Resident Tuition at PSU for Native Americans Across The Country: Academic Guilt Run Amok

On April 21, 2022, Portland State University (PSU) announced approval of a 3.6% increase to in-state undergraduate tuition for the 2022-23 academic year. Even this increase will be a cut from current service levels because of projected inflation., noted Vice President of Finance & Administration, Kevin Reynolds. 

Resident undergraduate tuition for the 2022-23 academic year will be $9,000 for students enrolled in 15 credits a quarter for three quarters, according to PSU.

Non-resident undergraduate tuition for the 2022-23 academic year will be $27,900 for students enrolled in 15 credits a quarter for three quarters.

“Tuition is a necessity,” said PSU President Stephen Percy, moaning about limited state support being behind tuition increases. “The state covers less than 35% of our education costs. We strive to be affordable, but we also must meet our obligation to deliver an outstanding experience to our students — in the classroom and outside it. That requires resources and the resource need increases each year.”

So what does PSU do next in the face of the grim realities of its fiscal challenges?

On July 21, it announced that, starting this upcoming fall, students who are members of the country’s nearly 600 federally recognized tribes across the country will receive in-state tuition. 

“Portland State offers this benefit to tribal members as part of our ongoing effort to provide a welcoming environment for Indigenous students in downtown Portland,” Chuck Knepfle, PSU’s vice president of enrollment management, said in a statement. “This offer of in-state tuition is a small way to honor the legacy of Indigenous nations from across the country.”

PSU told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) it is not aware of any other schools  in the United States that have also made the move to offer discounts to Native American students on a national scale. There’s probably a reason for that.

This is nothing more than academic guilt run amok!

Tribal members who are Oregon residents already have access to resident tuition andthe Oregon Tribal Student Grant program that  will provide grants that can be used for tuition and other college-related expenses at colleges and universities by members of Oregon’s nine federally-recognized tribes.

Expanding resident tuition benefits to out-of-state tribal members means foregone revenue for increased services. And despite the tendency of left-leaning idealists to see government benefits as free, Oregonians will have to cover the cost of this new non-resident benefit. 

It’s just more wrong-headed feel-good performative activism, at the expense of Oregon taxpayers.

Is Home Selling Greed Hitting A Wall? Lake Oswego May Offer a Hint.

Is the frenzied home selling market slowing down?

I just did a sample of home pricing in Lake Oswego, OR, a high-income, largely white-collar town. It may have been small, but I wonder if it’s telling us something.

People are listing their homes at high prices and, with no offers, lowering their asking price, and still waiting for a sale. Instead of greeting lines of eager prospective buyers the day after listing, many homeowners appear to be anxiously awaiting offers.

  • A 4-bedroom 5-bathroom 4,050 house on Westlake Drive was listed on June 29, 2022, at $1,790,000. On July 11, the asking price was lowered to $1,599,000, a $191,000 cut.
  • A home on Dogwood Drive was listed on July 16 at $1,200,000 and then promptly lowered to $995,000, a $205,000 cut. 
  • A home on Nansen Summit was listed for sale on May 26 at $1,495,000, increased to $1,595,000 on July 8 and then dropped again to $1,495,000 on July 12.
  • A home on Koderra Ave listed for $1,370,000 on June 20 dropped its price to $1,275,000 on July 7, a $95,000 cut.
  • A house on Streamside Dr. listed for $1,369,000 on June 13 and dropped its asking price to $1,299,000 on July 7.
  • A house on Upper Dr. listed at $2,300,000 on June 2 dropped its asking price to $2,250,000 on July 13.
  • Even a smaller home on Aquinas St. that was listed on June 23 at $899,900 dropped its price to $875,000 on July 13 and a house on Oriole Lane listed at $625,000 on May 7 dropped its asking price to $585,000 on June 19, a $40,000 cut.

In June, Lake Oswego home prices were up 6.3% compared to last year, selling for a median price of $985K. On average, homes in Lake Oswego sold after 7 days on the market compared to 5 days last year. But there were just 70 homes sold in June, down from 132 last year.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the U.S. housing market overall is rapidly cooling as record prices and high mortgage rates weigh on home sales, locking out potential buyers. Across the country, sales of previously owned homes fell for a fifth straight month, dropping 5.4% in June to an annualized rate of 5.12 million. That was lower than the number of sales recorded in all of 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic became widespread in the U.S.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 5.51%, mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac said on July 14. That was lower than the 13-year high of 5.81% set in June, but still a big jump from the 2.88% rate a year ago and high enough to dissuade many potential homebuyers.

Maybe all this is a sign the overheated housing market, including in Lake Oswego, is slowing down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking to the TAC: Cycling Across the U.S.A. to Port Orford, Oregon

Riding x-country is a dream for many cyclists. A few years ago I realized that dream when I rode my bicycle with Crossroads Cycling Adventures 3,415 miles across the US on a paved route from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County, CA to Boston, MA.

