The West and Russia are Already at War…and the West Must Win

Whenever there’s an article about the West supplying more sophisticated and lethal weapons to Ukraine, there’s almost always a reference to hesitation because escalating the conflict could risk a direct confrontation with Russia. 

As much as political and military leaders might want to argue against the risk of such a confrontation, the reality on the ground, and in the air, is that it is already occurring.

In this month’s Foreign Affairs, in an article titled The Free World Must Stay the Course on Ukraine, the prime ministers of  Poland,, the Czech Republic and Slovakia wrote:

“Europeans were inspired by the visit of U.S. President Joe Biden to Warsaw and Kyiv in February. Biden reaffirmed that while the United States is far away, it is committed to freedom in Europe—and understands, as we do, that Ukraine is fighting for the freedom of all of us. Ukraine does not want to be at war with Russia. Nor do we. But it has become increasingly clear that Russia decided a long time ago that it is at war with us.”

Evidence of Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere is pervasive.

Over the past several months, heavily armed Russian warplanes have repeatedly violated longstanding agreements with the U.S. by flying dangerously close to American jet fighters over Syria and over U.S. forces working in the country, US officials have said.

Russia and the United States have an agreement recognizing certain zones where the US can operate against ISIL (ISIS) fighters in Syrian areas where neither the U.S. coalition with local Kurdish troops nor the Syrian army exerts full control. Russia came to the aid of Syria’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, in 2015 in the Syrian civil war.

In March, an armed Russian Su-27 Flanker jet fighter crashed into a U.S. Reaper drone after spraying it with jet fuel on Tuesday morning over the Black Sea.  The drone fell into international waters in the Black Sea.

Despite established rules designed to prevent any sort of conflict between Russian and U.S. forces operating parallel to one another in Syria, Russian pilots are locking onto U.S. aircraft with their radars and taking other provocative actions on a daily basis, according to officials with U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Task & Purpose news reported on May 2, 2023.

A Russian Su-35 Flanker fighter jet is seen maneuvering unprofessionally within 2,000 feet of a U.S. Air Force fighter jet during an intercept in Coalition Force airspace over Syria on April 18, 2023. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Jermaine Ayers).Source: Task & Purpose

“Russian forces have violated deconfliction protocols with Coalition forces almost 100 times in two months, conducting armed overflights of ground forces in Syria 26 times, flying within 500 feet of U.S. aircraft, and in the last week, jamming U.S. aircraft electromagnetic systems,” Air Force Lt Gen Alexus Grynkewich, head of AFCENT, told Task & Purpose“These behaviors significantly interfere with AFCENT’s ability to execute operations safely and effectively and increase the likelihood of miscalculation.”

According to the Rand Corporation, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley reportedly has kept a list of “U.S. interests and strategic objectives” in the Ukrainian crisis since late 2021 which includes: “contain war inside the geographical boundaries of Ukraine.” That has already been violated. 

NBC News reported on April 11 that Ukrainian agents have pursued drone attacks inside Belarus and Russia and leaders in Kyiv have considered further targets outside Ukraine, according to recently leaked secret Pentagon documents.

One document marked “Top Secret,” noted attacks allegedly orchestrated by Kyiv on a military airfield outside Minsk, Belarus, and a gas compressor station in the Moscow suburbs. 

On March 2, the Russian government accused Ukraine of sending gunmen to attack villagers in the Bryansk region, days after blaming a series of drone attacks inside the country on Ukraine.

The increasing tension with Russia may play a part in what appears to be an erosion of American support for Ukraine as the battle goes on.

In WWII, The United States declared War on Japan on Dec. 8, 1941. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” President Roosevelt declared.  On December 11, Congress approved a resolution declaring war with Germany. The unconditional surrender of the German Third Reich was signed on Monday, May 7, 1945. Japan signed an official Instrument of surrender on September 2, 1945. 

In other words, for almost five years the Americans persevered in the face of a brutal war with international repercussions. 

