posse

When I heard that Vicki Phillips is leaving Portland, I decided to look back at the BrainstormNW column I wrote about her when she got here.

I've pasted it below.

Schooltalk Column, BrainstormNW Magazine, September, 2004

Portland School District’s new superintendent, Vicki Phillips, started last month, taking the reigns of the state’s largest, and most troubled school district. Can she succeed?

We’ve seen this movie before. It plays in school districts throughout the country every few years, and the story line goes something like this:

School district fraught with severe problems, some not of its making. Low minority achievement, lack of discipline in schools, out of control costs, chronic budget crises, arrogant, unaccountable bureaucracy, and a teachers union more concerned about preserving pay and benefits than teaching the kids.

Incumbent superintendent (hired amid great fanfare after national search and glowing media reports) skulks away after a few short years of missteps, political bungling and special interest infighting. No discernible improvements to schools.

After nationwide search, new leader is identified and hired (amid great fanfare and glowing media accounts. Repeat from above.

The movie is shown so often it’s almost a cinematic classic, not just in Portland but in urban districts all around the country. The average tenure of large district superintendents is under three years.

Three years to realize that the new superintendent can’t do the job that the last superintendent couldn’t do. Three years for changes the new superintendent makes to create enough enemies to erode his support. Three years for high hopes to follow the inevitable path to disappointment, frustration, and eventually, disgust.

The irony is that every time the movie starts, the establishment audience sits on the edge of their chairs as if the ending is in doubt.

“We have high hopes…” said the Oregonian of Portland’s new chief. The city, they say “is ready for Phillips to lift the schools up.” Sounds much like what they said about Ben Canada, and Jack Bierworth before him. Both failures.

Has it occurred to anyone that maybe the model is wrong?

School districts are like horse drawn carriages. Perfectly functional for a 19th century society. Pretty much anybody could be trained to steer one. They moved slowly, but the roads weren’t good enough for high speed anyway.

But just as a horse drawn carriage is the wrong model of a vehicle for a 21st century road system, so are school districts the wrong model for a 21st century education system.

If you put a horse drawn carriage on the interstate, would it go 70 miles an hour? Of course not. The model is wrong. It is structurally incapable of such speed. So why do we expect school districts, a 19th century model, to meet the needs of today’s children?

Indulge me in taking the analogy a step further.

When the horse drawn carriage doesn’t go 70 miles an hour, what should we do? Should we fire the driver and find a better, more inspirational one? That, in essence, is what we do in our holy grail quest for a superintendent who can solve the problems of large school districts.

The simple fact is it doesn’t much matter who is “driving” the school district. A school district, as a model for how we deliver education services, can no more fulfill the demands of a 21st century society than can a horse drawn carriage go 70 MPH on the freeway. It is structurally incapable. It is the wrong “model.”

What’s wrong about it? For starters, the “model” depends on an utter disdain for the needs and choices of the customer – the parents and the kids. Don’t believe me? Go tell your superintendent that you want your child to attend a public school in a neighboring school district. See what answer you get. Bureaucrats have veto power over parents’ choices.

Second, the “model” uses a political process (majority vote, winner take all) to make decisions that should never be made in a political arena. For instance – curriculum. School boards use a political process to choose which math curriculum to use, and the decision usually applies to each and every school in the district on a one-size-fits-all basis.

Political science 101: over time, political processes become dominated by concentrated interests at the expense of diffuse interests. In the micro political arena of school districts, teachers unions and ideological advocates (such as Planned Parenthood, gay rights groups, etc) find it easy to prevail. This means critically important policies are decided for reasons that have little to do with the academic interests of the children.

The result is a school system that is run for the benefit of adults rather than children. This is an inevitable by-product of our school district “model.”

That’s why I’m always amused when I see the movie start all over again, as it is in Portland. Don’t get me wrong – I wish Vicki Phillips well. I’m sure she’s a remarkable person, a good leader, an accomplished educator.