Let me tell you, you haven’t lived till you’ve cycled in the 118 degree heat of the Mojave Desert:

Pedalled on the fabled Route 66:

Taken a break to do a little Standin’ on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona to commemorate the Eagles’ song:

Rolled through New Paris, IN, home of a world champion arm wrestler:

and cruised along the historic Erie Canal:


A stop in Lock Springs, Missouri on my x-country ride

A lot of cyclists also know about a different route, the 4215.5 – mile TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, a classic paved route from Yorktown, Virginia to Astoria, Oregon.

TransAmerica Bicycle Trail

But I recently learned Oregon is also the terminus of another x-country cycling route, this one the much more challenging, mostly unpaved  5,273 – mile TAT (also the Trans-America Trail) . The TAT starts in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and ends at Port Orford, OR.

The TAT route across the United States

Sam Correro, a motorcyclist, originated and mapped out the TAT and most of its users are still motorcyclists, but bicyclists are increasingly making their way across America on the route as well.

Instead of sticking to paved roads, the TAT follows mostly dirt, gravel and forest roads, jeep trails, and sort-of-paved backroads. 

The Adventure Cycling Association, a non-profit member organization I’m a member of that is focused on travel by bicycle, recommends riding the TAT east to west. Either way, the route is more challenging and remote in the West, with fewer towns, some as far as 160 miles apart.

When cyclists on an east-west trip hit Port Orford, they usually head first to Battle Rock Beach, a bit south of downtown.

Most exuberant riders celebrate their accomplishment there by dipping their front wheels into the Pacific Ocean, a long-established tradition of x-country cyclists.

The Pineapple Express cycling shop in Port Orford is often the next stop for finishers. “We do see cyclists, but the TAT can be such a tough trail we probably see more motorcylists,” said Erin Kessler, the shop’s owner and mechanic.

Erin Kessler, owner, at her Pineapple Express cycling shop in Port Orford

Kessler moved to Port Orford from Palmer, Alaska in 2017. She initially established Pineapple Express as a fat bike rental and tour company. Then, seeing the need for a brick-and-mortar bicycle sales and repair business, she opened the current shop on Oregon St. (Hwy 101).

Sarah Swallow, of Durango, CO, who has ridden the TAT on her bicycle with her husband, Tom, described the route for Adventure Cycling.

The TAT begins in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, she said, and travels west across coastal Carolina and over the Great Smoky Mountains. From the Smoky Mountains, the route follows the backroads of the lush, humid river valleys and forests of southern Tennessee and northern Mississippi. 

The route travels over the Mississippi River and into the rugged Ozark Mountains of Arkansas before it begins an ascent through the prairie grasslands of northern Oklahoma and the No Man’s Land of the state’s remote panhandle. 

The route then travels through northeast New Mexico before navigating northwest into the Rocky Mountains and over the high alpine passes of the San Juans. The red rocks of Moab lead to a long stretch across the high desert of Utah, the Great Basin of Nevada, and eastern Oregon.

The route finally leaves the desert and drops into the greener land of Surprise Valley, California, over Oregon’s Cascades and to Battle Rock Beach.

Sarah and Tom Swallow reviewed their trip in a video on PathLessPedaled.com

If you’re looking for an exciting x-country bicycle trip, try the TAT. It’s a long, challenging ride, but as Tom Swallow said, “If it’s fun, it’s easy.”

Not ready for a x-country ride yet? Stick to Oregon.

Oregon was the first state to develop a statewide Scenic Bikeway Program in 2009. According to Travel Oregon, the program now consists of 17 designated bicycle routes that showcase Oregon’s breathtaking landscapes, cultural treasures and western hospitality.

One of these routes is the 61 mile Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway which starts and ends at Battle Rock City Park in Port Orford.

“Scenic Bikeways are Oregon’s best-of-the-best bicycle rides for exploring this beautiful state,” says Travel Oregon.

Say No to Non-Citizen Voting in Multnomah County

The proposal by Multnomah County’s Charter Review Committee to allow non-citizens to vote in county elections is a sign not just of progressive overreach, but of moral rot.

It is a sign not of appreciation, but of contempt, for liberal democracy.

The idea makes a mockery of citizenship, removing the long-standing linkage between the responsibilities of citizenship and voting rights. And while the idea might appeal to the rabid left, it’s likely to alienate the broad middle whose support will be essential if the Committee’s entire reform package is to be approved.

Just as unrestricted immigration to the United States was once standard and legal voting by noncitizens was once common in as many as 40 states, limitations or prohibitions in both arenas have been in place for almost 100 years. In that same vein, federal law prohibits contributions, donations, expenditures(including independent expenditures) and disbursements solicited, directed, received or made directly or indirectly by or from foreign nationals in connection with any federal, state or local election.

