Stop the madness: enough with the extravagant presidential centers

Enough with the lavish presidential centers.

Barack Obama revealed the latest iteration of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on Jan. 9.


Newest design of Obama Presidential Center, Jan. 9, 2018’\\\\[[[”\’

“Michelle and I want this center to be more than just a building,” Obama said in a video statement released on Jan. 9. “We want to create an economic engine for the South Side of Chicago, a cultural attraction that showcases the South Side to the rest of the world.”


Why can’t it just be a damn presidential library?

As presented on, the 225,000 sq. ft. the Obama Presidential Center will consist of: the Forum, a two-story public meeting space; a 235 ft. tall 165,000 sq. ft. museum tower; a library building; a plaza; an athletic center with multi-sport indoor facilities; a new outdoor running track; and a 400-450 space underground parking garage. At an event to unveil the plans, Obama said he’s also like to add a snow sledding hill, as well as play lots and paddle boats for a lagoon in new park space.

Not only will the library be one of the smaller elements of the site, it won’t actually contain any paper records. Instead, all Obama’s unclassified records will be digitized, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Obama’s actual papers will go to separate facilities maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration at locations to be determined, John Valceanu, NARA’s director of communication and marketing in Washington told the Chicago Tribune.

Opposition to the center is already surfacing. Faculty at the University of Chicago, where Obama was a lecturer at the Law School, released a letter on Jan. 8 asserting they had “concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods” and that the private Center would be taking over a major part of a historic Chicago park.

“Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation,” the letter said. “Construction of a permanent architectural monument violates Olmsted’s vision of a democratic urban park.”

The letter also bemoaned expected public expenses associated with the Center.
“ It is the taxpayers of Chicago who are going to be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, according to estimates by the Chicago Department of Transportation,” the letter said.

As of Jan. 10, 173 faculty had signed the letter.

Martin Nesbitt, chair of the Obama Foundation, estimated the total cost of the project will be $350 million. Groundbreaking is planned for late 2018 and and the grand opening in 2021.

The Obama Foundation, established in Jan. 2014, has been hard at work trying to raise money from the public to build and help maintain the Center.

During 2015-16, the Foundation raised $14,371,979 and had net assets of $10,888,797 at the end of 2016, according to the standard Form 990 non-profits are required to file annually with the IRS.

The Foundation raised its fundraising game substantially during those two years, spending just $12,000 on professional fundraising fees in 2015 and $578,579 in 2016. The Foundation’s 2017 Form 990 report is not yet available, but if the Foundation’s goal is $350 million [l;it likely has quite a way to go.

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies. “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Writing in Salon, Clark said presidential centers tend to be “proud, defensive, and a little self-absorbed” and eventually become theme parks with declining numbers of visitors.

With that in mind, it is discouraging to see the number of extravagant presidential centers continue to grow. Do we really need another presidential center funded by influence seekers and built by a /legacy-hungry ex-president?

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more grandiose than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million in 1979; $99.8 million if you include the $79 million 68,000 sq. ft. Edward M. Kennedy Institute, complete with a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber, added in March 2015

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs cost $60 million.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR cost $165 million.

At the rate things are going, The Donald J. Trump Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Presidential Library and Emporium will be a billion dollar extravaganza.


The Donald J. Trump Center on the Hudson?

Enough of this insanity.

It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding and more lavish presidential centers celebrating former presidents’ egos.


How not to do affordable housing: Denver’s folly



The new SkyHouse Denver high rise offers studios, one-, two- and two-bedroom + study luxury apartments. Available studios start at $1,390, one bedrooms at $1,485, two bedrooms at $2,480

Denver’s St. Joseph Hospital in central Denver is thrilled with a city plan that will subsidize the rent of lower-income residents at higher-end apartments. The program will pay the difference between what a lower-income resident can afford and the market rent of an apartment.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the plan in his July 10, 2017 State of the City address.

“I am excited to announce that we will pilot a new partnership to open 400 existing, vacant apartments to low- and moderate-

income residents struggling to find an affordable place to live,” Hancock said. “We have apartments sitting vacant because there’s a gap between what it costs and what people can afford. Working together with the Denver Housing Authority, employers and apartment building owners, we aim to fill that gap.”