I’m equally certain that none of this matters. She can’t make the buggy go 70 MPH. The model is wrong.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Our hungry governor

Right on cue, the Oregonian splashed Gov. Kulongoski's food stamp publicity stunt all over the front page, making the point that it is hard to feed yourself off the $21 a week you get from food stamps.

The article talked about all the "working poor" who can barely feed themselves and so are taking advantage of food stamps to supplement their food budget. So I guess the message here is that we are supposed to jack up food stamp programs to feed people better. I have a better idea:

Oregon has one of the most regressive income tax systems in the nation. The 9% income tax rate kicks in below $10,000. Two adults making minimum wage pay about $1,200 a year in Oregon state taxes.

If the Governor was really interested in helping the working poor, he would cut taxes for the working poor by raising the level the 9% tax rate kicks in.

But that would mean less money for programs like food stamps. He'd rather tax the poor into worse poverty, then make them dependent on the government by encouraging them into public assistance programs.

And the Democrats are the ones who care about the little people?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'm pretty sure this isn't legal

This story out of Baker, Oregon says several restaurants are dropping prices for women, because females make less than males in the workplace.

Of course this is a big PR stunt, on the heels of the annual release of the pay equity report that is always put out by the American Association of University Women, which is a feminist advocacy group.

But can a business discriminate in pricing based on gender? I don't think so. There are certain bases upon which price discrimination is allowed - age, for one. But I am guessing (I don't have the time to investigate - any lawyer know the answer?) that gender is not one of the allowed attributes for legal price discrimination.

That said, the canard that women make less than men make for the same job is so bogus that I can't believe people still buy it. The AAUW study said that women make 77% of what men make, but when they adjust for things such as hours worked, different career choices, sick days, etc, that the "residual" pay differential is 12%. Other studies that looked at the same thing showed a much smaller differential - 3% or so.

It is absolutely true that on a raw average, women make less than men. There are legitimate reasons for this. Men, because they don't generally plan on leaving the workforce during child bearing years, tend to more often choose careers that require upfront investment in their own human capital, which results in high income. That type of investment yields far less return if the person leaves the workplace for 5-10 years, as is the norm for women.

There are lots of other reasons for the pay differential, also mostly associated with the fact (which feminists, to their everlasting ire, have never successfully changed) that women are the ones who bear children.

The pay studies try to estimate the precise effect of all the different reasons for why women make less than men, and whatever differential remains unexplained is attributed to discrimination. This residual varies study to study, but is actually quite small.

That is why the AAUW doesn't say "Women make 12% less than men." That isn't as dramatic. They always trumpet the raw average, which, by the way, is up from 59% in 1962.

Sorry, ladies, you are not a victim here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sustainability and renewable energy

It is now obvious that the "sustainability movement" is basically a ruse.

On the one hand, we have politicians and gullible media folks who don't understand economics being taken advantage of by businessmen and investment bankers who understand economics all too well.

The governor wants a law passed that requires half Oregon's energy to come from so-called "renewable" sources. Of course this does not include hydropower, which is the cleanest and most renewable of sources imaginable.

To meet the goal would require long term investment in all the alternative (read: more expensive) energy sources. This will without question raise Oregon's energy costs relative to other states.

Why would PGE and Goldman Sachs be pushing this? Follow the money. An op-ed piece in the Oregonian today pulls back the curtain on this a little bit.

Goldman Sachs is trying to get the alternative energy technologies that they have invested in to be mandated by states, so they make boatloads of money. It has nothing to do with the environment.

PGE likes the bill because it gets to add the costs of the new technology directly into their rates without going through the usual rate-setting processes at the PUC. Again, it has nothing to do with the environment.

The gullible economically illiterate legislature and media think this is wonderful. They don't understand that if something costs more, that means it consumed more of society's resources to produce it. So mandating more costly energy sources actually is LESS sustainable, not more.

Oh, but Rob, the difference is the pollution caused by the traditional sources. If you add the true cost of pollution, the renewable sources are actually LESS costly.