The Charter Review Committee members, all appropriately listing their She/Her, She/They, They/Them, He/Him pronouns on the committee’s website, are essentially a cabal of overzealous progressives intent on remaking the body politic to advance their agenda.

A review of the committee’s membership, who are appointed are appointed by state senators and representatives who represent districts in Multnomah County, reveals an organization more akin to a left-leaning social justice advocacy non-profit than a county charter review body.

Samantha Gladu (She/They), for example, is described as “…committed to addressing power inequities by building representative and progressive anti-racist leadership.” Ana I. González Muñoz (She/Her)…works at Latino Network as the Director of Community Engagement & Leadership Development” and her … professional and personal commitment revolves around serving her community to advocate for equity, inclusion, and social justice.” Jude Perez (They/Them) “…is the Grants Manager at Seeding Justice…an organization that practices community-led grantmaking to distribute funds to grassroots groups that are working towards long-term, systemic solutions, and community-centered strategies to dismantle oppression in Oregon.”

While they and the other committee members unanimously supported the effort to legitimize and implement non-citizen voting and have expressed lofty theoretical sentiments for its adoption, beneath the surface it is little more than a power grab, an effort to further the political fortunes of specific ethnic groups. 

As Ronald Hayduck, a professor at San Francisco State University who endorses non-citizen voting, has written, for allies it is important to drive “home the potential benefits of non-citizens to forge progressive political majorities.”

The practical downsides of non-citizen voting are rarely mentioned. 

When a spokesman for the New York City Law Department told the Wall Street Journal the New York ruling “… is a disappointing court ruling for people who value bringing in thousands more New Yorkers into the democratic process,” he inadvertently revealed a major problem with allowing non-citizen voting. 

Ricardo Lujan-Valerio, a policy director to Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio and former policy associate at ACLU of Oregon, told OPB he estimated the committee’s proposal “…could potentially affect up to 100,000 people if the final definition of ‘noncitizen’ includes the roughly 22,000 undocumented residents living in Portland.” It’s not clear if that estimate includes not just undocumented people in the county illegally, but also people admitted to the US legally, but not yet US citizens.  

That many non-citizens added to Multnomah County’s voting rolls could result in a substantial dilution of the power of the county’s citizen voters.

Justice Ralph J. Porzio, a State Supreme Court justice on New York City’s Staten Island, raised the dilution issue when, on June 27, 2022, he struck down a law that would have allowed non-citizens to vote in local elections in New York City, saying it violated the State Constitution.

“This Court finds that the registration of new voters will certainly affect voters, political parties, candidate’s campaigns, re-elections, and the makeup of their constituency and is not speculative.,” the judge said in his ruling. “The weight of the citizens’ vote will be diluted by municipal voters and candidates and political parties alike will need to reconfigure their campaigns. Though the Plaintiffs have not suffered any harm today, the harm they will suffer is imminent, and it is reasonably certain that they will suffer their claimed harm if the proposed municipal voters are entitled to vote.”

“Voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure…The addition of 800,000 to 1,000,000 non-eligible votes into municipal elections significantly devalues the votes of the New York citizens who have lawfully and meaningfully earned the right to vote pursuant to constitutional requirements.”

Some liberal politicians may express support for non-citizen voting because they see a pool of potentially supportive voters for their re-election. But they should be careful what they wish for. 

The New York Times wrote recently about an unexpected turn of immigrants in South Texas away from leftist Democrats and toward the GOP. 

An article titled How Immigration Politics Drives Some Hispanic Voters to the G.O.P. in Texas noted:

“Democrats are destroying a Latino culture built around God, family and patriotism, dozens of Hispanic voters and candidates in South Texas said in interviews. The Trump-era anti-immigrant rhetoric of being tough on the border and building the wall has not repelled these voters from the Republican Party or struck them as anti-Hispanic bigotry. Instead, it has drawn them in.”

“Our parents came in a certain way — they came in and worked, they became citizens and didn’t ask for anything,” said Ramiro Gonzalez Jr., a 48-year-old rancher from Raymondville, on the northern edge of the Rio Grande Valley. “We were raised hard-core Democrats, but today Democrats want to give everything away.”

Republican candidates in South Texas appealing to Latinos “…are building on a decades-long history of economic, religious and cultural sentiment that has veered toward conservatives,” the story said.

CNN recently reported a similar shift, saying voters of color are backing the GOP at historic levels, with Democratic support from Asian AmericanBlackand Hispanic voters much lower than it has usually been. Part of that is because of the changing demographic makeup of voters of color. “They’re a lot more Hispanic than they used to be,” CNN said. “At the same time, they’re a lot less Black. Hispanic voters don’t support Democrats as much as Black voters.” 

