Monday, March 31, 2008

Subbing for Lars today

Lars Larson is en route to Israel today, so I'm subbing for him. Bill Clinton is in Oregon, so I'm seeing if KXL has the chops to get him on the air with me today for an interview.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Four days of sanity

I just got back from a few days in Phoenix. It's refreshing to be in a city where Wal-mart is not an eptihet and where they are serious about building roads so people can move around.

And I got back last night, scanned the week's newspapers, and was reminded again why Oregon is going to be stuck in a low growth pattern for the duration.

Just in the last four days, I see articles on:

- 1000 Friends wants to add carbon footprint goals to Oregon's land use policies, and magically, their study shows, the "Smart (idiot) Growth" policies they have pushed for years provide the very very very best model for how to meet those goals.

- The same type of folks are all worked up because if we build a bigger bridge over the Columbia for I-5, more cars will drive over it. "Sprawl and pollution will get worse, they say. Better not build it. If people can't drive, they sure won't sprawl.

- Cornelius wants to expand the size of their urban growth boundary so they can accomodate more industry. A local business, Sheldon Manufacturing, wants to expand, and will leave if they can't do it in Cornelius. Under Oregon's land use system, they have to go on bended knee to Metro and ask for permission to bring in the 161 acres, and it has so far been a four year process to get the nod.

But Metro says no!

Cornelius is a "severely distressed area" according to OECD. Tough shit, says Metro. We have our rules.

Their rules, according to David Bragdon, say that just because a local business has no room to expand doesn't qualify as "unanticipated need" in order to expand the boundary.

Councillor Rod Park, one of the dimmest bulbs I have ever met in public office, gave a quintessentially dim bulb rationale. He said Metro needs more time to study the regional supply of industrial land before deciding if there is a shortage. This guy thinks like a Soviet. Apparently having a business waiting in the wings wanting to expand isn't enough evidence of a shortage. Markets have nothing to do with it, I guess. It is bureaucrats who decide on supply and demand. Worked fine in Russia, I guess.

Phoenix is looking better all time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Yet another inconvenient truth

You don't see this kind of thing reported here in the U.S.

The Australian Newspaper published an editorial with a transcript from an ABC Radio broadcast that featured some startling (for those who buy the global warming hysteria) news:

1) The planet has cooled since 1998, precisely the opposite of what the global climate models predict; and

2) The data from a new NASA satellite that can measure cloud formation (and therefore water vapor, thought to be a major player in the CO2 induced greenhouse effect) gives a result also precisely the opposite of the assumptions that underlie the climate models about the effect of H2O.

The satellite data is so strong a repudiation of the predictive ability of the models that the radio show guest said:

"A great many founts of authority, from the Royal Society to the UN, most heads of government along with countless captains of industry, learned professors, commentators and journalists will be profoundly embarrassed. Let us hope it is a prolonged and chastening experience."

Actually, this is not at all likely. Far more likely is that all of these entities will do their level best to ignore this damning evidence, claim that the source of the data is tainted by "big oil," and ratchet up the volume of their calls for panic.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Idiot Chronicles

Every day I read and hear things in and around the political scene in Oregon that are just so idiotic that I've decided to chronicle them on this blog. Feel free to add your own examples in the comments.

Tops on the list this week:

- Maria Rojo de Steffey wants to close the Sellwood bridge. What a flippin' idiotic thing to do. Let's just get it over with and ban cars altogether.

- The Funny Paper reassured us this week that global warming is still real, even though the planet has cooled. Can't assume that weather anomalies like a record cold winter means there is any trend, you see. Of course for the last decade or so every time there has been a weather anomaly that supports the global warming agenda, they have splashed it on the front page. But that's different.

- The Funnty Paper tells Vancouver that it MUST accept lite rail on the I-5 bridge, or NO DEAL. They wrote:

"Political realities are different on either side of the river. Crudely put, support for replacing the bridge runs strong on the Washington side, while support for adding light rail runs stronger on the Oregon side. The two sides (and their respective states) are not likely to cooperate in financing the bridge unless they can meet halfway -- on a light-rail train."