First, that simply is not true, or at the very least it has never been proven. Our air is not polluted. Hydro might kill some fish, but I can get Salmon for $3 a pound at Fred Meyer. Doesn't look like a shortage there.

All of these energy companies that are on the renewable energy bandwagon are simply angling for a competitive advantage by getting states to mandate energy production technology that they have already invested in.

Every time you see one of the British Petroleum commercials that ends with "BP - Beyond Petroleum," it would be well to realize that BP has allowed their oil pipeline and production infrastructure to erode and decay so badly while they invested in wind power and other fads, that they are in serious trouble as a company unless they can get laws passed mandating renewable energy sources.

In effect, they are looking for a government bailout. Again, it has zip to do with the environment.

Whenever you see utilities or other large businesses pushing for the stuff, know this: it is in thier financial interests. They are not being altruistic. What they are advocating will increase their profits at the expense of you and me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fred Thompson

The Weekly Standard has an in depth story about possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson.

I encourage everyone to read it, even though it is a bit long. It is based on a 4 hour interview that the reported did at Thompson's home. Thompson seems like a very real, common sense, genuine guy.

If he runs and campaigns as the guy this reporter interviewed, he has a real shot.

Good news for Gordo

Steve Novick announced today that he is running against Gordon Smith for the U.S. Senate. This is the best news Gordon Smith has had since the Democrats took over Congress.

(For those puzzled by that remark: The Democrat majority in the House might prevent Defazio and Blumenauer from running against him, as both have committee chair assignments they care about and might not give up.)

Steve Novick is not going to beat Gordon Smith. Sorry, all you Oregon Center for Public Policy socialists. I know you think he is oh-so-smart, and I know you love his lefty bonafides. But he does not have the stature (no pun intended) to be a legitimate candidate for the U.S. Senate.

A couple months ago Willamette Week gave Novick their cover story to write about why he wants to run against Gordon Smith. I was amazed that WW would do such a thing - actually allow a prospective candidate to write his own story!

Novick revealed in the story precisely why he can't and won't win: he really is nothing more than a smarter-than-average flamethrowing demagogue. That is his fatal flaw, and I have seen it in him time and again in various roles around the state capitol.

I remember the 2003 legislative session when he was the legislative director for Sup't Susan Castillo. Novick knew basically nothing about education policy, but that didn't stop him from testifying and putting his ignorance on display in the most colorful of ways.

One hearing he was arguing against my bill that would require the state to contract with a testing company for Oregon's achievement tests, rather than have Oregon bureaucrats re-create the wheel. Novick actually said, in an open hearing, on the record, cameras rolling:

"Mr. Kremer wants us to let big, evil testing corporations make our tests."

This is not a serious person. I don't care if he went to Harvard when he was twelve. I don't care if every lefty in Oregon thinks he is brilliant. Serious people don't say stuff like that.

If you read the Willamette Week article, it basically consisted of a running list of Gordon Smith's positions and votes, and how Novick would demagogue each.

I'm sure Novick would get 100% of the vote from the lefty/socialist crowd in Oregon, but thankfully that is not yet a majority statewide in Oregon. He'll find, if he actually goes through with this, that a U.S Senate campaign is for big boys.

Steve Novick is not, politically speaking, a big boy.

Please tell me they are kidding

The business section of the Oregonian had this story about a bill in the legislature to solve the "workplace bully" problem.

Just what we need - another law that helps disgruntled workers sue their employers. There is actually an organization in Washington called "The Workplace Bullying Institute" that is behind the bill.

This deserves all the ridicule that can be heaped upon it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

So it was revealed that the Virginia Tech shooter was on some kind of anti-depressant drug.

I hope this fact starts a conversation as to the known side effects of these powerful psychoactive drugs. I'm pretty sure that every one of the school shooters in the last decade were either on or had recently withdrawn from one of these drugs.

Data show that kids getting off some of these drugs have dramatically increased incidence of "suicide ideation."

