Month: April 2007

I Have A Bridge You Might Be Interested In

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It used to be only suckers that thought they could buy public infrastructure like the Brooklyn Bridge. Not so anymore. According to this article in Business Week, private financial giants like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and The Carlysle Group are buying up public infrastructure in unprecedented numbers.

In the past year, banks and private investment firms have fallen in love with public infrastructure. They’re smitten by the rich cash flows that roads, bridges, airports, parking garages, and shipping ports generate-and the monopolistic advantages that keep those cash flows as steady as a beating heart. Firms are so enamored, in fact, that they’re beginning to consider infrastructure a brand new asset class in itself.

With state and local leaders scrambling for cash to solve short-term fiscal problems, the conditions are ripe for an unprecedented burst of buying and selling. All told, some $100 billion worth of public property could change hands in the next two years, up from less than $7 billion over the past two years; a lease for the Pennsylvania Turnpike could go for more than $30 billion all by itself. “There’s a lot of value trapped in these assets,” says Mark Florian, head of North American infrastructure banking at Goldman, Sachs & Co (GS ).

Simply put, this is a very bad idea. Providing public infrastructure is one of the basic functions of government. Putting it into private hands is to invited monopolistic pricing. The firm that leases the Pennsylvania turnpike will be interested in turning a profit, not the public interest. Iraq reconstruction ought to be all the evidence we need that privatization results in no accountability which is an invitation to corruption and incompetence.

Developer Destroys Kokanee Beds

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What makes this story so important is its banality. The pattern described in this A.P. article is “business and usual.” Arrogant developers like Bob Holland destroy the environment whenever they feel like it and pay a pathetically small fine when caught. Meanwhile, species like Konanee salmon die a “death by a thousand cuts.”

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — A developer expanding a marina without approval on Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho destroyed one of the last healthy spawning bed areas for the lake’s struggling kokanee salmon, an official said.

Bob Holland had eight steel beams pounded into the shallow spawning beds on April 17, using a barge and tugboat that bulldozed through the area, said Chip Corsi, regional director of the Idaho Fish and Game Department.He said it was a blow to groups who had been working to boost the kokanee population in the lake.

“This was a great spawning bed,” Corsi told The Spokesman-Review. “From my view, what this guy did is pretty unconscionable. It’s a slap in the face to the folks who are working their tails off on this.”Corsi said Holland did not have the permits needed for the work in an area of the lake called Scenic Bay, near the town of Bayview.

The Idaho Department of Lands issued a stop-work order the day after the beams were put in. Holland had applied for a permit to expand a boardwalk but the public comment period did not end until April 20, said Jim Brady, with the Idaho Department of Lands.”They were fully aware of that but went ahead and started the work,” Brady said.

Fish and Game scientists said the damage from the construction likely killed many small kokanee that had hatched but were still in the gravel living in sheltered beds, and a survey of the area found crushed fish and smashed eggs.”There are dead kokanee to show for it,” Corsi said. “Those are wild, spawning fish we can’t replace.”According to Fish and Game, 98 percent of the remaining wild kokanee salmon spawning in the lake took place last fall where Holland had the work done.

Holland’s company, Waterford Park Homes, has been buying and developing property in Bayview.Holland did not immediately return a call to The Associated Press on Saturday. The Spokesman-Review also said he did not return messages seeking comment.

Holland didn’t have the needed state permit, but he did have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do the work, said Brad Daly, chief of the agency’s regional regulatory division.”It appears there are some impacts that have occurred which were not anticipated by us,” Daly said. “We are looking into this.”

Fish and Game estimates that the sport fishery in the lake is worth about $17 million to the local economy.Stuart Blockoff, president of the Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club, said fines should be increased to protect important areas. Holland could be fined up to $2,500 by the Idaho Department of Lands.”It’s so much cheaper just to go ahead and pay the fines,” Blockoff said. “That’s so damn frustrating for the rest of us.”

Student Researchers at Albertson College

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Albertson College MAT Intern, Allison Brooks

I decided to take a break from all the depressing national news and report on something positive today. The Idaho Stateman had an article this morning about a student research conference at Albertson College in Caldwell. The original research presented by these students was inspiring.

According to the article by Statesman reporter Vicki D. Ashwill,

[There were] 65 students giving oral presentations or presenting research via displays and one-on-one conversations at the school’s second all-campus research conference.

What the college is providing is an important professional experience for students that can help them work on communication skills as well as research skills, said Carolyn Ash, board member of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

It’s also important for Albertson College to let other students, faculty and the community see what students are doing.”ACI is known to be a great academic institution,” said [conference chair Dr. Sara] Heggland. “Now we can show that at this conference.”