Huh? Isn't that like: "Let's compromise, do it my way?"

- The state is handing out about $100 million a year to people who build solar energy projects that return about 1% on investment. What a great deal. One project written about cost $7 million, and saved $75,000 a year in electricity. REAL smart public policy. I've never heard a liberal whine about Oregon spending $200 million on this program, but propose spending $200 mil on jailing criminals, and oh-my-gosh they turn into fiscal skinflints.

That's it for now. But don't worry: Oregon is the world's export leader in idiotic ideas.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama is a pretender

As I write this I am listening to Barack Obama’s speech in Portland.

Talking about schools, he says we know what to do, but we “don’t have the will to fix our schools.” He proceeds to give a list of retreads: more early childhood education, pay teachers more money, maintain the highest standards, (but not high stakes testing!)

Not a word about merit pay, which he brought up several months ago only to be quickly potty trained by those special interest groups (teachers unions) that he likes to pretend he is independent from.

Looking at his plan for schools, it is obvious that 1) he knows squat and 2) his pretense of being a new kind of politician is a complete fantasy. I have yet to seen one idea of his in any policy area – the economy, the environment, foreign policy, etc - that doesn’t fit comfortably within the panoply of leftist/liberal positions.

How can a guy who has never once broken with his party’s interest groups pretend that he is going to unify the country? He’s just a lefty in pretty wrapping paper.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The widest river in the world

This is going to be a lot of fun to watch play out. It would actually be funny if it weren’t so important to the economic future of the region. But the battle lines are being drawn….

The Portland City Council, none of whom have any clue of economics, the private sector, or wealth creation, have thrown down the gauntlet: Unless Clark County and Vancouver agrees to put a choo-choo train over the Columbia River bridge, they will withdraw their support.

Now, last time Clark County had a vote on whether they wanted light rail, it went down 2-1. They opted for a transportation grid that allowed them to be competitive instead.

But it’s a decade later now, and the light rail delusion has infected the political class on the other side of the river. But the business class is fighting them – they see light rail for what it is: a boondoggle that will bring with it the same urban-renewal-transit-oriented-development-payoff-to-favored-developers scam that Portland has suffered through for the last 25 years.

And the people in Clark County? They just want a bridge that will allow them to get to their jobs in Portland and back home as quickly and efficiently as possible. They know that light rail won’t fill that need.

But on this side of the river, all our urban-utopia dreamers don’t want the bridge to handle car traffic. That would defeat the purpose! The purpose is to use the project’s $4.2 billion price tag to advance their agenda, which as Sam Adams told us, is to return to the transportation infrastructure of the 1930’s.

So on our side of the river they want light rail, a pedestrian lane, and probably an eco-roof. Oh – and hefty tolls to discourage cars from using it.

So we have a clash of world views, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. On the one side of the river you have people who want to be competitive. They have a new university campus which is already exposing our sorry excuse for higher education – Portland State – as the Marxist bastion it is. They want roads so they can be productive.

On our side of the river? Sustainability, bikes, choo choo trains and traffic jams. Productivity bad.

So who will win? Well, Sam Adams said to The Funny Paper that all we have to do is “show folks up north that they can enjoy the benefits of a transit-oriented development approach."

Heck, can’t they just look across the river at that wonderful success called Cascade Station? Or South Waterfront? Or the Beaverton Round? How could they be so unable to see all the benefits?

After all, if your name is Homer Williams, or Walsh Construction, or Gerding Edlen, or Mackenzie Group, the benefits are obvious!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Twenty years too late, Senator Obama

Barack Obama has been under fire lately for the incindiary pulpit rhetoric of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.

If you've heard the sermons of this fire breather, it's hard not to wonder how it was that Obama could have attended the church for 20 years, have a close spiritual relationship with this pastor, and consider him a mentor.