Russia took control of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March 2014. It escalated the fight in Feb. 2022 when it invaded and occupied larger portions of Ukraine. President Biden declared the attack “unprovoked and unjustified”, issued severe sanctions against top Kremlin officials and began a NATO-led military assistance program to Ukraine. In other words, aggressive U.S. military involvement  in the Ukraine war has extended for slightly more than 13 months.

Yet many Americans are already wearying of the conflict. 

An April Wall Street Journal poll found that while the number of voters who believe the U.S. is providing the right amount of support has remained stable, at about 35%, more and more think Washington is too involved. 

About 38% of voters said the U.S. was doing too much to help Ukraine, a big jump from 6% in March 2022. Meanwhile, only 20% said the U.S. should do more, down from 46% in March 2022.The erosion in support is particularly noticeable among Republicans. About 60% of Republicans said the U.S. was doing too much to support Ukraine, up from 48% in October 2022, compared with just 15% of Democrats. Even 42% of independents said the U.S. was doing too much.

In my view, this erosion of support is a dangerous trend. If we do not see this through Russia will be emboldened, the independence of former Soviet Republics will be threatened, China’s aggressiveness will be encouraged and western influence on the global stage will be challenged.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Bernard-Henri Lévy, a prominent French intellectual, explained why he was dodging Russian sniper fire in Ukraine to make a documentary there. “In Ukraine, I had the feeling for the first time that the world I knew, the world in which I grew up, the world that I want to leave to my children and grandchildren, might collapse,” he said.

Yes, it might… if we lose our will to win in Ukraine.

Yet Another Multnomah County Tax is on the Ballot: Vote No

Multnomah County Democrats, who have probably never found a tax they didn’t like, are supporting a new capital gains tax on county residents, further burdening an already overtaxed populace.

People who take the time to read their voters pamphlet for the May 16, 2022 election will see Multnomah County Ballot Measure 26-238, “Eviction Representation for All”. The measure would create a program that would provide “free, culturally specific and responsive legal representation, with translation, to persons sued in Multnomah County residential proceedings (including post foreclosure) as well as related housing claims and appeals, including to maintain public housing assistance.”

The program would be funded by a new, adjustable 0.75 % tax on net capital gains of county residents.  The tax rate could be increased or decreased based on the county’s annual reports. 

In other words, the new tax revenue would pay for lawyers to help people fight with property owners. 

Minimizing evictions may be a worthy goal, but not every social problem should generate a new tax on already burdened taxpayers. A realignment of priorities would be preferable

Without a doubt, this measure is a disaster in the making.

Although advocates argue the measure would only tax individuals, not businesses, that’s a fiction. As a study done by Perkins & Co for the Portland Business Alliance concluded, “Businesses organized as pass-through entities such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (except those electing to be taxed as a C corporation), and S corporation are taxed at the individual level. The majority of Multnomah County small business owners reflect the annual activity of their businesses on their individual income tax returns.”

Someone selling their business in Multnomah County would also have to pay the capital gains tax with no other investments to offset any gains. 

The Perkins & Co report also noted that “taxpayers would be subject to this tax even if they were otherwise nontaxable for federal, Oregon, and other local tax purposes. “ For example, retirees withdrawing from their retirement investment accounts might not be subject to federal or Oregon income taxes, but they might have to pay could pay have to pay Multnomah County’s capital gains tax on their savings , reducing their retirement income if their withdrawals are categorized as capital gains. 

Equally disturbing, Perkins & Co. concluded that homeowners selling their residence at a profit would owe the proposed local capital gains tax on all gains from the sale. 

The Cascade Policy Institute has rightly pointed out another flow in the measure — the 0.75 % tax rate is adjustable. “Most of us have been around long enough to know that when a tax rate is adjustable, the only way is up,” Cascade says. 

Resident small business owners in Multnomah County already face a barrage of taxes, resulting in the second highest marginal individual income tax rate in the United States after New York City, and has suffered population losses in each of the past two years. Piling on with yet another poorly designed tax would compound the county’s problems. 

Vote No!

Memo to Gov. Kotek: Don’t Override Oregon’s Land Use Law to Site Data Centers

Gov. Tina Kotek has taken every opportunity to wax eloquent about the promise of legislation she signed on April 13, 2022 to attract semiconductor-related investment and good-paying jobs to Oregon. 