Here are the profiles of the four student researchers highlighted in the Stateman article:

Layne Vanderbeek

Vanderbeek’s composition comes after nearly a year of research on influential composers such as 18th century composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to write his own composition.A violinist, Vanderbeek wanted to take aspects of music theory, including culture and history, to compose a liturgical mass, based on a Catholic rite.”I decided to write something pretty big using certain characteristics of other composers,” he said.Lisa Derry, said composition is a natural outgrowth of Vanderbeek’s studies.”It’s deeply intensive, personal work,” she said.Vanderbeek and his fellow choir members will perform one movement of his composition on Saturday.Vanderbeek, 22, is a senior music theory and composition major from Greenleaf.

Allison Brooks

Education major Allison Brooks got the idea for her research project when she learned some teachers were frustrated with too much testing in public schools.Her study on Idaho teacher attitudes toward standards-based testing was based on a survey of teachers in six counties, including Ada and Canyon counties.”What I found is teachers seemed to appreciate the idea of standards and think they are important,” she said.But “61 percent agreed or strongly agreed” that it was also making them less satisfied with their career, she said.Her research may not be far off the mark. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is aware of the complaints and is working on a process to listen to what teachers and parents have to say, said Melissa McGrath, Department of Education spokeswoman. One option is looking at a way to consolidate exams, she said.Brooks, 23, of Boise is working on her master’s in teaching and has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Albertson.

Lisa Stout

Lisa Stout wanted to find out what sixth-graders thought about nutrition breaks throughout the day at schools.Her preliminary data shows that kids were positive about having a snack, she said. In the process she discovered that students who were offered a snack break generally ate healthier snacks than their peers.”It’s something great to look at,” she said, adding she hoped her research could eventually be used by schools.Middleton Heights Elementary School in Middleton is one place where snacks are being used.”One of our goals was to get more protein to students in that snack,” said principal Robin Gilbert. “It helps maintain glucose levels. We’re not seeing that mid-morning crash.”Stout, 23, is working on a masters in teaching and has an undergraduate degree in exercise science and physical education. She is from Caldwell.

Quinton Dowling

Quinton Dowling did his research on soil microbes with student Rachel Kudrna.In other college research, students were using sugar as a possible method of control for cheatgrass, said Dowling.Cheatgrass is an invasive grass species in Idaho that is strangling native plants that provide food and shelter for birds and animals in this area of the state.He and Kudrna wanted to find out if they could look at the microbes in soil to see if the soil was altered by the sugar and, if it was, how fast the soil returned to normal.It means it’s likely that scientist can study soil microbes to look at the long-term impact on the eco-system of any kind of treatment used to kill invasive plant species.Dowling, 19, is a sophomore biology major from Seattle.

Here are a few photos taken at the poster session.

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Allison

Michal

Lisa

Hoover

Buying the War in Iraq- Bill Moyers is Back

When Knight Ridder (the newspaper chain that owned the Idaho Statesman) was swallowed by McClatchy, most people didn’t realize what they had lost. Now, thanks to Bill Moyers, who has returned to PBS with Bill Moyers Journal, we can begin to understand how Knight Ridder news service differed from most of the rest of the press.

Moyers and his crew have created a documentary that will air tomorrow on PBS exploring the ways in which the the media were complicit in shaping the “public mind” toward the war. This is not a new theme for Moyers. In the past he has documented how a belief in the press’s role as skeptical “watchdog” over government power has withered away.

What makes this segment interesting is that it features the work of some journalists who didn’t take the government’s word at face value, including the team of reporters at Knight Ridder news service whose reporting turned up evidence at odds with the official view of reality.

It is great to have Moyers back on the air. Watch the video below for a taste of tomorrow’s program.

John McCain Misspeaks

By this time, almost everyone has seen this video of John McCain. Moveon.org is even using it in a political ad. Why then, am I posting it here? Not because I think posting it will convince anyone that McCain is too intemperate to be President.

No, as reprehensible as the “bomb, bomb Iran” joke is, what I find annoying is McCain’s ignorance about the original song. He gave credit for Barbara Ann to the Beach Boys when any self- respecting old guy who grew up in the ’60s knows that the Beach Boys recorded a cover of the original classic by The Regents.

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The song was written by Fred Fassert, lead singer of The Regents, in honor of his baby sister, Barbara Ann. Some may excuse McCain for this error, assuming that he was a prisoner of war during the time period. But The Regents had a hit with Barbara Ann in 1961 and the Beach Boys covered it in 1965. McCain was not taken prisoner until 1967.

