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Posts published in May 2015

First takes


Great lead on a Seattle Times front-pager today: "What problem has Republican lawmakers proposing a big spike in the state property tax, Democrats balking at a proposal to make school levies more equitable, and initiative slinger Tim Eyman begging Gov. Jay Inslee to ave taxpayers from the GOP?" The issue, of course, is school funding. Republicans in Washington are trying to avoid the accusation that they're seriously underfunding the schools, while also avoiding raising taxes, and the conflict between the two is what, as much as anything else, caused the special session and renders difficult closure on the budget-tax mix. As long as taxes are considered so anathema, the problem will persist.

In some ways, the story we've heard from the Obama Administration about the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden carried with a series of oddities and questions (not least, his location in a plain-sight compound only a few miles from one of Pakistan's main military training centers). But so too does some of what Seymour Hersh has to say - that Pakistan collaborated with the United States on the killing - seem problematic. (Among other things, it would be asking a lot a lot of Pakistan officials to conceal their own role, making them look weak instead of strong.) You get the feeling we've not yet gotten the whole story yet, and may not for a while.

Reading: Who’s not in the charters

A guest opinion from Levi B Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org.

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.

On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities' demographics.
A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here's why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services -- such as special education and English Language Learner instruction -- local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho's charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is...wait for build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report's findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn't minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It's time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations.

And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

First takes

For a long time, Liberia was ground central for the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa, accounting for close to half of all cases in the last year, and the largest concentration of cases. For a while it seemed an intractable problem. But yesterday, reports were that ebola was - this was delivered in fingers-crossed fashion - wiped out in Liberia. It can be done, which puts the lie once again to the fear-touting so prevalent in the United States only a few months ago. Remember that? Not many of the political and other figures so worried about ebola are saying anything about it now . . .

Oregon State University reports that a new international program partly based there is working on resolving water issues around the globe. From their statement: "Oregon State University, the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and the UNESCO-IHE Water Education Center in The Netherlands are creating an international joint education program aimed at addressing water conflicts in a more professional manner. The program will launch this fall with about 10 students enrolled to earn master’s degrees, eventually growing to 30 students from around the world. . . . The issues students will deal with are vast. In Oregon, for example, there has been a major conflict over water rights in the Klamath River basin, where agricultural interests compete with fisheries management and tribal rights. These kinds of issues are not unusual in the United States, Wolf pointed out, and can become even more contentious when an international component is added." . . . - rs

Cause for the smugs


Idaho has some tough water law, and it’s enforced.

That’s a big reason Idaho isn’t slipping into the water chaos California is beginning to see.

The California headlines would be comical if they didn’t reflect a serious reality: “Starbucks moves water operation out of drought-stricken California . . . Israel to California: Here’s how to save water . . . Water wasters could be fined $10,000 . . .”

Idaho, which has more limited water supplies, is being pressed this year – drought is hitting parts of the Gem State too – but not in such extreme ways. A large part of the reason is this: People in Idaho (southern Idaho, anyway) are accustomed to the idea of a stern water regulation regime, have abided by it for many years, and have accepted the need to make hard decisions from time to time.

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One of those problem areas – the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, covering more than 10,000 square miles in Idaho and from which much of southern Idaho’s groundwater is drawn – has been accelerating for years. On its website, the state Department of Water Resources notes, “For a variety of reasons, groundwater levels in parts of the ESPA declined, leading to a cumulative decrease in aquifer storage, decreased spring flows and changing Snake River flows that resulted in insufficient water supplies to satisfy existing beneficial uses.” And it gets worse in dry times like . . . now.

That has led to new planning by the state, but the practical impacts are immediate.

Last week, after a long meeting organized by House Speaker Scott Bedke, groundwater and surface water users reached an agreement that may settle the state’s biggest water issues for some time to come. Surface water users, many of whom have senior water rights, have seen their flows diminished in recent years and pointed a collective finger at the more junior groundwater users. The state Department of Water Resources, which is legally obliged to sort out the relative claims, has for some years been putting increasing pressure on groundwater users – trying to avoid massive shutdowns that could wipe out many businesses, but meeting obligations to senior users.

