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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Trump Was Right

By Bill Street

Trump was right, about one thing. The system is rigged. He rode that one statement to the Presidency in 2016 and used his office to reinforce the conditions that created his political base. 

He knew that public education was in trouble, so he appointed an Education Secretary to make it worse.

He knew that for working people the current generation was going to be worse off than the prior one. So he took actions to make it worse including a disastrous trade war, alienating crucial trade partners and stripping the infrastructure required to build back better.

He knew that if the conditions for his working-class base deteriorated his base would be secure. Because it was their fear that he needed. Their fear of hunger, their fear of homelessness, their fear of the future.

During his four years, the rich did indeed get richer (as they have been since the 1980s). Productivity gains did not result in similar pay raises (as they haven’t since the 1980s). And the path to the middle class got more difficult. Instead of graduating from high school and walking across the street to the local factory, where a family- (and commonly, a union-) wage job awaited (especially for white males) with a pension and health insurance, now the path to the middle class required higher education.

Unfortunately, unlike factory jobs, educational slots are far fewer per capita than factory jobs were, and the cost of education is a barrier. Worse still is the mythology that higher education, “isn’t for everyone” which is accompanied by the idea that only the “best and brightest” will succeed. Rather than recognize the artificial shortages that are created by fewer available higher-education slots and the financial barriers, society rewards those who are seen as meritorious, and this justifies abandoning those seen as having made poor choices or somehow being less deserving.

Lost in all of this is the fact that not every child starts from the same place or goes to the same K-12 school system. The discrepancy in per pupil spending varies greatly even throughout our County and even more so across both Oregon and the US. By accident of birth more so than “ability,” the odds of gaining entry to the middle class vary dramatically. Approximately 83% of students from upper-income families enroll in higher education compared to 67% from lower- income families.

But enrollment is just the first barrier to overcome.  As shown above, only 58% of students from the highest-income families graduate. For the lowest-income families this falls to 11%. To view these completion rates as evidence of “ability” hides the hidden injury of class.

The K-12 system in Oregon receives a smaller piece of the state budget pie today than in 2003. In the 2003-5 state budget, 35.7% of revenues went to education. As of 2017, this had fallen to 21.6%. Meanwhile, local funding capped by various ballot measures also fails to keep pace. 

And while the Student Success Act of 2019 is a good start toward recouping some of those decades of losses, it is only that: a start. The relaxations of the requirements to pay-in, along with a reduction of business revenues due to the pandemic, have already depleted some of the anticipated funding from that bill. 

The Oregon Quality Education Commission described the situation as follows:

“The slow growth in education funding is partly the result of the state having to replace lost local property tax revenue from Measures 5 and 50 — property tax limitation measures passed in the 1990s. Another factor is the decline in the share of the income tax revenue contributed by corporations, falling from an average of 16 percent in the 1970s to 7 percent today. Without substantial new revenue sources, K-12 schools have had to compete with other state programs, resulting in declining funding for K-12 schools, when adjusted for inflation and changing student needs, over the past 25 years.” 

Reduced funding for education concentrated in lower income communities and school districts results in lower high school graduation rates, which serves to solidify barriers to upward mobility.  

As Democrats, we must recognize that as Trump said, the system is rigged. It is rigged against the middle and lower classes. The solutions will require considerable intervention into all systems. This requires additional revenue that must be raised from those who have unfairly benefited since the 1980s. In all likelihood this will require massive tax reform to capture the excess profits obtained from deceptive speculation on Wall St, monopoly on Main St, carbon pollution and other unsustainable business practices.  

It is difficult to decide where to start to rebuild better, but K-12 education must be near the top of the list. Until citizens understand that their own well being is part of their community, and until every student has received the ability to critically evaluate information, those left behind have reason to fear the future. What looks to them like a zero-sum situation where what one group gains another group must lose fuels their fears of the “other.” 

And unfortunately, that fear makes them all the more vulnerable to the siren call of an egomaniacal leader.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

COVID in Clackamas: Commerce vs. Workers’ Lives?