Multnomah County advocates of non-citizen voting and their political allies should take heed.

Portland’s Proposed Ranked Choice Voting Reform Isn’t The Solution To Portland’s Dysfunction

Portland’s current government is a mess, for a lot of reasons.

In November, Portland voters will have an opportunity to vote on one proposed solution, presented as the following question: “Should City Administrator, supervised by Mayor, manage Portland with twelve Councilors representing four districts making laws and voters ranking candidates?”

Portland’s City Council now consists of a mayor and four commissioners, all of them elected at-large, with all of Portland’s voters eligible to vote in the race for each seat.

The proposal from Portland’s Charter Commission would remove the mayor from the council and expand the council to 12 members, three each from four geographic districts of equal population, each of which would be elected using ranked choice voting. An independent commission would determine the four district boundaries after the vote on the ballot question. 

With only 8% of Portland voters saying the city is headed in the right direction and 82% of Multnomah County residents being either somewhat or very worried about the future of their part of the state. there may be an inclination to support a radical change out of sheer frustration. But the commission’s solution isn’t the answer.

Expanding the City Council to 12 members is likely to make it more unwieldy, not less. Though, thankfully, the Charter Commission was somewhat restrained, not choosing an even bigger expansion, such as the 51-member City Council with which New York City is blessed.

The particular weakness of the commission’s proposal, though, is its reliance on a needlessly complex new system of ranked choice voting (RCV). In setting on this proposal, the Charter Commission shows itself to have been populated by naive zealots advocating change for change’s sake.

There are lot of ways to organize and count votes. Most of us are used to the simple proposition that the person with the most votes wins. 

“This system is the norm from grade school elections for class president to congressional elections, “Jeff Gill and Jason wrote in a Statistical Science article about voting. “However, not only is this merely one of many possible “democratic” procedures. it is also not the only system currently used in political life in the United States and around the world.”

RCV is one of those voting options.

In RCV, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If there are a lot of candidates, as there might be under the Charter Commission’s proposal, voters need to have a high level of information about all of them in order to choose preferences. You can’t just vote for the person and ideas you like. You must also educate yourself about all the other candidates in order to elevate, or dismiss, the ones you don’t.

Voters in RCV can identify their first choice, the next best and so on as they work their way down the list. If one of the candidates gets more than 50% of the first-choice votes in the first count, that candidate wins. If nobody gets a majority, there’s an “instant runoff” where the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who had chosen that candidate as their first choice have their second choice counted instead. This process continues until one of the candidates gets more than half of the vote. 

Yep, it’s complicated. Too complicated. And prone to undesireable results.

For example, don’t assume RCV will always select a majority winner. In cases of what’s called “ballot exhaustion,” a voter’s preferences are eliminated so none of them are carried forward. In other words, the candidate who ends up with a majority of votes is elected with only the remaining ballots, rather than all the original ballots, meaning a winner can have fewer than half the votes of the original ballots.

The Center for Election Science says RCV’s weakness is particularly noticeable in competitive elections where more than two candidates have significant support. 

The center cited a Louisiana election in which there were three candidates. The vote mainly split between the three candidates, but it led to the elimination of the more moderate candidate who would have won in a two-candidate race against either of the other two. That sent the two more controversial candidates to the second round. 

“…with competitive elections there’s a tendency to squeeze out the center candidate,” the Center said, “which would favor more extreme candidates …”

There are even situations with RCV where ranking a candidate higher can hurt that candidate and ranking a candidate lower can help that candidate. This occurrence, happened in a 2009 election in Burlington, VT.

There, conservatives ranked their favorite candidate first and it got them their least favorite candidate as the winner. Had these conservative voters instead tactically placed their favorite candidate as second, then they would have gotten a much better outcome.

Bear with me as I explain. 

In the 2009 Burlington mayoral race, there were five candidates. The counts resulted in the following:

1st Round2nd Round3rd Round (Final)
Kiss (Progressive)2585 (29%)29814313
Wright (Republican)2951 (33%)32944061
Montroll (Democrat)2063 (23%)2554
Smith (Independent)1306 (15%)
Simpson (Green)35 (0.4%)
Write-Ins36 (0.4%)
Votes in Burlington, VT Mayoral election

According to the preferences stated by the voters on their ballots, however, if Democrat Montroll had gone head-to-head with either Progressive Kiss or Republican Wright (or anybody else) in a two-man race, he would be mayor. 

Montroll would have been favored over Wright 56% to 44% (a 930-vote margin) and over Kiss 54% to 46% (590-vote margin), majorities in both cases. 

In other words, in voting terminology, Montroll was a “beats-all winner” and a fairly convincing one. However, in this RCV election, Montroll came in third! And Kiss beat Wright in the final RCV round with 51.5% (252-vote official margin).