After negotiations running for years, the groundwater operators had to find a way to come up with 89,000 acre-feet of water by May 1. That’s a lot of water.

The solution was to take a bite out of their collective water usage: 13 percent of their overall claims.

Brian Olmstead of the Twin Falls Canal Company told the Twin Falls Times News that, “We came to an agreement that can keep people in business. But it won't be business as usual.”

It is likely to be painful. But the situation is at least being managed in a practical way.

California, which until recently has been the only western state which didn’t regulate groundwater use, is an example of what can happen in the alternative. When legislation allowing local agencies to help regulate groundwater users (for obvious reasons, this would be far less effective than statewide management) was proposed, many farmers warned of over-regulation and land devaluation. As a practical matter, a state water executive described how “in the absence of governance, it’s become a pumping arms race. He with the biggest pump or deepest straw wins.”

Idaho can feel smug about this one.

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Boulder-White Cloud hearing set for Senate (Idaho Statesman)
Will INL cleanup ever end? (Idaho Statesman)
Mary Dye of Pomeroy picked as state representative (Lewiston Tribune, Moscow News)
Judge halts recall try against WA state auditor (Lewiston Tribune)
WSU regents set budget, bump president pay (Lewiston Tribune, Moscow News)
Debate continues over reouting Highway 95 near Moscow (Moscow News)
CWI appraises land for possible purchase (Nampa Press Tribune)
Otter heads to Latin America on trade mission (Pocatello Journal)
Southern Idaho groundwater users give up 13% of water (TF Times News)
Educators looking for public pre-schools (TF Times News)

UO propopsing new sexual conduct rules (Eugene Register Guard)
Lawmakers still work on medical pot rules (Eugene Register Guard)
Lane County may seek a drought declaration (Eugene Register Guard)
Klamath not finding serious groundwater drawdowns (KF Herald & News)
Klamath voters turnout marked at 16 percent (KF Herald & News)
Medford still has enough water (Medford Tribune)
Obama touts Trans-Pacific deal at Portland (Portland Oregonian, Medford Tribune)
Medford schools hiring for many executive jobs (Medford Tribune)

Snohomish cities set rules on panhandling (Everett Herald)
Kelley recall try rejected by judge (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
State blamed for Bertha's damage of pipe (Seattle Times)
Obama touts Trans-Pacific pact at Portland (Spokane Spokesman, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Olympian)

Rewriting the story of me


This column is included in Raising The Hardy Boys: They Said There Would be Bon-Bons which could make a pretty cool Mother’s Day gift, just sayin’. My next book signing gig is Saturday, May 9 at the Coffee Cottage in Newberg from 3 to 6 p.m. Come say “hi” and maybe pick up a copy of my book as a mother’s day gift? Oh, and tell your friends! By the way, there WILL be bon-bons! .

Whether you grow up in Disneyland or Dysfunction Junction, friction is a natural part of family life. Who doesn't have moments when they look around the dinner table and wonder how they could possibly be related to these people?

Imagine my surprise when I found out, 21 years ago, that this occasional passing fantasy was actually fact in my case.

Let me set the stage for you. It was my freshman year in high school. The assignment was to write an autobiography, with the incentive of extra credit for creativity.

I decided to use a picture of my mom, pregnant with me, for the cover. But I couldn't find any such picture.
I tried to substitute one from the period my mom was pregnant with my brother. None of those existed either.
I found it difficult to believe my father, who even takes pictures of his food, didn't have a working camera available during a pair of nine-month spans. So, overachiever that I was, I had no choice but to take my project to the next level.

When my parents were out one evening, I went into reporter mode, snooping through my mom's red address book. One by one, I called close family friends to announce I was doing a project for school.

Naturally, they were all happy to help. That is, until I asked: "Could you tell me your favorite memory of my mom pregnant?"

Whether by hesitation, an awkward pause or the sharp inhalation of surprise, my suspicions were confirmed.

A couple of them wanted to know if my mom knew about this project. She sure didn't, but this was pre-cell phone, so no one could text my parents a heads up.
Why didn't I simply ask my parents? I did in 1991, and purely by coincidence, it was on Mother's Day.