I think people are far, far too casual about taking these drugs. In fact, it might be the one and only thing that I agree with Hillary Clinton on.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Big day in Major League Baseball, the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Virtually every ballgame today has some kind of recognition ceremony.

It is sad, 60 years later, that so few black youngsters play baseball. There is a lot of debate in baseball circles as to why it is that so few American black youth play baseball.

I don't think it is really much of a mystery. Baseball is a game, generally speaking, that passes from father to son. Fathers teach their sons to throw and hit, and are very involved all through the youth baseball years. Playing catch in the backyard, watching games on TV, teaching all the nuances of the game.

It is a sad fact that 70% of black children are born into fatherless homes. That statistic alone, I think, explains why more black kids are not involved in baseball.

Friday, April 13, 2007


I've never been a Don Imus fan. For some reason I never really got him. I guess the combination of name-calling shock jock and political talk show didn't make sense to me. I used to call the show: "I'm an ass in the morning."

When I heard what he said last week, I thought: "Par for the course." I mean - who is really surprised? He's been trafficking in that kind of stuff for years. I guess that is why I never really liked his show - I never thought it was particularly funny or entertaining when he would go off on a name calling tirade about someone he didn't like.

So, I won't particularly miss Don Imus.

But I have mixed feelings about how this whole episode played out. There are a lot of interesting facets to this episode, which I think is why it is such a big story.

First - the double standard. Rappers can say this kind of thing with impunity, but Imus gets fired. Are we just going to accept that black people can say things that white people cannot? If so, where does it end? Do rappers get a pass, when they retail in some of the most hostile and misogynistic lyrics imaginable. Where is the outrage from black leaders about the influence of this toxic genre?

Second, speaking of black "leaders," I for one am pretty tired of constantly seeing the racial spoils entrepreneurs capitalize on situations such as the Imus fiasco. Why do Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have any credibility or standing to be out front calling for Imus to be fired?

These two guys are nothing but race-baiters. They profit from fanning the flames of racial discord. Neither one wants racial harmony - that would disempower them. Their livelihood and political influence depends upon keeping blacks and whites in conflict.

Third, it is really interesting that this story broke concurrently with the Duke lacrosse players getting their charges dropped. Weren't Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson fanning those flames as well? Have they apologized to the lacrosse players?

I mean, who was harmed more, the Rutgers basketball team or the Duke lacrosse players? It's not even close.

So, should Imus have been fired? This came down to advertisers. They abandoned Imus, and that sealed his fate. I just wish the same would happen with rap music.

For the record, my radio station, KXL, dropped Imus immediately. They did not wait for six days to see which way the wind was blowing. That said, KXL ran Imus overnight, and there wasn't much money there in the first place.

What really bothers me about this whole thing has nothing to do with Imus. It has to do with the sorry state of race relations in America, and the fact that this will do nothing to improve it.

When black people have a different standard of behavior than white people, and when white people can lose their livelihood when they make the mistake of thinking there isn't any double standard, that is not a recipe for racial healing.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sam Adams co-hosting my show this Sunday

Commissioner Sam Adams will be subbing for Marc Abrams on my show this Sunday. Tune in to AM 750 from 9-11 AM.

He's been in the news a lot lately, most recently for spearheading the Burnside/Couch Couplet vote through city council yesterday.

I really like Commissioner Adams, although he and I don't agree on much. He is an interesting guy, and I really appreciate that he is willing to engage, explain his views, and take the slings and arrows for his positions.

We should have a good time Sunday in what I hope is a free-ranging and informative conversation.

Tune in!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

OHSU Bait and Switch

Remember the rationale for the huge public subsidy in the South Waterfront District? OHSU's President Peter Kohler talked of "10,000 new biotech jobs."

Biotech was the next big thing. All the planners knew it. Biotech companies were going to line up to headquarter their research, development and manufacturing facilities on prime urban waterfront real estate. But only if there was a tram....