Despite the calamitous numbers, COVID-19 precaution deniers, like Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair-elect Tootie Smith, are still urging folks to defy Gov. Kate Brown’s responsible, two-week freeze on social and other group gatherings statewide.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 25, our county is the 6th highest county in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 rate in Oregon. The percentage of tests returning a positive for infections in Clackamas has increased from 4.3% per test Oct. 25 to 8.3% per test Nov. 15.

That means our rate of positives has nearly doubled in just one month.  More pain, more deaths.

Specifically, let’s look at active cases in our congregate living arrangements like nursing and care homes are as follow in our county, by name, as of Nov 15:

The infections increasing in the workplace are as follows in our county:

The typical transmission route appears to be asymptomatic family members spending indoor time
with other family members, some of whom have one or more vulnerabilities, such as obesity or
respiratory issues. The infection then spreads through the social circle of the asymptomatic family
members, replicating clusters in other family groupings. This is one reason both nursing homes and
workplaces are vulnerable to spread. In these settings, prolonged periods of contact in a
multigenerational environment are the norm.

Medical Deniers thumb their noses at the professional healthcare community when data on
transmission recognizes the importance of intergenerational household infection clusters. The Deniers
frequently make the statement that the cure is worse than the disease. They claim that harming the
economy is worse than allowing hundreds of thousands to die. The obvious fallacy of this argument is
that it assumes that production of wealth can continue without interruption, COVID or not. 

Yet the rapidly increasing number of infections at our county workplaces tells us this is glib hogwash….
unless one cavalierly assumes workers’ safety doesn’t matter. In that case, the onus is on workers, who
are forced to ask themselves: Do I risk infection by going to work so I can pay for housing, or do I risk
putting my family on the street if I stay home?  

As long as workers have little value (that is, as long as they continue to work despite the risk of infection), then keeping the economy open makes cold, economic sense. In fact, for some, profits have never been higher. A recent report from the Brookings Institute documents that few multinational corporations are sharing their newly found COVID-19 profits with their workers in any way that could be described as proportional.  

Thus, we find ourselves with essential workers who apparently have little economic value while they
create substantial economic wealth for others. We have these same workers being encouraged by
people like Tootie Smith to risk their lives, not only at work, but also by joining superspreader events.

All of which combines to put Tootie in hot water. There is serious talk of recall before she even takes
office! While that’s not legally possible, it does raise the question: Do such irresponsible public
pronouncements by a public figure rise to the level of recall?

Is a removal from office by the voters invoked only when public figures break the law? How about when
they openly defy the governor? After all, that’s what recently prompted Oregon City Mayor Dan
Holladay’s recall by a 2:1 margin. Stay tuned as we explore these various possibilities.

Bottom line: Do we keep the economy humming at the expense of the workers’ lives and safety or
follow the example of some other western governments and pay people to stay home so  COVID can
be quelled and then, and only then, resume full, person-to-person commerce? 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thank You Voters for Making History

Oregonians shattered voter turnout records in the 2020 General Election, according to the Democratic Party of Oregon. Voters cast more than 2.4 million ballots, which is more than any other General Election in Oregon history, and nearly 400,000 more votes than the previous record, set in 2016.

In Clackamas County, an impressive 84.7% of eligible voters embraced their democratic privilege, surpassing the 2016 county turnout, which was 81.7%. In the 2018 General Election, just 71% of eligible voters cast their ballots, a reminder to us that we need to do a better job impressing upon the electorate how important state-wide and local elections are.

Democratic Party of Oregon

As the DPO notes, the record number of Oregonians who voted did so despite COVID-19 challenges and thanks to the strength of our state’s secure and reliable vote-by-mail system, automatic voter registration and pre-paid postage for ballots. 