After a painfully awkward brunch on Bainbridge Island, and a silent drive home, my parents finally told me the truth about my birth.

I felt as if my foundation had cracked.

In retrospect I wonder what that news changed exactly. I mean, besides where I spent my first week of life, everything else was the same.

But it wasn't. Not really.

I wish I could tell you I handled the situation with grace and understanding. But, alas, I was 14. So there was plenty of drama.

Unconsciously, I started to ignore the idea that my parents loved me and instead dwell on the fact that someone I'd never met didn't - at least not enough to keep me.

Now I understand the best way my birth mother could show her love was by acknowledging she couldn't do for me what my parents could. But back then, I started telling myself the secret truth about me was that I was simply unlovable.

This became a core belief of mine, one I sought out and affirmed in my relationships.

It wasn't until very recently that I learned the story I was telling myself wasn't true. How could I have been so wrong about something I was so certain about?

The thing about our birth stories is that they're just that: stories. The meaning we give the story is what matters.

I could focus on the fact that nobody was with me during the first week of my life, or I could instead remember that my parents canceled a ski trip to come and get me as soon as they heard they could.

At every birthday since, I've heard that story. And it delights me every single time.

I don't know very much about my biological mom, besides the fact with was an Irish X-ray technician with four children. But I can tell you my real mom has cutting boards stained green with parsley, can make goulash in her sleep, has fingers calloused from a lifetime of hard work yet still capable of soothing a feverish forehead, keeps her nails clean and cuticles trimmed, has a favorite apron in green, and smells like Gucci and geraniums.

She is probably reading this with tears in her eyes. She should know that while I'm sorry for that one awful Mother's Day, I have loved her as my real and only mom on every one of them before and since.

By the way, I did get extra credit for my bonus chapter: "My Adoption." I like to think of that as my first investigative reporting piece, inspiring a career in journalism.

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Climate change underway at Yellowstone Park (IF Post Register)
Funds arrive for new Terry Reilly Caldwell clinic (Nampa Press Tribune)
Cassia draws discrimination complaint from ACLU (TF Times News)

Some rural drivers may self-pump their gas (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Pendleton E Oregonian)
Eugene electric sues over flaws at dam (Eugene Register Guard)
Obama arrives in Portland, draws comments (Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune, KF Herald & News)
Judge closes Jackson Co pot dispensary (Medford Tribune)
Crater Lake may develop sister-park with China (Medford Tribune)
UO employees investigated over medical records (Portland Oregonian)

E Coli outbreak results in CDC call (Seattle Times)
Murray says more money needed from arena backers (Seattle Times)
Seattle, Tacoma ports take details of deal public (Tacoma News Tribune)
Obama arrives at Portland (Vancouver Columbian)

Lessons from Baltimore


“Why am I being arrested? I haven’t done anything wrong. Why am I being treated this way? I live here. The curfew law is stupid. I live here. The law’s stupid. Why are they arresting me? This is so wrong!”

Those were the words of a young woman in Baltimore about 10:30 on a recent Friday night as police were hustling her off to a waiting prisoner transport van. I’d guess she was in her early 20's - well dressed - good makeup - nice looking young lady - probably a college student. Oh, and she was white. It was a small moment in the nights of rioting and police baiting. But it was a microcosm of the week in all the noise and activity.

There is so much wrong with what she was shouting to the TV camera as she was being hauled away. So much.

First, the curfew was not a law. It was an executive order of the mayor approved by the Baltimore City Council. Second, the order had been widely published and had been enforced two previous nights. Third, the time of her arrest was 30 minutes past the curfew limit which was being broadcast from helicopters and police vehicles on the ground and which thousands of others had obeyed. Fourth, she obviously did not live in this section of the city - maybe some other Baltimore neighborhood - not this one. Fifth, just because she thought the order “stupid” gave her no legal standing not to abide by it.

Finally, she had no idea why she was there. My guess is it was to be “seen” - to be where the action was. Or because some of her friends were there. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Suppose she was a young, bleeding-heart who wanted to stand beside her oppressed “brothers and sisters.” Suppose her motives for being in a place she didn’t live with people she didn’t know - and with many black citizens who likely wouldn’t have welcomed her misguided participation - were pure as snow. Christian, as it were.