Rev. Wright is clearly a racist, and stridently anti-American. As excerpts from his sermons made their rounds for a couple weeks, I was surprised by Obama's silence. He barely bothered to distance himself from the guy. In the backdrop of Michele O'Bama's strange comment about never being proud of America until now, it did kind of make sense.

Yesterday Senator Obama finally came out and denounced Rev. Wright's comments in a post on the liberal blog Huffington Post. That's all well and good, but it left me a bit cold, with a few remaining questions:

- He says "I strongly condemn the statements." Fine. But is there any evidence that he expressed this condemnation ever before? In the last decade while Senator Obama was in elected office in Illinois and then the U.S. Senate, did he even one time say publicly that he rejected Rev. Wright's views? Or is this the first time ever, now that he's faced a cascade of public criticism?

- Is it reasonable to believe that Rev. Wright has been Senator Obama's mentor and spiritual leader and close personal friend for 20 years, so close that Obama's book is even named after one of Wright's sermons, even though Obama rejects Wright's racist and anti American views? How many mentors do YOU have who are racist and anti-American? It makes no sense that if Obama truly condemns such views he would maintain a close mentor relationship with the man who holds and professes them.

- Does Senator Obama have any other close personal relationships with people who think white America is the enemy? If so, he might as well bring it out now.

The fact is that Barack Obama spent his formative years in an environment where such racist and anti-American views were not considered at all extraordinary or out of the mainstream. I know that environment well - I lived for several years in his Chicago senate district.

He's having trouble distancing himself from this particular black urban sub-culture because he was part of it for the formative years of his life, and it is a part of him. Try as he might to distance himself from it now, he can't hide the fact that he was immersed in it for a couple decades, and used it to rise to the position he now holds.

It isn't quite as useful to his political career now, to say the least. But posting a condemnation on the Huffington Post isn't going to make this go away.

He's got a real problem. He doesn't like America. People who don't like America don't get elected president.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The regulatory urge

The state regulators are really trying to put the clamps on virtual charter schools, as reported in the Oregonian today.

For the better part of a year, the State Board of Education has been kicking around the issue of whether to allow additional on-line charter school programs into Oregon. There is currently one program, the Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) which I helped get started.

The reason the state board is involved at all is because of a closed door deal that was cut in the 2005 session, in which the teacher union wanted to stop the new type of schools in their tracks. They convinced Speaker Karen Minnis to go along with a bill (in trade for something else, never clear at the time) that required any on-line charter school to get half of its students from the sponsoring district.

At the time, we were just getting ORCA organized. We got it done barely under the wire, and so were not forced to comply with this new “50% rule” until its first charter contract expires in 2010.

Other school districts are now proposing to create statewide virtual charter schools, and they have filed requests to the State Board of Education to waive the 50% rule, which they have the power to do. This was the question the state board pretty much resolved yesterday.

So the question to the board was basically how far do they want to open the window for on-line schooling? The answer: “Not very.”

I went to all of the meetings as they kicked this thing around. It was grueling, watching these mostly well-meaning people, most of whom have a decided bias toward preserving the status quo, try to get a handle on this innovative way to deliver education services.

Bottom line: the urge to control won out. The longer they kicked it around, the more the board members “concerns” found their way into conditions, limitations, and edicts on how any new school could operate.

The interesting thing to observe was the overriding attitude among the board members that it was absolutely their purview to make decisions about whether or not to allow these types of schools. None of them knew much about virtual schooling to begin with, but that didn’t prevent them from exercising their authority to control them.

Time and again individual board members revealed through their comments that their first concern was “the system.” They worried about the “impact” on school districts if they lost kids to a virtual school. I never once heard a board member worry about the impact on a student who is denied access to the educational option of his choice due to the controls the board was placing on virtual schools.