“This bill is an absolutely essential tool for leading a coordinated effort with the private sector to ensure we can compete for federal funds to expand advanced manufacturing in Oregon,” Kotek said in a news release. “We are poised to lay the foundation for the next generation of innovation and production of semiconductors.”

She’s been less forthcoming about exactly how she intends to implement the legislation.

Under Oregon’s innovative statewide land use planning program, created in 1973 with passage of the Oregon Land Use Act (SB 100), each of the state’s cities and metropolitan areas has created an urban growth boundary around its perimeter – a land use planning line to control urban expansion onto farm and forest lands.

Senate Bill 4 granted Kotek a blank check to bring some plots of land into Oregon’s urban growth boundaries, changing land use restrictions at her whim, to entice investment in Oregon’s semiconductor industry. Kotek will be able to designate up to eight sites, including two more than 500 acres in size, for manufacturing facilities.

In an April 21 KGW-TV interview on Straight Talk with Laurel Porter, Porter asked, “If somebody doesn’t want to sell, will the state be able to take that land?” A skilled politician, Kotek sidestepped the question, saying it isn’t yet clear yet whether land outside the current urban growth boundary will need to be accessed.

Of equal or greater consequence, Kotek has also been less than forthcoming about whether she would use her authority under the legislation to site data centers.

Data centers house networked computers, storage systems and computing infrastructure that organizations use to assemble, process, store and disseminate large amounts of data. Enterprise data centers increasingly incorporate facilities for securing and protecting cloud computing resources and in-house, on-site resources.

Senate Bill 4 says the governor can designate land that relates “to the semiconductor industry, advanced manufacturing or the supply chain for semiconductors or advanced manufacturing.” 

Seeking to clarify the governor’s intentions, I asked her office, “Does the governor interpret this to mean the bill would allow her to designate sites to be used for data centers?” 

The governor’s office asked me to give them a date/time I was seeking a response by and I did so. After that, crickets.

Repeated requests for a response drew a blank. 

The question deserves a clear answer from the governor.

In my view, the legislature did not intend to give the governor authority to commandeer sites for data centers, which already enjoy substantial financial subsidies and access to abundant water and energy.  Any attempt to do so should be aggressively challenged. 

The primary motivations behind Senate Bill 4 were to secure not only investment, but also a sizable number of high-paying jobs to bolster Oregon’s economy. 

If there’s one thing data center investments do not bring, it is an abundance of high-paying jobs. 

The cavernous highly automated data centers that have been proliferating in Hillsboro and elsewhere in Oregon are mostly devoid of people. 

Intel’s multiple campuses in Hillsboro and Aloha serve approximately 22,000 employees, the company’s largest concentration of facilities and talent in the world, and likely an equal number of contract workers.

In contrast, while Hillsboro is considered one of the fastest growing data center markets in the country, workers at the centers are sparse.

For example, The Oregonian reported earlier this year that Twitter employs only 18 people at its Hillsboro data center while Digital Realty Trust’s data center had just three Hillsboro employees.

Not only are data centers underpopulated, the workers in them are not generally highly paid. While the average annual wage of Intel Oregon employees exceeds $132,000, the average annual wage of data center technicians in Oregon is $46,800 per year for entry level positions and $62,400 for the most experienced workers, according to

In other words, the last thing Oregon needs is for Gov. Kotek to bypass Oregon’s land use laws to attract more massive data centers that gobble up even more land..

And she needs to make it clear now that she will not do so. 

School Choice In Oregon: Proceed With Caution

Parents of Oregon’s K-12 public school students are between a rock and a hard place. Stay with their faltering public school or push for more school choice.