The facts were these. It was well-past the curfew limit - the well-publicized curfew limit - which made her a violator whether she agreed with the “law” or not. Her white face sent a clear message she didn’t live in the neighborhood and she was there during a curfew applied to all of Baltimore - not just the west end - though it was being enforced primarily in the west end. Police had lawful orders to close streets and arrest anyone out past a certain time. It won’t take Clarence Darrow to prosecute her appearance in court.

The young lady was in the wrong place at the wrong time learning nothing. Plus being wrong at the top of her lungs.

The place to be for nearly all of us to learn was in front of the TV. There was a lot to see and learn. You could learn, that is, if you ignored the often broadcast grandstanding, self-promotion and some of its deviant journalistic behavior. Especially Faux Nues which promoted the cops at all times in spite of what may have been going on.

At our house, we were surprised to learn how many black public officials - Congress on down - have had ”the talk” with their teen sons about how to deal with cops on the street. Media types and clergy. too. Few of us have had to do that. We learned of - and watched - the individual heroism of retired USAF M/Sgt Robert Valentine who put himself alone between police lines and young demonstrators to keep the two sides from clashing. He did it several nights running.

We watched a black minister live his faith when someone torched his church’s nearly completed multi-million-dollar senior community center. “We’ll begin again,” when asked how he felt. No condemnation for the arsonist. No self-pity. Just “begin again.”

We learned courage and tough love from a scared black mother who charged into the street to pull her teenage son out of the rioting crowd. Yes, she hit him in the head with her hand. Yes, more than once. She yanked off his black ski mask. She pummeled his head, arms and back with her fists. She got him back. And, 24-hours later on national television, the kid said “Thank you.” I wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d hit him with a 2x4 in her terrified act of love. Mother love.

We watched some of the crowd offer bottled of water to the heavily-dressed officers on the line. We heard many officers say “Thank you.” We watched citizens put themselves in the smoke-filled space between crowds and police lines amid flying debris to carry signs saying to the crowd “Go Home.” For several nights. And most did.

We saw dozens and dozens of clergy, business people and just plain folks walk into the fray to plead with both sides to “stand down” and avoid confrontation. We learned courage could come from people who had probably never thought of themselves as “courageous” people. But there they were. Being courageous.

We, who do not live in Baltimore’s west end - or any other large city’s depressed community - had no business being there those nights. Never - never - could we understand what so many innocent people were saying to authority out there on the asphalt. We could not know or understand the indigenous frustrations and fear caused by simply facing another day or month or year living under those conditions. Even after nights of watching, we still don’t know how to feel it. We do know a little more about it.

These days, the streets of Baltimore’s west end are no place for white 20-something’s who live comfortably somewhere else and who have no use for or understanding of “laws” they believe are “dumb.” There’s simply too much work to be done by people who are charged with the many and varied tasks of community rebuilding. We need to sympathize - to understand - but to stay out of the way.

The young prosecutor who brought charges against six cops will likely not get convictions - at least at the level of those charges. What the reaction will be then - several months if not years down the line - will have to wait. Right now - now while most west end residents seem to want to work for better days - now is the time to put some flesh on those desires. I hope those who are leading will get to work. Now.

On the front pages


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

New partnerships in Boise River cleanup (Boise Statesman)
Ag-gag lawsuit ruling just ahead (IF Post Register)
Labrador criticizes Republian budget plan (Lewiston Tribune)
Scramble to avoid massive wster shutdowns (TF Times News)
Cassia commission admits meeting law violation (TF Times News)

LCC course eliminations prove controversial (Eugene Register Guard)
Theatre security frisking patrons as they enter (Eugene Register Guard)
Klamath commissioners want wolf delisting (KF Herald & News)
Solar farm planned for site near Bly (KF Herald & News)
Medford proposes improvements to its water plant (Medford Tribune)
Mt. Bachelor closing site unusually early (Medford Tribune)
Pendleton city goes after local panhandlers (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Closing in on a new president for EOU (Pendleton E Oregonian)
About Obama's visit to Portland today (Portland Oregonian)
Damascus residents ask what their taxes went for (Portland Oregonian)
Many rape kits in Portland weren't tested formerly (Portland Oregonian)