So it was apparent, after all was said and done, that the majority on the State Board of Education still has the system as its number one priority, and the interests of kids and parents is somewhere down the list. The implicit lack of trust that parents could choose wisely for their kids was obvious.

The irony was that the Board didn’t seem to understand that they actually don’t have the kind of control they assumed they had. The list of conditions they placed on virtual charter schools in Oregon are so onerous, that any school district that wants to create a virtual program will simply organize the school under Oregon’s alternative school law, and be able to circumvent almost every single one of the restrictions the state placed on the schools!

Here’s why: The big reason to organize a virtual school as a charter is because charters can enroll any kid in the state, even without the approval of the student’s home district. But the State Board required virtual charters to get home district approval anyway, and they also slathered on a ton of other restrictions and requirements, like caps on the number of kids they could enroll.

So they took away the “open enrollment” benefit of being a charter. So a virtual school will just organize as an alternative school. Alternative schools have to get approval from the home district also, but the State Board can’t touch them. All the other restrictions disappear!

So the State Board made that classic regulatory mistake: assuming they have more control than they actually do, so the regulations simply will be circumvented.

What does this all mean for ORCA? We don’t know. For now, ORCA is exempt from the “50% rule, so it operates outside the regulatory grip of the State Board. In 2010, ORCA might have to apply for a waiver from the rule, and that would subject the school to any similar restrictions and conditions the State Board wanted to cook up.

So the future is uncertain indeed. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Filing day

The filing deadline has come and gone, and now it's time to do whatever we can to take back the House. This is NOT IMPOSSIBLE!

The Oregon House hinges on a slim 31-29 Democrat majority. The conventional wisdom says this will be a Democrat year, and Republicans are on the slide. Don't be so sure. State legislative races are where the axiom "all politics are local" was coined.

There are four or five races where the House majority will be determined, and the Republican candidates in these seats have legitimate chances to win. A 30-30 tie or a 31-29 majority for Republicans is NOT out of the question.

So I will be working with the House leadership to make this happen. I was very pleased that there will be no primary fight in House District 26, where Matt Wingard is now running unopposed. That is a reliable Republican seat, and Matt will fill it with distinction.

The work we are doing with the Conservative Majority Project (please click on the button to the right and donate!) I hope will be a big part of bringing a Republican majority to the House. As we identify the races we will be involved in, we will announce it here and then start badgering our friends for donations. So be forewarned.

Bottom line: Republicans have had a down cycle, and EVERYTHING runs in cycles. I am looking forward and seeing things getting better, much better, on the horizon. Like the sideview mirror on your car, I want to be part of making that horizon "closer than it appears."

Kevin Mannix. Matt Wingard. Greg Walden. There are lots of reasons to believe that in a year or two, Republicans will be on the upswing.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

OEA endorses Novick

Steve Novick got the OEA endorsement yesterday, getting more than 60% of the votes cast. Hard to say how much, if at all, Merkley's charter school hypocrisy played into the vote, but it couldn't have helped.

The interesting thing is that this is now a real race. The OEA endorsement means money and boots on the ground for Novick, so this is a real race. That means both get bloodied, spend all the money they raise, and fight it out while Gordon Smith stands by and makes sure his hair doesn't get mussed.

Good news for Gordon Smith.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Confirmed: Merkley is now a liar and a hypocrite

It’s now completely clear: Jeff Merkley is both a liar and a hypocrite.

He’s lying about whether or not he and his wife “considered” enrolling their kids in a charter school, and he’s a hypocrite because he now has told the Bend Bulletin that he is still opposed to charter schools.

First, the lie: His story has constantly shifted, but the current version, in The Funny Paper today:

“Merkley said his wife heard about the school from a neighbor and was asked to fill out the forms when she visited. "I never saw the form," he said. "It's not a school we'd ever consider sending our kids to."

Except they did more than consider it. They filled out enrollment applications for both kids, individually. Arthur Academy has no form to fill out to “express interest.” Now, perhaps Merkley’s wife, who he says did the deed, didn’t realize what she was doing was filling out enrollment applications.