As a whole, it’s a dark moment for Oregon’s public schools:

  • One of every five Oregon high school students don’t graduate in four years.
  • A depressingly small percentage of Oregon students in grades 4 and 8 tested at a proficient level or higher in mathematics and reading in 2022 in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
  • Severe mental health challenges and behavioral issues have ramped up in schools as students have shifted from online to hybrid learning and back to in-classroom learning.
  • Oregon’s young people have been abandoning public schools at an distressing rate. Enrollment declined 3.7%. in the 2020-2021 school year, another 1.4% in the 2021-2022 school year and 0.1% in the 2022-2023 school year. Public school enrollment statewide dropped by more than 30,000 students, or 5%, from October 2019 to October 2022 statewide, the second highest in the country, according to Stanford University.  Only Mississippi, not a state we want to envy, lost a larger share.

Conservative public policy research organizations such as the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, say the time is ripe for more school choice. 

“Oregon families urgently need more options so they can find the right fit for their children to learn effectively and safely,”  says Cascade. “Traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private and parochial schools, homeschooling, and tutoring are all paths to success for students.”

The frustration many parents have with Oregon’s underperforming public schools is understandable as well. 

As a conservative, it’s tempting to unreservedly join the school choice chorus and to think that going full speed ahead in broadening school choice will calm down the tempest and enhance learning. 

But some caution is needed.

The problem is that for all the handwringing about traditional brick-and-mortar public schools by school choice evangelists, they too often fail to acknowledge that the “do your own thing” alternatives aren’t necessarily better. And some are worse, much worse.

No matter how bad some public schools are, the fact is bad teachers, weak curriculum. incompetence and sloth are not found just in public brick-and-mortar schools.

Options school choice advocates usually trumpet include public brick-and-mortar charter schools, public online charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.

There are currently 133 public charter schools serving 46,275 students in Oregon, according to the Oregon Department of Education. Of those, 102 are physical brick-and-mortar schools and 31 are virtual/online/cyber schools. 

Under Oregon law, a charter school is a separate legal entity operating under a binding agreement with a school district sponsor. Charter schools in Oregon, including online charters, are publicly funded, so parents don’t pay tuition. Instead, the Oregon Department of Education distributes State School Fund money to each school district that sponsors a charter school.

Unfortunately, the performance of Oregon’s charter schools is all over the map in terms of tested proficiency in key areas, graduation rates, parent satisfaction and other criteria. 

For example, at Oregon Charter Academy (formerly Oregon Connections Academy), a heavily advertised online charter school sponsored by the Santiam Canyon School District, just 35.1% of all students taking the state assessment in Mathematics, 54.6% of all students taking the state assessment in English Language Arts and 51.4% of all students taking the state assessment in Science tested “Proficient” in 2021-2022.

Some other online public charter schools in Oregon are much worse.

At Cascade Virtual Academy, an online charter school sponsored by the Mitchell School District, just 21.7% of all students taking the state assessment in Mathematics, 35.2% of all students taking the state assessment in English Language Arts and 24.8% of all students taking the state assessment in Science tested “Proficient” in 2021-2022.

The experiences of many Oregon children during the pandemic also revealed that exclusive online schooling led to depression, undue stress, low levels of social inclusion, anxiety and learning losses for many students. 

Oregon’s brick-and-mortar charters have an uneven record as well.

For example, at The Academy for Character Education, a K-12 public charter school in Cottage Grove, 58% of all students taking the state assessment in Mathematics, 63.8% of all students taking the state assessment in English Language Arts and 48.8% of all students taking the state assessment in Science tested “Proficient” in 2021-2022.

In contrast, at the Ione Community Charter School, a K-12 public Charter school in Ione, just 26.8% of all students taking the state assessment in Mathematics, 40.8% of all students taking the state assessment in English Language Arts and 13.3% of all students taking the state assessment in Science tested “Proficient” in 2021-2022.

The same variability in quality exists with private schools in Oregon. 

At private schools, parents, not the state, pay the bills. There are 483 private schools serving 57,768 K-12 students in Oregon, with about half religiously affiliated (most commonly Christian and Catholic) according to Private School Review. 

The Cascade Policy Institute, which asserts that the K-12 public school system is a “dysfunctional government school monopoly,” wants to establish an Empowerment Scholarship Account program under which a portion of state-level education funding would be converted to portable accounts for students to use wherever they want, which would benefit private schools. 