As a result of this gaffe, McCain has lost all credibility with me.

By the way, in case you were curious, The Regents of Barbara Ann fame are not the same Regents who hailed from Tacoma and who were part of the Pacific Northwest rock and roll bands that included Idaho’s Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Earth Day and the Enemy

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I have always loved this “Pogo” cartoon by Walt Kelly. If fact, I have a signed and framed 3′ by 2′ poster hanging in my office. As today is Earth Day 37, I have been thinking about whether the enemy is, in fact, us.

I don’t think so. I think the enemy consists of those giant corporate polluters from Exxon to General Motors to Monsanto who profit immensely from the destruction of the Earth, and who intend to continue no matter how overwhelming the evidence is for global warming. We are the enablers. We are the ones who lack the political will to elect politicians who will face the ecological crisis.

Sure, we individually can do the right things by changing our light bulbs and switching to hybrids, but the corporate polluters will continue their global ravaging and despoiling as long as it’s profitable to do so and they can legally get away with it.

Reading First Scandal Under the Radar

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Bush and Ed. Sec. Spellings kiss

The Bush Administration scandals are so extensive and are erupting so fast it is impossible to keep up with them. In today’s New York Times, columnist Frank Rich points out the problem,

Washington is still having trouble confronting the big picture of the Bush White House. Its dense web of deceit is the deliberate product of its amoral culture, not a haphazard potpourri of individual blunders.

Flying under the radar has been one of the most egregious of the scandals, the “Reading First” illegalities in the Department of Education. Yesterday, Amit Paley had a fantastic article in the Washington Post on the current Justice Department probe. The whole article is well worth reading, but here are some highlights.

The Justice Department is conducting a probe of a $6 billion reading initiative at the center of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, another blow to a program besieged by allegations of financial conflicts of interest and cronyism, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

The disclosure came as a congressional hearing revealed how people implementing the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program made at least $1 million off textbooks and tests toward which the federal government steered states.”That sounds like a criminal enterprise to me,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, which held a five-hour investigative hearing. “You don’t get to override the law,” he angrily told a panel of Reading First officials. “But the fact of the matter is that you did.”

The Education Department’s inspector general, John P. Higgins Jr., said he has made several referrals to the Justice Department about the five-year-old program, which provides grants to improve reading for children in kindergarten through third grade.Higgins declined to offer more specifics, but Christopher J. Doherty, former director of Reading First, said in an interview that he was questioned by Justice officials in November. The civil division of the U.S. attorney’s office for the District, which can bring criminal charges, is reviewing the matter.

The intricate financial connections between Reading First products and program officials extend beyond issues the committee explored yesterday.Another researcher, Sharon Vaughn, worked with Kame’enui, Simmons and Good to design Voyager Universal Literacy, a program that Reading First officials urged states to use. Vaughn was director of a center at the University of Texas that was hired to provide states advice on selecting Reading First tests and books.

The publisher of that product, Voyager Expanded Learning, was founded and run by Randy Best, a major Bush campaign contributor, who sold the company in 2005 for more than $350 million. Now Best runs Higher Ed Holdings, a company that develops colleges of education, where former education secretary Roderick R. Paige is a senior adviser and G. Reid Lyon, Bush’s former reading adviser, is an executive vice president.

Of course, following the White House mantra, this was just a matter of management mistakes. Again from the Post Article,

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who declined to comment yesterday, has said management problems with Reading First “reflect individual mistakes.”

The Education Department defends the Reading First Program by claiming the program has been successful.

Despite the controversy surrounding Reading First’s management, the percentage of students in the program who are proficient on fluency tests has risen about 15 percent, Education Department officials said.

This data is curious for a couple of reasons. First, as it was released by the Department of Education two days before the House hearings, a cynic might claim it was released for political purposes. But, more importantly, the 15% rise in fluency claim was based upon selective data from various state tests that the Department has rejected as unreliable indicators in the past. Even if we assume the 15% rise is accurate, the gains are not compared with schools who are not receiving Reading First money. As was pointed out in an article in Education Week,

“There are some small gains, yes. But are they larger than gains in non-Reading First schools?” said Richard A. Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “We don’t know whether improvements are related to the Reading First model or to general improvement trends across all schools.”

Even if the Reading First program wasn’t infected by conflicts of interest and cronyism, it is educationally bankrupt. The program’s junk science approach to reading instruction amounts to a socially-engineered form of brainwashing that turns low-income children into passive drones at an early age. If you think I am exaggerating, follow the link here and watch the videos describing the “Direct Instruction” approach to reading. The Direct Instruction model is one of those recommended and supported by Reading First and is similar in almost all respects with the other “approved” programs.