Confusing, yes, but real.

Another troublesome and risky situation can arise if a voter’s preferred candidate is neither a clear loser nor a clear winner. In such a case, ranking your favorite as first risks getting a bad candidate elected. And that bad candidate gets elected by RCV eliminating a superior compromise candidate too early.

Voters in this in-between state can either rank their favorite first and risk a bad candidate winning or not rank their favorite first, depriving that candidate of  much-needed support. Both of these outcomes are bad.

RCV can also founder when voters, because they are unfamiliar with all the candidates or simply by choice, vote only for their preferred candidate, ignoring the opportunity to rank the rest. 

The fact is, the more people a voter ranks the longer a ballot works for the voter. If there are five people on a ballot, you vote for only one and that one is eliminated in the instant runoff, your ballot is exhausted and has no impact on the race. It simply won’t factor into the final outcome.

On the other hand, pressure to rank all the candidates can lead to support for somebody the voter despises. In RCV, your vote for a candidate you hate can help that candidate move up. 

The fact is RCV is a solution in search of a problem. It’s simply too complex and unwieldy for voters to be asked to vote it up or down as part of a wide-ranging rearrangement of Portland’s city government.

Vote “No” on the Charter Commission’s proposal on the November 8, 2022 ballot..

In Oregon, Being on Time is Now Racist

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

On July 1, 2022, Danielle Droppers, MSW, (she/her), Regional Health Equity Coalition Program Manager with the Oregon Health Authority, emailed that a scheduled conversation between OHA officials and members of the public wouldn’t take place as planned.  No special news there. 

But read her tone-deaf reason:

“Thank you for your interest in attending the community conversation between Regional Health Equity Coalitions (RHECs) and Community Advisory Councils (CACs) to discuss the Community Investment Collaboratives (CICs). In being responsive to partners from across the state, we’re hearing the liming of this meeting is not ideal and that people would like more time to prepare for this important conversation.
We recognize that urgency is a white supremacy value (emphasis added) that can get in the way of more intentional and thoughtful work, and we want to attend to this dynamic. Therefore, we will reach out at a later date to reschedule. Thank you so much for your patience, care and understanding.”

“…urgency is a white supremacy value…”?

“The KKK would unironically love this explanation,”  commented a July 8 post from Common Sense with Bari Weiss.

I guess even Alice’s White Rabbit, “I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello, goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!,” was a racist.

By the way, Droppers is the same woman who resigned from the Portland Police Bureau’s Training Advisory Council because, she said, it had not responded promptly to a council proposal. “We’re getting untimely responses to our recommendations,” she told The Oregonian newspaper. “There’s a level of frustration.”

Droppers’ LinkedIn account says she has a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Sociology from California State University Bakersfield and a  Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) from Portland State University. Where do educated people like her get this stuff?

Adding insult to injury, Reason magazine,  an monthly American libertarian publication, disclosed that a county health official responded to an inquiry about the email by citing a link that redirects to a website that purportedly identifies aspects of white supremacy culture.

The website, Reason noted, was “conceived and designed” by Tema Okun, a white antiracist educator who has popularized the idea that several benign and widespread traits are actually characteristic of white supremacy. Among these are preferring quantity over quality, wanting things to be written down, perfectionism, becoming defensive, and yes, possessing a sense of urgency.

“The characteristics…are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being pro- actively named or chosen by the group.,” Okun has written. “They are damaging because they promote white supremacy thinking. 

So now, in Oregon at least, being on time is racist. 

Poor Joe: Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Worried about Brittney Griner, a 31-year-old WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist from Houston, Texas, now being held in Russia? 

With media coverage of Griner’s imprisonment at a fever pitch, and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris even phoning Griner’s wife and responding to a letter from Griner, Griner’s plight is top of mind in Washington, D.C.

How about the plight of Paul Whelan, Mark Frerichs, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Tomeu Vadell , Matthew Heath, Jorge Toledo, Luke Denman, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio J. Zambrano, Kai Li, Majd Kamalmaz , Shahab Dalili , Jeffery Woodke, Paul Rusesabagina, Airan Berry, Mark Swidan? All these Americans are being held in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela, China, and Niger. High visibility presidential concern about them? Not so much.

The Bring our Families Home Campaign, “an organization of concerned family members of American hostages & wrongly held detainees campaigning for their immediate release”, says these are some of at least 59 Americans being wrongfully detained/held hostage abroad. 

Whelan’s sister said she was “astonished” her brother, Paul Whelan, did not get similar treatment as Griner. 

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, a Canadian with American, British, and Irish citizenship, was arrested in Russia while travelling as a tourist in December 2018 and accused of spying. On June 15, 2020, he received a 16-year prison sentence with the possibility of time in a labor camp. 