Cascade praises a new Arkansas law which creates Educational Freedom Accounts for all K-12 students, to be phased in by 2026. Individuals choosing a Freedom Account will get 90% of what public schools get per student in state funding from the previous school year, equal to $6,600 for the current year. They can spend this money on private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, and other approved educational expenses.

But “private” does not automatically mean “superior”. The academic performance of private schools can vary widely and it can be hard to pin down their performance because they are not required to participate in statewide testing.

So parents take their chances when they send their children to private schools.

School choice could become an even more contentious issue in Oregon if there’s pressure to provide taxpayer dollars to religious schools.

Wisconsin, Iowa and Utah already offer vouchers to parents to enroll their children in approved private and religious schools. An effort is also underway in Oklahoma to extend publicly paid vouchers to online religious schools. The Catholic Church in Oklahoma City and Tulsa wants to create St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which would be the country’s first publicly-funded religious charter school. 

For many Oregon parents, the preferred alternative to public or private schools is homeschooling. 

Oregon law (ORS 339.035) allows a child (between ages 6, and 18, grades 1-12) to be taught by a parent, guardian, or private teacher in the child’s home. Homeschool families may choose their own curriculum, and may use the Oregon’s Academic Content Standards to guide their instruction; however, there is no requirement to adhere to Oregon academic standards. 

Oregon education officials estimate that most of the more than 20,000 students in Oregon who are not in public schools are being homeschooled, about 40% more than in 2019, before the pandemic moved classes online. 

Parents of students between the ages of 6-18 are supposed to notify their local Education Service District (ESD) of their intent to home school within 10 days of beginning to home school, but compliance is not comprehensive.

A homeschooler is expected to take standardized testing by August 15 of the summer following the completion of 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades, as long as the child has been homeschooled since at least February 15 of the year preceding testing (18 months before the test deadline).

The required tests include grade-level math (concepts, application, skills), reading (comprehension), and language (writing, spelling/grammar, punctuation, etc.)

With the above information, you might think that public oversight of homeschoolers is comparable to that of public school because the state knows how all homeschooled students are performing. You’d be wrong.

As Earthsong Homeschool says, “Homeschooling in Oregon is easy. There are no laws specifying record keeping, attendance, or mandatory subjects. You do not need a college degree or teaching degree to teach your child. You register your child as homeschooled and test every few years. It’s that easy. In Oregon, you do not have to use grade level curriculum. Your child does not have to do what their public-school counter parts are doing.”

Homeschooled students are not required to take common standardized tests that measure academic progress. They can opt out, and many of them do.

Homeschoolers’ tests are also scored on a percentile, so the score a child gets represents how many people taking the same test got a lower score. In other words, the scores don’t represent how well the child knows the material, only how well the child performs relative to every other homeschooler taking the test. Even then, if a child scores at the 15th percentile or above, then the ESD simply files the report and there’s no follow-up.

Homeschoolers also don’t have to report their scores to anybody unless their education service district (ESD) asks for them. But the state cares so little about how these children are doing that ESDs almost never request test scores, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

Not that it would make much difference if ESDs did request the scores.

That’s because homeschoolers only need to report their composite percentile score. This is an almost useless single percentile representing a child’s performance on all three subjects together. It’s almost as though the state doesn’t really want to know how homeschoolers are doing.

Earthsong points out that Oregon homeschooling parents “can even legally be radical unschoolers”, relying on a child’s innate curiosity and desire to learn by not following any set homeschool curriculum.

Psychologist Peter Gray, author of “Free to Learn,”  wrote in Psychology Today that unschooling parents  “allow their children freedom to pursue their own interests and to learn, in their own ways, what they need to know to follow those interests,”

Unschooling advocate Akilah Richards frames it as a social justice practice, defining unschooling as a “child-trusting, anti-oppression, liberatory love-centered approach to parenting and caregiving.”

Critics of unschooling assert that it ignores research on the benefits of direct instruction for mastering skills in math and reading, which can leave children without basic literacy or numeracy skills, and is correlated with higher rates of drug use, delinquency, social isolation, and poor academic performance.

