Ramblings From the Ragged Crumbling Edge Of The Reality-Based Community

Friday, March 24, 2006

...George W. Bush, during his March 21st press conference:
"Yesterday, I spoke about an important example of the gains we and the Iraqis have made, and that is in the northern city of Tal Afar. The city was once under al-Qaida control. And thanks to coalition and Iraqi forces, the terrorists have now been driven out of that city."

"Iraqi security forces are maintaining law and order, and we see the outlines of a free and secure Iraq that we and the Iraqi people have been fighting for."

"As we mark the third anniversary of the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the success we're seeing in Tal Afar gives me confidence in the future of Iraq
...from Reuters, residents of that little island of tranquility
"When we stop at a checkpoint they ask us whether we are Sunni or Shi'ite. That is worrying. We are one people and were never divided before." Fatma Mohammad Ali, teacher and member of Tal Afar's ethnic Turkmen Shi'ite minority.

"I say that Bush is 100 percent a liar because the city of Tal Afar has become a ghost town rather than the example Bush spoke about." Ali Ibrahim, a Shi'ite Turkmen laborer.

"As I'm talking now the Americans and the Iraqi army are surrounding my neighborhood. If we leave our houses we could be arrested." Tal Afar Shopowner Rafat Ahmed, Sunni.

"Anyone who says Tal Afar is good and safe actually knows nothing because the reality is we are unsafe, even inside our houses, because we don't know when we'll be arrested." retiree Abdul Karim al-Anizi, 60, a Shi'ite Turkmen.

"The situation in Tal Afar is deteriorating and the smell of death is everywhere. People never know why they are killed. They only know that the Americans are the cause of their agonies." Hussein Mahmoud, a Shi'ite Turkmen university professor.

Why won't the media focus on all the good things that are happening in Iraq?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Buzzards Come Home to Roost 

...those of us who went through the ugly property tax battles of the late 80's can only look on with a grim, perverse sort of satisfaction at the lawsuit that has just been filed against the state of Oregon by several school districts and families. Although the anchor of the lawsuit is a Constitutional amendment passed by referendum in 2000 requiring the Legislature set aside an appropriate amount of money for school funding, the underpinnings of the battle reside in the 1990 passage of the property tax initiative known as Measure 5. Back in the day, there were lots of Oregonians, including people like me who didn't have a dog in the fight at the moment but who did have small children who would need to rely on the Oregon state public school system to properly educate their children, who had serious reservations about the impact that Measure 5 would have on school funding....but there weren't enough of us. We tried again in 1996, when Bill Sizemore's Measure 47 called for a tightening of the property tax limitations and introduced the double majority requirement for any tax measures, including school funding initiatives, but anti-tax sentiment runs at rip-tide in Oregon, and we lost again. The result was a public school system primarily funded by state-level general revenue, and George W. Bush's recession brought the whole house of cards crashing down in the early 2000's...

While there is certainly a bit of a thrill in having a major political cartoonist like Gary Trudeau devote a whole week of "Doonesbury" to our simple little state, the fact that this attention came because of so many Oregon schools having to actually cut the length of their school year wasn't the sort of attention about which the Chamber of Commerce is going to issue press releases. Cutting the length of the year, whether it be the three weeks or so that the Portland school district had to endure or the 5 days that my children celebrated, was the logical and predictable outcome of all those anti-tax efforts that had come before. The problem has been compounded by the absolute functional incapability of the Legislature to be able to actually come to terms with the problem. It is a classic example of power politics run amuck, and would give even the most ardently pro-democracy Iraqi politician occasion to ponder the up-side of joining the insurgency to avoid having this particular form of democracy shoved down his throat. All of the bad themes of party politics have been drawn together in this debate, with the proto-Norquistian desires to reduce government by starving it to death running up headlong against all those separate constituiencies that insist that their particular ox is too important to be gored. The decline in revenues from Oregon's bizarre tax structure, when mixed in with vicious debates over just exactly what was a critical state service, led the legislature into a blinding land of gridlock that would be almost impossible to reproduce in a lab. A lawsuit over school funding was the smart money's bet in the face of the state's failure to adequately fund our children's schools, and
a place like Pendleton is as good a place to start this war as any...

We will always have among us the nay-sayers, those folks who insist that the schools are top-heavy with "administration" employees and all those dawg-goned fancy pants programs that don't contribute to teaching our children the Three R's. None of those people will ever read these words, and they will never read any words like these that appear on any sort of technologically complex medium, and that's a lot of the problem. They can't read 'em; they don't know how.
The world has left most of the "anti-tax, heck with the schools" behind, unfortunately not enough behind that they are no longer important, but just far enough back in the dust that their role in this play will have a debilitating effect on our ability to educate our children sufficiently to make them competitive in the mess we've left for them. They don't understand where we are heading technologically because they been unable or unwilling to gain the skills necessary to function successfully in this venue, but their power in the legislative process leaves everybody else facing the risk that our children will emerge from our 19th century schools with too few skills to even successfully be in college, much less be equipped with the tools to be able to fully explore their lives' ambitions. And then, of course, there is the legislature, which has set a benchmark for incompetence that may never again be reached - although they've fooled me before. Amonst this group there's our old friend Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), Senate Minority Leader and the most purely political animal to stride the halls in Salem in more generations than anyone cares to remember:

(Ferrioli) called it "too bad the complainants decided to invite the courts into the school funding debate," and said the lawsuit was an attempt to use the court system as a political wedge.

"The courts have no business making these decisions, that is the job of the Legislature," he said, adding that Republicans favor dedicating a fixed portion of income tax revenue to schools.

Well, yeah. There's only one problem: this ball has been in the legislature's court for four years and the only thing that the people of the state have got to show for that experience is double-talk, budgetary smoke and mirrors, and a stark refusal to adequately fund our childrens' education. School funding in Oregon is currently a stark, abject failure of the legislative process, demonstrating little more than the desires of the participants to maintain political dominance for its own sake while scoring coup against opponents rather than any particular interest in actually fixing this problem. Hoards of turkey buszzards are coming home to roost in the newly blossoming hardwood trees outside the Capitol, and the stench of their droppings will pollute political discourse for some time to come. The legislature failed us in properly funding our childrens' education and - left to their own devices - aren' likely to get better soon. A six-district lawsuit may well not be the proper way to address this issue, but for those of us who actually care about our children's education more than who is in charge in Salem, it's about all we have left...

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