Elizabeth Whelan urged the president to discuss ways to secure her brother’s release. “Still looking for that press release saying @POTUS has spoken to anyone in OUR family about #PaulWhelan, wrongfully detained in #Russia for 3.5 years,” Elizabeth Whelan wrote. 

Before you get too sorry for President Biden, consider that much of his predicament is self-inflicted. 

Many international politics experts argue that a muted communications strategy is often the best option in seeking a path to freedom for Americans detained abroad.  But after initial muted media coverage of Griner’s case, pressure from her backers exploded. Rather than continue to treat Griner’s case as one among many, Biden chose to go full bore in her support. 

Now he’s trapped.

Not only is there an increased expectation that Biden will make a deal on Griner’s behalf, but the pressure is on to trade her freedom for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, named “The Merchant of Death” because he was alleged to be one of the world’s largest illicit arms dealers.

In 2012, Bout, a former Soviet military officer, was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison. He was “…international arms trafficking enemy number one for many years, arming some of the most violent conflicts around the globe,” said then United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.  Amnesty International said he sold arms to sanctioned human rights abusers in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Do Americans really want him freed? Does the Biden administration?

And what about all the other Americans imprisoned in other countries? 

If Griner is freed in trade for Bout, do Paul Whelan’s family and the families of dozens of other detained Americans still languishing in foreign jails have a legitimate complaint?

The Pillars of Liberty Must Not Crumble and Fall

OK, I admit it. Watching the July 4th celebration in Washington, D.C., with all the pageantry, fireworks, and patriotism, was inspiring. I won’t apologize for the lump in my throat it caused. I’m not at all embarrassed by that.

But it seems like some are embarrassed by our nation’s history and even eager to show disdain for our past. 

Amazing Grace offers us all a lesson.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see

Who isn’t moved by this inspirational hymn?

Amazing Grace was John Newton’s expression of gratitude to God for helping him turn from a wicked life as a slave trader to become a Christian minister who repented his personal involvement in the slave trade and became a prominent abolitionist.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who would disavow Amazing Grace because of its creator’s transgressions.

But that’s exactly the action some of today’s purity police advocate for America’s founders who owned slaves in their time. 

They are mistaken and their error is undermining America. 

Simply condemning the actions and beliefs of figures from the past because they are not consistent with prevailing moral views is a grievous mistake. The fact is all people are flawed, but, still, some make immeasurable contributions to history.

Political writer Brendan O’Neill sees a connection between the tendency among woke circles to be hostile toward the founding fathers and declining American patriotism.

“…the consequences of the woke elite’s turn against 1776 will be both more mundane, and more far-reaching.,” he says. “Telling American youths that the founding fathers were scoundrels, and that racism is more central than revolution to the soul of the United States, will alienate these young citizens from their nation. It will estrange a new generation of Americans from the history and the meaning of America. This could sow further social disorientation and strife. After all, if you are led to believe that your nation is a place born in sin, pock-marked with unspeakable crimes, why would you take pride in it?”

Abraham Lincoln warned in 1838 that the greatest threats facing America are from within:

 “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Well said.

Challenging Capitalism: We’re Not A Rich Country; Just Some Of Us Are

Sometimes when I read the Wall Street Journal’s special section on real estate, aptly named “”Mansion”, where ostentatious multimillion dollar homes and their over-the-top owners are featured, I find myself muttering, somewhat in jest, “Next, the revolution.”

Economic inequality, in America, whether measured through the gaps in income or wealth between richer and poorer households, is widening and too many Americans are living on the edge.

If you want to see part of where America is headed, visit Manhattan’s 1,550-foot-tall 131-story Central Park Tower. 

Central Park Tower, 217 w. 57th St., New York City

With 179 luxury residences on so-called Billionaires Row, it’s “Above All Else – The Tallest Residential Tower in the world,” its promoters say. 

The condominium building contains an outdoor swimming pool with poolside food and beverage service, a cabana deck, ,a private park, a Living Room where residents can lounge with billiards, a dramatic movie screening room, a  double-height windowed sports court, an indoor pool and spa, a high-tech fitness center, a beauty lounge, the highest Grand Ballroom and private restaurant ever built in New York (no stranger to excess on the 100th floor, with menus created by a coterie of Michelin-starred talent, including Chefs Alfred Portale, Laurent Tourondel and Gabriel Kreuther, all overseen by lifestyle director Colin Cowie, a corner sky lounge featuring a wine cellar (how do you get a wine cellar in a sky lounge?) and cigar humidor (a potential Bill Clinton hangout?). To top, or bottom, it all off, there’s a retail partnership with a seven-floor 320,000 sq. ft. flagship Nordstrom store that sits at the building’s base. Whew!