So, what to do?

As King Mongkut reluctantly cries in the play, The King and I, “Tiz a puzzlement!”

There is some validity to the view that the traditional public school system in the United States, a monopoly financed by taxes whether or not your child attends, and a one‐​size‐​fits‐​all approach that doesn’t respond to the needs of diverse students, provides few incentives to innovate or respond to families’ needs.

It’s also true that opinion on public education is souring, with Americans now giving lower grades to schools both locally and nationally than before the pandemic. Today, only about one in five Americans give the nation’s schools an A or B. Last year, Gallup found public satisfaction with K-12 schools was at its lowest level in more than 20 years.

In a June 2022 poll, Gallup found that only 13 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Democrats have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in U.S. public schools.

A shift to an education system that offers more choices could drive quality improvements in traditional public schools, because there would be a financial incentive for them to retain students.

Broader school choice would also allow parents to seek educational institutions that fit their children’s needs better than their traditional public schools. 

 “A universal (school choice) program would generate enough demand for robust market entry in the long run, meaning more choices for all families,” argues the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank. “If parents do not perceive that certain schools or services will be appropriate for their children, they will not choose them—enticing schools to improve or force them to close down. The schools that are a quality match for many children will be financially rewarded and expand in the long run.”

“If the primary school choice mechanism is the supply of high‐​quality schools, we should allow the market to determine which institutions are high quality,” says the Cato Institute. “The choices of individual parents, rather than bureaucrats, can determine which schools remain open and which ones close.”

Clearly, it’s criminal to keep children in lousy underfunded public schools with lousy teachers and lousy administrators, and with no ability to opt out, to choose a better alternative. 

But let’s not fool ourselves. More choices could mean a further splintering of the body politic.

A shift to an education system that offers a multitude of taxpayer-funded choices could end up shattering efforts to foster national identity and rich common values that foster mutual respect and active citizenship. 

As Kwame Anthony Appiah, a British-American philosopher and writer, put it in a graduation address at the University oi Pennsylvania, education is “a means both to foster the autonomy of the child—the capacities to make his way in the world—and to promote the welfare of the polity.”

If American parents all “do their own thing”, as many school choice evangelists advocate, the divisiveness and polarization inflicting American society today is likely to increase and we’ll become even more atomised.

Disadvantaged and vulnerable children may also be shortchanged in the maelstrom. And as more children are taught only what their parents want them to learn, shared values will erode. School choice shouldn’t be a license for parents to handicap their children. America has an interest, after all, in an educated populace.

In short, the pell-mell rush toward more school choices will not be an unalloyed good if it undermines academic achievement, community, justice, common principles, mutual respect and political coexistence.

All this suggests teacher unions, parents and the legislature need to move forward with care if Oregon’s children are to be well-served in their education.

So, yes to school choice, but be damn careful.

Giving Away The Store: The Legislature’s Decision to Cede Land Use Authority to Gov. Kotek for Chip Investment was a Mistake

Oregon’s legislature seems to be hell bent on ceding its authority to the governor. That’s a mistake.

Senate Bill 4, signed by the governor on April 13, granted Kotek  a blank check to bring some plots of land into Oregon’s urban growth boundaries, changing land use restrictions at her whim, to entice investment in Oregon’s semiconductor industry. Kotek will be able to designate up to eight sites, including two more than 500 acres in size, for manufacturing facilities.

The usual tension between legislative bodies and executive branches of government is because legislatures insist on jealously guarding their authority in the separation of powers. Separation of powers, coined by the 18th century philosopher Montesquieu, refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.  

Separation of powers issues usually arise at the federal level, where constitutional scholars have long been arguing that Congress has been negligent in ceding powers to the Executive. As Brian McKeon and Caroline Tess have written in Foreign Affairs, “A Congress that delegates its powers or consistently acquiesces in the face of executive action not only ignores that invitation; it abdicates its responsibilities.”

But as the National Conference of State Legislatures has written,”There is an inherent measure of competition and conflict among the branches of government,” so state conflicts can arise as well.