We also acknowledge with gratitude the hard work of our House District Leaders, Neighborhood Leaders and all the volunteers who wrote thousands of letters and made countless phone calls to Get Out the Vote.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

An Open Letter to Clackamas County Chair-elect Tootie Smith

Ms. Tootie Smith
Mulino, Oregon 97047

Dear Ms. Smith:

I am a resident of Clackamas County. We live in Brightwood, Oregon. We live on the Sandy River in a heavily wooded area. Our area is beautiful and tranquil. I have never voted for you, and I don’t see a situation where I would ever vote for you. You are, however, the elected Chair of Clackamas County Commission, and we need your leadership.

It goes without saying that I was extremely disappointed with your comments regarding your position stating you would defy Governor Brown’s declaration that we should shut down our county, limit contact during the holidays, wear masks and practice social distancing. I think I understand your position. Your family includes adults who should be treated as adults. As adults, you are able to make decisions about your personal safety and your family’s safety. You do not believe it is government's right or role to tell people how to behave and live their lives. It would greatly interest me to hear how far you would stand by your position that the government should not interfere with individual freedoms and lives.

I would like to share with you a personal story. We in Clackamas County and Oregon are all aware of the horrific fires of last summer. In our neighborhood in Brightwood, very recently, we have a number of homeowners turn their homes into short-term rentals. Our next-door neighbors moved to Portland and turned their home into such a rental. Most of the guests are respectful, but there are some who hold loud parties late into the night and destroy property in the quest for fun.

One incident occurred a year-and-a-half ago in late July. This was a year before the massive fires. In our area, everything had dried up. The river was low, trees and leaves were extraordinarily dry, and anyone could see the extreme fire danger. Hoodland Fire Department posted a red-fire alert and declared there were to be no open fires, backyard fires, campfires; nothing. The area was just waiting for a wind, a storm, a careless smoker, anything.

At the rental next door, a large group came in for the weekend. It was one of the groups that when they started pulling in, you knew it was going to be a long night. In the evening, the group were out in the back of the house having a great time. They decided to have a fire. There is a fire pit, but the flames were rising four or five feet high. You could see the cinders rising. Fortunately, there was no wind. 

I decided I needed to talk to them. With all the drinking, I don’t think there was much impulse control in effect. I basically tried to take the friendly neighbor approach and nicely ask them to put out the fire. 

Needless to say, my request was met with hostility, language I don’t need to repeat and mockery. One man, who seemed to be the leader, told me that he had paid a lot of money to have some fun, and he was not going to let someone like me (I cleaned up the language) spoil their weekend. It was clear that I was not getting anywhere so I said, “Okay, I have to protect my home and my family, and I am going to call the Hoodland Fire Department.” Again, I won’t share all the remarks, but you probably can imagine the threats. I said further, “Okay, I will make the call, and I guarantee they will come, put out the fire and likely cite you.” (I didn’t know about the citing, but I am sure the fire truck would have been right there). Fortunately, the group decided to put out the fire, and I didn’t have to make the call.

Ms. Smith, my questions to you are: “Is not Hoodland Fire Department a government entity? Is there a place where government has to step in to protect others’ lives and serve the common good? If adults are acting irresponsibly, is there some recourse for those of us who are following the law? If I have no recourse to protect my home and my family, do I have to arm myself to do so?”

And finally: “How is this story different from the spread of the virus? Is not the virus spreading like an invisible wildfire? If people are not concerned about me or my family’s welfare, what is my recourse other than to have government step in?"

I would like to know.

Peter Nordbye

Thursday, November 19, 2020

US Rep. Earl Blumenauer's Effort to Save Oregon's -- and the Nation's -- Restaurants

A Message from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer:

Oregon wouldn’t be the same without independent restaurants. They contribute to vibrant neighborhoods, fuel our local economies by employing thousands of people, and support a diverse supply chain of producers.


At the beginning of the pandemic, I worked with local chefs and restaurateurs to write legislation that will save these restaurants and support the people whose livelihoods depend on them.


What started as a local effort is now a national movement. Last night, the New York Times Editorial Board published its strong support of my RESTAURANTS Act legislation.


If you haven’t already read the editorial, you can click here to read it.