Five years later, the "vision" is now just a little different. Now that the deal is done, the urban renewal scam completed, the money allocated for the buildout, what is the new vision?


Oh, and OHSU campus buildings.

What happened to the 10,000 biotech jobs that the Oregonian hyped at every opportunity as the reason we needed to spend a half a billion or so in public subsidy, draining money from police, fire, schools and other core public services?

It takes longer to get biotech ideas from patent to marketable product than for the standard high-tech products, Robertson said. That wasn't known as recently as five years ago, said Robertson, who became OHSU president last year.

That wasn't known five years ago? Why not? How long did it take Genentech to have positive cash flow? Has the life cycle of biotech products changed in the last five years? That is the lamest excuse I have ever heard.

If we were sold a huge public investment on the mistake of some planners who didn't know how long it takes a biotech product to be developed, why aren't the heads rolling?

Another hysterical part of the South Waterfront plan is the fantasy they seem to have about the transportation infrastructure. Get this whopper:

Commissioner Randy Leonard said he likes the transit orientation of the vision.

"If we are creating a community down there where a car becomes more of a liability than an asset, people can buy more of a house and have amenities that they couldn't otherwise afford," he said.

You have got to be kidding. Randy, are you gunna tell me that someone affluent enough to live in the South Waterfront district is going to not want a car? What planet are you on?

This just gets better and better all the time.

When does the RICO lawsuit get filed? Seriously!

Supreme Court decision on regulating CO2

I don't know how many times I have corrected people when discussing global warming: Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant! It is necessary for life on Earth!

But no longer. The Supreme Court has cleared the way for CO2 to be classified as a pollutant for the purpose of the Clean Air Act. This is a significant development in this saga, because once under the purview of the regulatory authority of the federal government, watch out. Half the game is over.

The whole point of the global warming issue is to regulate energy use using CO2 rationing as the proxy. Kyoto tried to do this on a global scale, and so far we've been able to stay out of this ridiculous and damaging global CO2 rationing protocol.

But the Supremes just cleared the way for the same thing to happen domestically. Now, state governments, pushed by an unholy alliance of the envirosocialist lobby and energy companies such as PGE who have hundreds of millions to gain if their investments in "renewable" energy sources are mandated for everybody, will sue the feds to force CO2 rationing schemes.

The cost of energy will go up for everybody, and the poor will be hurt the worst.

Very progressive.

Racial disparity in school discipline?

There's an article in the Oregonian today about what appears to be a substantially disproportionate percentage of black kids who are expelled and suspended from Portland Public Schools compared to white kids.

The article ponders the reason for this, and the gives us usual hand wringing about cultural bias, cultural competence training, etc.

But it never asked what I think is the most germane question: is this a question of the effect of single parent households?

I don't know the statistic in Portland, but nationally about 70% of black children are born to single mothers, compared to 30% or so for other ethnic groups. It seems entirely plausible to me that kids brought up in single parent households would be more likely to have discipline problems.

So what is the discipline rate in single parent families vs. two parent families? And among single parent families, are black kids more likely to be disciplined than white kids?

If not, then perhaps what we are seeing has nothing to do with race, but with out-of-wedlock childbirth and divorce.

Disappointing that nobody seems to be asking this question, so quick to launch down the path of institutional racism and bias.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Wanna bet this won't be picked up on the AP wire?

What happened to the Global Warming consensus?

Read this article f about a guy who headed up the International Arctic Research Center.

Talk about a "cooler head."

The only question is how long will the global warming scam keep the ruse going?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The best editorial in the Oregonian in a long long time

I've been on spring break, down in Phoenix watching baseball. My son's high school team went down to play four games against high schools from other states, and we caught some spring training games, as well as the Arizona/Arizona State college pre-season game.

I get back to be treated by this editorial written by Rick Attig of the Oregonian editorial board.

My son is just a sophomore, so he's a bit ahead of me in this process. But even if my son plays in college as he hopes to, at some point the baseball comes to an end. Attig really caught the essence of the feeling.

Give it a read.