Under Oregon’s innovative statewide land use planning program, created in 1973 with passage of the Oregon Land Use Act (SB 100), each of the state’s cities and metropolitan areas has created an urban growth boundary around its perimeter – a land use planning line to control urban expansion onto farm and forest lands.

 “These (land use) regulations have resulted in 50 years of success protecting our farm and forest lands, containing urban sprawl, and protecting natural resources. Senate Bill 4 throws that out the window,”  Republican state Rep. Anna Scharf has observed.

Republican state Rep. Ed Diehl expressed similar concern, saying, “I cannot in good conscience give the governor what is essentially a super-siting authority to take lands and bring them into the urban growth boundary. That is not the Oregon way.”

No, it’s not. 

The desire of some of Oregon’s legislators to attract investment and good-paying jobs associated with the semiconductor industry is valid and worth pursuing with wise legislative action. But giving so much power to the governor is an unwise move that legislators will regret. 

Affordable Housing and Oregon’s Two-Faced Democrats

Talk about duplicity.

Oregon Democrats are taking opposite sides on affordable housing and dealing with homelessness.

First, Gov. Kotek and the Democratic Party trumpet their support for affordable housing and secure passage of  two bills, HB 2001 and HB 5019,  known as the Affordable Housing & Emergency Homelessness Response Package, that will inject $200 million into speeding up construction of affordable housing in Oregon 

Then Senate Democrats turn around and push out of the Committee on Housing and Development a bill, SB 611, that would modify an existing rent control law to cap rent increases at buildings more than 3 years old at 10% or 5% plus the consumer price index. 

So what is it folks? Do you want to spur more affordable housing and cut down on homelessness or do you want to sabotage the housing market with counterproductive restraints on the free market. 

The fact is, rent control doesn’t work. Any short-term benefits, including the applause of some misinformed constituents, are always overshadowed by the long-term problems rent control creates.

As Swedish economics professor Assar Lindbeck has observed, “Rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city — except for bombing.” 

Time for some consistency.

The Looming Debt Ceiling Calamity: Mutual Self-Destruction

The Republicans and Democrats are playing a dangerous game with Americans. And they both know it. 

At his Feb. 7 State of the Union address President Biden got rare unanimity among Democrats and Republicans on one key issue: protecting Social Security and Medicare.

“Social Security and Medicare should be “completely off the table” when it comes to debt ceiling negotiations, said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. In fact, McCarty said, Congress should be “strengthening” those programs.

The problem is if cuts to Medicare and Social Security are off the table, there’d have to be bruising cuts in other parts of the federal budget., something neither party is likely to accede to. 

Neither side wants to tackle the programs that are chewing up most of the federal budget. 

It used to be that Congress and the President had a lot of flexibility in setting the federal budget every year. The total pot wasn’t nearly as big as now, but most of it was subject to haggling. Not anymore.

Federal spending is divided into three broad categories: discretionary spending, mandatory spending, and net interest.

Mandatory spending is composed of budget outlays controlled by laws other than appropriation acts, including federal spending on entitlement programs. Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up the bulk of mandatory spending that’s on autopilot.. 

In FY1962, way back when I was a freshman in college, which was before the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, mandatory spending was less than 30% of all federal spending. 

By FY2016, mandatory spending had increased to about 63% of total federal spending, and in FY2021 it had grown to about 71% of total federal spending.  In other words, mandatory spending was slowly gobbling up most of the federal budget, leaving smaller and smaller shares subject to congressional negotiations. 

So now we have Republicans in the awkward position of insisting on deep spending cuts while leaving the two biggest drivers of federal spending untouched.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of GOP lawmakers have said  they want a near freeze on discretionary spending for 10 years, without raising taxes, cutting Social Security and Medicare costs or funding for veterans and defense, with a goal of balancing the budget in that period.

Without raising taxes, cutting Social Security and Medicare costs or funding for veterans and defense, Congress would need to cut 85% of spending in all other categories to balance the budget in 10 years, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan budget group, has concluded. 

Let’s get real. That’s not going to happen. 