Snohomish limiting new pot business locations (Everett Herald)
Medical exminaner stays at Snohomish, for now (Everett Herald)
Seattle debates over whether mitigation means trees (Seattle Times)
Winthrop Hotel in Tacoma sold (Tacoma News Tribune)
Federal trial over water pollution dropped (Yakima Herald Republic)

Zorba and Baltimore


Like many news junkies, I’ve been reflecting on the events in Baltimore over the last ten days. I keep coming back to a fact that has been completely absent from the debate. I will explain by first quoting from Nikos Kazantzakis’ great novel,Zorba the Greek which was made into a fine movie with Anthony Quinn playing Zorba.

Zorba is getting acquainted with the sober-miened Englishman who asks Zorba if he is married. Zorba replies:

“Am I not a man? Are not men STUPID? So I married---wife, children, home, the whole CATASTROPHE!”

Inevitably, one laughs because this hits too close to home. As the old saying goes, the truth often is in a joke. Most, if honest, will concede, even the brightest and most disciplined among us can and often do stupid things, some totally inexplicable.

In my expereience, young men, regardless of race, creed or color, full of too much testosterone, sometimes do some really stupid things. Take me, for example.

True confession: Fifty years ago I “technically” assaulted one of New York’s finest.

It was early fall of my freshman year at Columbia. Classes had just started so many young men were milling around with little to do but cause mischief. Someone said, “Let’s do a panty raid on Barnard (the women’s college next to Columbia).” Yes, in 1965 this anachronistic practice was still in vogue.

Before you could snap a finger, 200 young men had stormed across the street and were standing on the south side street of the main Barnard residence hall, chanting and demanding that they be tossed women’s undergarments. I went along­­­ as can happen when in a crowd.

Of course few items were tossed out. It was then the Idaho kid decided to show these wimpy easterners how to take action. Amidst cheers I scaled up the side of the dorn two stories and into the residence hall where there were indeed young ladies milling around, screaming at the sight of a guy demanding undie’s and bra’s. Some young ladies handed me the items so back to the window I went to toss the contraband to the wimps still standing and yelling for such.

Then back down the wall I went and dropped straight into the arms of one of New York’s finest just waiting there. Grabbing me buy the arm, he informed me I was going with him. I replied, “Like hell, I am.” Then I committed the real stupidity, I struck the officer’s arm holding me, knocking his grip loose, ran and melded into the crowd.

As I wandered back to my dorm room I realized just how stupid I’d acted. I easily could have not been able to get away. Then, I would have faced an “assaulting an officer” charge, a felony no less, and easily could have lost my scholarship and probably might even have had to do jail time.

My future no doubt would have been quite different. Try getting a job even today if you’ve got a felony on you record.

Life has ways of evening things out. It’s often called the “school of hard knocks.” My hard knock was literally a hard knock but I looked upon it as an element of divine justice being meted out. No matter what you term it, New York’s finest got even in less than three years.

In April of 1968 a student protest led by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) against Columbia building a new gym on a large part of Morningside Park (One of a few areas where the African-American population in Harlem could recreate) led to a shut down of the campus. SDS leader Marc Rudd led the seizure of Hamilton Hall and Low Library where the administration offices were.

After several nights of a stand-off it was clear the police were about to move. I joined a group of students that formed a circle, holding hands, around the library. We thought as pacifists we could protect those that had seized the building and that the police would respect our non-violent stance.

We thought wrong. When the police moved we were all shoved and clubbed out of the way. It was then the scales of justice evened out for one of New York’s finest nailed me in the back with his billy club.

The moral of this story is yes, the chattering media can talk about lack of jobs, lack of education, lack of fathers or male mentors, lack of hope in Baltimore, and it all does contribute and it all needs addressing. Don’t forget, however, that men, especiallly young men, can act in a very stupid way at times. Only God knows why.