And all this , according to StreetEasy, can be had for an average price of $21,888,000, based on currently active sales as of June 2022.  That’s $6,752 per sq ft.  

The team creating the building crafted “an Iconic Building and an Unmatched Living Experience” says its marketing site

From a slightly different perspective, the complex can also be a veritable cocoon for its super-wealthy clientele. They can, if they choose, exist almost entirely within the shimmering icicle-shaped supertall structure, avoiding rubbing against the masses, the hoi polloi, on the streets of New York.

In its self-contained exclusiveness, the Central Park Tower and Billionaires Row in general are much like an increasing number of other American geographies where the rich gather and mix only among their own kind. 

Take Malibu, CA, for example.

I rode through the coastal town a few years ago on a bicycle ride from Oregon to Mexico. It was a uniquely beautiful place.

Malibu from my bike.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about the shift in Malibu, once  a village with a bohemian character.

 “About three decades ago, Beverly Hills native Andy Stern moved to the nearby beach city of Malibu to raise his young family.,” the story noted. “He quickly came to know all his neighbors, he said, recalling block parties with children pouring onto the streets to play together. Now Mr. Stern…said he barely sees his neighbors in the Broad Beach area, because they are rarely there. The families that once lived in the neighborhood have largely been replaced by celebrities and billionaires…”

Malibu Beach Houses

So many rich people now own prime property in Malibu as just one of their many properties, but don’t really live there, that the town’s full-time population has actually fallen in recent years.

As for families with young children, forget it.  Public school enrollment has declined by more than half in the past 20 years.

And if you want to stay at a local hotel and mingle with the Malibu rich, the old low-key Casa Malibu Inn on a private beach has become the Japanese-inspired Nobu Ryokan Hotel, where rates start at $2,000 a night (BTW, I’ve stayed in ryokans in Japan and this is a faux ryokan).

Then there are other high-end US communities that serve as sanctuaries for the wealthy, such as Atherton, CA; Greenwich, CT; Highland Park, TX (a Dallas suburb); Jackson Hole, WY; and Paradise Valley, AZ.

But it is an illusion to think that only the filthy rich are isolating themselves into enclaves. The well-off-but-not-filthy-rich (WONFR) folks do, too. They live in places like Highland Park, Il, (Median family income: $147,067), Bow Mar, CO, Chevy Chase, MD and well-off but still far down the average median income list, Lake Oswego, OR (Median family income: $114,444).

But beneath this sheen of wealth are an awful lot of struggling Americans. 

With periodic interruptions due to business cycle peaks and troughs, the incomes of American households overall have trended up since 1970, according to Pew Research, but the overall trend masks how the gains were distributed.

Most of the increase in household income was achieved from 1970 to 2000. when median income increased by 41%, to $70,800, at an annual average rate of 1.2%. From 2000 to 2018, the growth in household income slowed to an annual average rate of just 0.3%, Pew said. Not only that, the growth in income  tilted to upper-income households while the U.S. middle class, which once comprised the clear majority of Americans, has been shrinking. In other words, a greater share of the nation’s aggregate income is now going to upper-income households while the share going to middle- and lower-income households is falling. 

In recent years, the share of all income held by the top 1% has approached or surpassed historical highs. In 2015, The top 1% took home 21% of all the income in the United States. By 2021, the share held by the top 1%, about 1.3 million households, had risen to 27% 

In 1980, households at the top had incomes about nine times the incomes of households at the bottom. The ratio increased in every decade since 1980, reaching 12.6 in 2018, an increase of 39%.

This isn’t exactly a new discovery.

In 2011, President Obama commented on the rise of inequality in a Osawatomie, KS speech. “…over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk,” he said.

In Jan. 2012, Alan B. Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, expanded on Obama’s remark in a speech to the Center for American Progress (CAP).  Using a graph showing the annualized growth rate of real income for families in each fifth of the income distribution over two periods, he explained that all quintiles (fifths) of the income distribution grew together from the end of World War II to the late 1970s, but since the 1970s income grew more for families at the top of the income distribution than in the middle, and shrank for those at the bottom.

“We were growing together for the first three decades after World War II, but for the last three decades we have been growing apart,” he said.

Krueger outlined what he called the Great Gatsby Curve, the connection between concentration of wealth in one generation and the ability of those in the next generation to move up the economic ladder compared to their parents.

The curve shows that children from poor families are less likely to improve their economic status as adults in countries where income inequality was higher – meaning wealth was concentrated in fewer hands – around the time those children were growing up,” a White House post explained later.

Not only that, but the largest shares of adults in upper-income households are congregating in certain areas of the country, particularly metropolitan coastal areas of the Northeast and California. They tend to be in high-tech corridors, or in financial and commercial centers, such as Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH,  Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA.  