So we’re all left twisting in the wind while our so-called public servants pontificate. They ought to be ashamed.

Oregon’s Revised Rent Control Bill: Lipstick on a Pig

When a piece of legislation is flawed from the get-go, fiddling with it is fruitless. 

Oregon’s Senate Committee on Housing and Development voted on April 3 to amend a rent control bill (SB 611) and send it to the Senate floor for a vote. 

The original bill capped rent increases at 8%, or 3% plus the consumer price index, at buildings more than 3 years old. An amendment changed that to 10% or 5% plus the consumer price index. 

But the problem isn’t the percentages. The problem is that rent control doesn’t work. Any short-term benefits, including the applause of some constituents, are always overshadowed by the long-term problems rent control creates.

In a review of 140 economics studies on rent control in Economics Journal Watch, economists overwhelmingly agreed that, “A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.” From the abstract: “I find that the preponderance of the literature points toward the conclusion that rent control introduces inefficiencies in housing markets. Moreover, the literature on the whole does not sustain any plausible redemption in terms of redistribution.”

Oregon foolishly started down this road in 2019 with a law prohibiting landlords across the state from raising rents more than 7 percent per year, plus the annual change in the consumer price index (CPI) at buildings more than 15 years old. Now, rather than abandon the whole idea, Democrats in the Senate, backed up by tenant groups, continue to ignore economic realities. 

Potentially compounding the problem, the legislature is considering House Bill 3503  which would allow cities and counties across the state to enact their own rent control laws.

In testimony submitted to the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness, Ariel Nelson, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, endorsed the bill, arguing, “The current state preemption prevents local governments from enacting rent control policies that are tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of their communities. Local governments are closer to their communities, more responsive, and are able to act more quickly. HB 3503 will provide local governments with a critical tool to address the affordable housing crisis for their residents.”

But, as with SB 611, the measure would likely do more to hamper than stimulate the construction of more affordable housing in Oregon. 

As Deborah Imse, Executive Director of Multifamily NW told the committee, “… this legislation opens the door for 417 municipalities to enact their own rent control. That is 417 different sets of requirements that not only do nothing to address the underlying cause of rising rents, but create a regulatory hellscape for housing providers in every corner of the state. That is arguably irresponsible state policy and simply not sustainable for any housing provider, large or small.”

But, hey, what do Democrats care. No matter how compelling the case against rent control, advocates can position themselves as saviors against the forces of evil. And that can translate into votes. 

United Way Is Way Out of Bounds Endorsing Rent Control in Oregon

The United Way has some good programs.  Offering rental assistance. I get it. Last-minute help to prevent evictions. Makes sense. But supporting rent control legislation. That’s over the line.

Not willing to leave the current bad enough rent control law alone, the Oregon legislature is back with Senate Bill 611 that would limit annual rent increases to 3% plus inflation or 8% total, whichever is lower. The exemption would apply to buildings 3 years old or newer. 

The bill has the support of numerous progressive and social welfare groups, including United Way of the Columbia Willamette, which has apparently deluded itself into thinking social justice concerns override economic realities. 

It has also apparently deluded itself into thinking it’s legitimate for a non-profit, which sustains itself on millions of individual and corporate contributions and says it is ”…deeply committed to helping create a just and equitable region where all people can thrive…” should advocate for legislation that contradicts economic realities and is opposed by property owners across the state?

United Way of Board members include:

  • Greg Geshel, Vice President Human Resources at Comcast
  • Ashlee Irwin, Medicaid Business and Strategy Consultant at Kaiser Permanente
  • Mahir Patel, Vice President of Pharmacy Services at PacificSource Health Plans
  • Tichelle Sorenson, Academic Director of the MBA Program at PSU
  • Layla Zare, Vice President and Relationship Manager at Bank of America
  • Kim Spalding, Senior Manager at Perkins & Co.
  • Charlene Zidell, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships & Family Vision at The Zidell Companies.

Do the employers who endorsed placement of all these people on United Way’s board support the deeply flawed rent control bill their employees are pressing so hard for?

Somebody should ask.