OK, let’s go with that. She filled out two forms, both titled “Enrollment Application,” one for each of their two kids, thinking that she was simply expressing interest in the school. Sure, that is believable.

But there is more than just the enrollment applications as a paper trail in this controversy. Merkley’s personal lawyer called the Arthur Academy after this story broke, and the school official sent the lawyer, by his request, copies of the applications along with an email that explained certain realities about what transpired. This e-mail is easily retrieved by a FOIA request, since it is public record.

Excerpt from the email from Arthur Academy to Merkley’s Lawyer:

“There are handwritten notes at the upper right of each form "per phone call 5-24-04 on wait list." We think this was written by someone in our office.

What this implies to me is that after the May 1 cutoff date, we conducted a lottery relating to any then-available spaces in grades for the next fall [September 2004] and that neither child was selected for such then-available spaces [it's possible all seats had already been filled after the earlier, March 1, cutoff and lottery].

Thus, the children were placed on the waiting lists for each grade, and a person in our office apparently called and talked to the parents or left a message to that effect on May 24.”

So not only did the Merkleys enroll their kids, but they were in the lottery, placed on the wait list, and then called and notified that their kids were on the wait list! Does that sound to you like they thought they had just “expressed interest” in the school?

The email answers this question:

“The submitted applications were to enroll the children, not merely to visit or consider the school, neither of which requires any application or other form.”

The Merkley’s say they decided not to send their kids to the school. Well, maybe. The school did not open that fall, so they couldn’t have sent them there even if they had wanted to. But the Arthur Academy has this to say about what the Merkley’s did or did not decide:

“We cannot tell what they decided or when, but the forms have no indication that they communicated to us such a decision before the lottery or before they were told on May 24 that their children had been placed on the waiting list (or at any other time). And there is no indication that when they were given this information, or thereafter, they told us to remove their children's names from our waiting list. But it's possible that happened.”

So they never told the school that they were no longer interested, even after being told they were on the waiting list. How plausible is that?

Bottom line, Merkley’s story makes no sense. He says he still opposes charter schools, but he applied for his own children to attend one. Classic hypocrisy.

When the fact became known, he obfuscated, threw his wife under the bus, basically claiming she was so dim she thought a form titled “Enrollment Application” was a form expressing interest in the school(!) and then lied, saying he would never consider sending his kids to this kind of school.

Not his finest moment.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

New, revolutionary teaching method: instruction

I know I won’t be able to keep the sarcasm and anger out of this post, so I apologize in advance.

There’s a story in The Funny Paper today about how much better our schools are doing teaching English to English as Second Language (ESL) students, because they are using a “new way of teaching that has swept Oregon ESL classrooms in the past couple years.”

What is this new approach that our educators only recently discovered?

“Schools have begun explicitly teaching the grammar, rules and structure of English. And they are doing it in a carefully ordered way, making sure that students don't miss any of the building blocks of how English verbs are conjugated, words are ordered, conversations are expected to proceed and sentences are constructed.”

In other words: Instruction. The “new approach” is to actually instruct the students in the English language. So what on Earth were they doing before, one might ask? Well, the ESL coordinator at Gresham Barlow is helpful enough to give us the answer, as incredible as it seems.

Before you read the quote, please pause for a moment and prepare yourself to read one of the most idiotic things you have ever heard uttered. It should be enough to completely destroy any remaining confidence you might have in our education establishment:

“For a long time, we just read to them and exposed them to English and figured they would pick it up just like native speakers do," said Danelle Heikkila, who directs the English Language Learner program for Gresham-Barlow schools.”

So the strategy before was to not instruct them, and just to hope the non English-speaking students would pick up the complicated English language by osmosis.

This is disturbing on so many levels. First, it reveals an incredible ignorance of how children acquire language skills. Yes, kids learn to speak English by simply being immersed in an environment where it is spoken. But reading is an entirely different matter, and decades of research proves it.