Idaho Delegation is Last in Influence

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According to a survey by Congress.Org, Idaho’s Congressional delegation ranks last in political power. Craig, Crapo, Simpson and Sali were ranked last based upon tenure, committee assignments, indirect influence and legislation passed. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, describes the Idaho delegation as a “poverty zone.”

“To their credit, they believe what they believe strongly, but it tends not to pay off for their constituency when the other party is in charge,” Sabato said. “The other party isn’t really interested in working with them, because it’s too difficult.”

Powerlessness is not new for Idaho Congressional Republicans. The Idaho political landscape is littered with impotent Republicans like Steve Symms, George Hansen, and Helen Chenoweth who “stayed the course” when it came to their beliefs and refused to “compromise.” As a result, Idaho’s interests were never represented.

Sali, of course, doesn’t get it.

If winning power in this Congress now takes “San Francisco values,” Sali told The Associated Press, he’s not uninterested. “The residents of the 1st District of Idaho elected me to represent the things that are important to them,” said Sali, who this year has criticized the Democrats’ war stance and budget, while calling for an American return to prayer.

Sabato offers Idahoans some solace. Even though we have been completely marginalized politically, we are still part of the Union and remain a vacation destination.

If Idaho power has waned, Sabato said the state likely won’t suffer too much. Its voters only moved away from much of the rest of the United States in November’s election; they didn’t leave the union, he said.

“Loads of people from the other 49 states like to go to Idaho to vacation and ski,” he said. “It may not get as much as it did before, but it’s not going to be a disaster.”

Great! We may not get as much as we did before, but we have politicians who represent our “beliefs.” I feel better no

Bush Unscripted

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Anytime Bush is allowed to speak in public, we are given a chance to hear his “Deep Thoughts.” Here are a few from Thursday’s “talk on terrorism” in Ohio.

“Politics comes and goes, but your principles don’t. And everybody wants to be loved – not everybody. … You never heard anybody say, ‘I want to be despised, I’m running for office’.”

“There are jobs Americans aren’t doing. … If you’ve got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I’m talking about.”

“There are some similarities, of course, between Iraq and Vietnam. Death is terrible.”

“I’ve been in politics long enough to know that polls just go “poof” at times.

Those “Bushisms” are a great source of humor for the media, but sometimes Bush says things that make clear he has no idea what he is talking about. He has no idea what his own policies actually mean. For example, Bush is frequently referred to as the “Education President” because of No Child Left Behind legislation. NCLB is currently up for reauthorization and here are some statements Bush reportedly made at a meeting last week at the White House.

“It is important for all of us to make it clear that accountability is not a way to punish anybody,” said Bush in a meeting at the White House, “It’s an essential component to making sure that our system, our education system, frankly, is not discriminatory. Education isn’t about learning, or getting an education, it’s about ensuring that people of all races and all backgrounds have identical test scores.”

“There cannot be one nationwide federal test that compares all students equally,” said Bush, “that’ll just never work. Some parts of the country have more minorities than others, some are overflowing with illegals, and some are in the south; we cannot expect these states to perform at the same level as other, less unfortunate states.”

The next time anyone calls Bush the Education President, share those quotes with them.

Teachers and Principals Differ on Opinions about Student Achievement

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According to a study recently released and discussed in the current issue of Education Week, teachers have quite different perspectives about their students compared with school administrators. The study of 4,700 teachers and 267 principals and assistant principals in 12 school districts was conducted by the Council of Urban Boards of Education.

The most interesting finding of the study was that teachers are less likely than administrators to say their students can excel academically. Nearly all the administrators agreed that “students at this school are capable of high achievement on standardized exams,” but only three-quarters of the teachers agreed. Far more teachers than administrators said that students were not motivated to learn.

Eighty-five percent of administrators agreed with the statement that most students at their schools would be successful at community college or a university whereas only 58 percent of teachers agreed. Those differences surprised Brian K. Perkins, the principal researcher on the study and the chairman of the council’s steering committee.

“This wasn’t anticipated, but it is certainly real,” he said. “Now the question is, what do teachers know to give them a perspective administrators don’t have, and how can that be shared?”

Antonia Cortese, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of several education groups that collaborated on the study, said teachers’ feedback on students was less rosy than administrators’ because of their daily classroom experience.

“It’s not a question of expectations,” she said. “It’s a question of the reality of the way things are. Teachers have a realistic picture of what it would take to get [students] over the hurdles.”

Unfortunately, administrators and most politicians tend to suffer from the Lake Wobegon Effect where all the children are above average and all it takes for high achievement are high expectations.