The New York Times recently reported that residents are increasingly being buffeted by economic tides that push them into neighborhoods that are either much richer or much poorer than the regional norm. In other words, a smaller share of families are living in middle-class neighborhoods. 

“In some ways, the pattern reflects how wealthy Americans are choosing to live near other wealthy people, and how poorer Americans are struggling to get by,” the paper reported. “But the pattern also indicates a broader trend of income inequality in the economy, as the population of families making more than $100,000 has grown much faster than other groups, even after adjusting for inflation, and the number of families earning less than $40,000 has increased at twice the rate as families in the middle.”

In Portland, OR, for example, the share of families living in middle-income neighborhoods changed from 70% to 56% from 1990 to 2020.

Even during the pandemic, when most Americans fared well financially, the rich saw most of the gain. According to the Federal Reserve, while American households overall saw about $13.5 trillion added to their wealth, the top 1% got a third of that and the top 20% 70% of it.

Meanwhile, some states are becoming pockets of poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, states and territories with the highest percentages of poverty in the country in 2020 were: Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The new economic reality of reduced income – and even poverty –  for many Americans is all too familiar in many parts of the United States. For decades, small towns and cities across the country have been devastated by deindustrialization and job losses. In these places, incomes are generally low, poverty rates are high, and many residents depend on government assistance, like SNAP (food stamps), to afford basic necessities.

A particular challenge facing well-off areas of the country is that the people who provide all the services can’t afford to live there. 

I still remember a time early in my career, when I was working for a community development firm. A builder was planning a large-scale new town development in a largely rural area in the south, with shopping centers, restaurants and other amenities.  When I noticed it included only high-end homes, I asked him where all the service workers were going to live. He’d never thought about that.

We are seeing the emergence of this problem in Bend, OR, which has seen  skyrocketing growth in recent years. That has translated into skyrocketing home prices and rent increases, squeezing out those with modest incomes.

Booming Bend, OR

“Central Oregon’s housing affordability and availability crisis is comprehensive in scope and impact,” said a May 2019 Central Oregon Regional Housing Needs Assessment. And the situation has continued to deteriorate.

HUD defines affordable housing as total housing costs that are no more than 30% of a household’s total gross income. For rental housing, total housing costs include rent plus any tenant-paid utility costs. For homeowners, they include mortgage payments, utilities, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and any homeowners’ association fees. 

The 2019 Needs Assessment showed that more than half of renters in Deschutes County spent more than 30% of their income on housing and just over a quarter spent more than 50%.

Meanwhile, young working families are finding it ever harder to buy a home in Central Oregon. “Central Oregon has seen significant in- migration of people from the Bay area, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere, who sell their house and are able to buy a house here with money left over, said Jon Stark, Senior Director of Redmond Economic Development, Inc. “However, younger people who are starting out earlier in their careers are having a harder time. The wages people earn and the price to buy a home or rent is out of balance.” 

But why fret, say some. We’ve always had inequality in the United States, such as in the Gilded Age, in the late 1800s and early 1900s and we’ve always had people who flaunt their wealth in many ways. 

“Back then, it was about masquerading as European nobility at lavish balls in elegant hotels like New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, locked down to forestall any unpleasantness from the street (where ordinary folk were in a surly mood trying to survive the savage depression of the 1890s),” Steve Fraser wrote in Salon. “Today’s “leisure class” is holed up in gated communities or houseoleums as gargantuan as the imported castles of their Gilded Age forerunners, ready to fly off — should the natives grow restless — to private islands aboard their private jets.”

But economist Gabriel Zucman, whose doctoral advisor was the historical economist Thomas Piketty, author of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” released data in 2021 arguing that things are worse today.

In 1913, at the end of the Gilded Age, the Rockefeller, Frick, Carnegie, and Baker families – names all tied to monopolistic power – held 0.85% of the country’s total wealth, Zucman said.

As of mid-2021, the top 0.00001% richest people in the U.S., composed of just 18 families, held 1.35% of the country’s total wealth. Wealth concentration at the very top exceeded the peak of the Gilded Age, he said.  

The richest 0.01% — around 18,000 U.S. families — have also surpassed the wealth levels reached in the Gilded Age. These families hold 10% of the country’s wealth today, Zucman wrote. By comparison, in 1913, the top 0.01% held 9% of U.S. wealth, and a mere 2% in the late 1970s.

It’s too simplistic to say that the increasing share of income and wealth among the richest Americans is a threat to capitalism, but as David Autor, a professor at MIT put it in response to an Initiative on Global Markets survey, the widening split is a symptom of dysfunction. “It’s a threat to people’s belief in capitalism as an institution of economic governance. Absent shared belief, we are in trouble.” 

Even moreso if the next generation of highly civilized, excessively woke philanthropy activists are hostile to capitalism itself when they take charge and forget that the money they are so gladly using came from capitalists.