So to say that “native speakers” pick up reading by being “exposed” to English quite simply reveals such a shocking ignorance that this person should be fired immediately. The problem is that this is not an isolated attitude. It is the prevailing notion of how to teach English, as the article points out. Not just for ESL kids, but for all kids.

So for years and years, our public schools have been teaching English by not teaching them English. It’s called “Whole Language,” and it has failed miserably. But it’s not often it gets so clearly exposed as the farce it is, and for that we should thank Ms. Heikkila.

And then we should call for her resignation, and the resignation of the countless other bureaucrats, college of education professors and teachers who have perpetrated this fraud on the public for the last several decades.

But we all know, nobody will ever be held accountable for the untold damage done to kids’ lives by the fact that our schools simply refused to teach English for decades on end.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Which is it, Jeff Merkley, charter school advocate or hypocrite?

Throughout the whole “Charter-Gate” flap, in which Jeff Merkley has looked defensive and shifty trying to explain why he attempted to enroll his kids in a charter school, he is yet to answer the single most important question that the episode begs:

Do you now support charter schools, or are you just a huge hypocrite?

It has to be one or the other. He is backed into a corner, and can’t have it both ways. I know he’d like to tap dance around this core question until after the OEA endorsement convention this weekend, but I think the OEA members should ask him directly.

For some reason, he has not yet been made to answer this so very obvious and basic question in the aftermath of Charter-Gate.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Would you sacrifice your children for the public good?

I've long understood that there are two prevailing world views that are at the center of peoples' political philosophies: individualism and collectivism.

For the most part, conservatives tend to see things in individualist terms, while liberals are collectivist. No one, of course, is a purist. Rock ribbed conservatives understand that there is a role for a collectively funded government, and the most lily-livered liberal realizes that there are some things better left to private enterprise.

But it's a useful dichotomy, because it holds true.

The problem with the collectivist world view is that most people reject it, because they rightly see that it essentially enslaves people. Just how much are you supposed to give up for the public good? Who defines "public good," anyway? Most people understand that every tyranny in history was basically founded on this world view.

But occasionally you run across someone who is such a collectivist that he thinks you should sacrifice your own children for the benefit of the public good. We have one right here in Portland.

Terry Olsen, a former school teacher who blogs on education issues, is one such collectivist. He actually wrote the following on his blog the other day:

I don't think one can run for public office on a pro-public school platform after enrolling one's child in a private (or charter) school. Even to consider public school alternatives is, quite frankly, hypocritical.

I feel strongly about this. To divert human capital --namely good students with strong parental support-- from public schools is to undermine the ability of those schools to succeed. I completely reject the notion that the first responsibility of nominally public school-supporting parents is to consider the welfare of their own children while ignoring the well-being of others.

I cannot say, as others have, that their urge to seek out "better" options for their kids alone is either understandable or forgivable. To do so would be to acknowledge that the individual, or private, good trumps the common good. I don't believe it.

I find it hard to believe that someone would write this down. I know a lot of Democrats basically agree with it, but to actually write it down?

In this guy's world view, parents should sacrifice their children on the altar of serving others. If your school is dangerous and fails to teach your kid a thing? Tough luck - you have to keep your kid there because the other kids need your stablizing presence.

He completely rejects the notion that the first responsibility of parents is to consider the welfare of their own children? WOW!

Have you ever seen a more incredibly naked expression of collectivism?

In his view, your kids are "human capital," to be deployed by the ruling elite according to its objectives (the "common good, which they get to define, and which always somehow ends up benefiting the ruling elites.)

He says it is "unforgiveable" to send your kids to a non-public school. Presumably that would mean he would support using the coercive powers of government to prevent you from doing so. Coercion is the first and last tool of collectivists. Because people don't willingly sacrifice their interests to that of the collective, they must be forced.

It is scary indeed. Almost as scary as realizing that this man taught kids for a quarter century or so.