“Denver has some of the highest inventories for apartments for families with the highest incomes and some of the lowest inventories for families with some of the lowest incomes,” Erik Solivan, executive director of the mayor’s Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE), said to Denver station KMGH-TV.

Well, of course St. Joseph is thrilled with the program. What company wouldn’t be happy to see somebody else subsidize their lower-paid employees.

Think about it.

St. Joseph says it will contribute $100,000 to the program. The rest of the money needed will come from Denver, some other employers and some charitable foundations. The city says it expects to spend about $500 a month subsidizing a single person and $900 for a family.

St. Joseph’s president, Jamie Smith, told the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 8 that he hopes the program will help house dozens of employees.

Let’s be conservative and say 26 of those subsidies go to St. Joseph employees, 13 of whom are single and 13 of whom have families. Subsidies to St. Joseph employees alone will total $218,400 the first year. ($6000 per single, $10,800 per family = $78,000 for all the singles and $140,400 for all those with the families = $218,400.)

So St. Joseph invests $100,000 and gets $218,400 back for its employees, with $118,400 of that coming from other companies and charitable organizations.

 “These folks (medical technicians and newly graduated nurses) are in high demand,” Smith told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re driving by four or five other hospitals much closer to their home to get to us, and at some point it becomes a problem from a recruitment and retention standpoint.”

If St. Joseph’s Hospital is having a hard time recruiting and retaining medical technicians and newly graduated nurses, the answer is to pay them more, rather than pleading for public subsidies and contributions from charities.

“This is not a welfare program or anything like that,” said Mike Zoellner, a local developer who helped create the program.

Sure it is, for the hospitals, hotels and food service businesses Zoellner expects the program to help. Meanwhile, it puts St. Joseph’s competitors at a competitive disadvantage.

Whatever happened to the free market and business competition?




Slavery in Connecticut: facing buried truths

In Connecticut and elsewhere in New England, “All the best families owned ‘captives.”   Anne Farrow, author


A Hartford (CT) Courant notice of 24 May, 1773, concerning the availability for sale of a 28-year old mother and her two sons.


As Oregon has been coming to terms with its racist past*, I’ve found myself wondering whether Connecticut, where I grew up before moving to Oregon in 1984, shared some of that history.

Ahh, colonial Connecticut. Hardy Yankee farmers, white clapboard churches with tall tapering steeples, networks of grey stone walls, one-room schoolhouses….


Ye olde Connecticut village

…and slaves.

Before the Civil War, nearly 4 million black slaves toiled in the American South. That’s the story we all learned in school, that slavery, with all its brutality, abuse and inhumanity, meant the South.


That’s what I was told when I grew up in the Connecticut town of Wallingford, settled in 1670, 50 years after the Mayflower’s 102 pilgrims landed at Plymouth.

I’m a descendent of one of the town’s original settlers, Samuel Hall, and of one of its most famous residents, Lyman Hall, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was born and raised in Wallingford. So you’d think I’d be well versed in Connecticut’s history.

But I wasn’t told during my schooling there that although the underground railroad helped escaping southern slaves in Connecticut, slavery flourished there at the same time. In other words, colonial Connecticut was hardly a citadel of racially progressive thought and practice. For many Africans, it was a citadel of broken dreams.

History of Slavery in Connecticut, published in 1863, pointed out that the earliest slavery in Connecticut wasn’t of blacks from Africa, but Native Americans captured in battle and sold as slaves. I don’t recall that being highlighted in my classes either.

In fact, the Articles of Confederation of the United New England Colonies, signed by representatives of the Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven colonies, even stipulated that the signatories would equally distribute any “ persons,” lands, and goods “ taken as the spoils of war.”

In 1637, Connecticut colonial leaders, together with their Narragansett native allies, massacred the largest Pequot village at Misistuck on the Mystic River in present-day Connecticut, destroying it and killing an estimated 700 Pequots, including many women and children. Another 180 Pequots were killed when they were found hiding in a swamp near today’s Fairfield, CT. Many of the Pequots were captured and sold as slaves, leading to the near annihilation of the tribe.


The Pequot War

But blacks from Africa soon surpassed Natives as slaves in America, although North America was a bit player in the overall slave trade, according to researchers at Slate, a daily web magazine. “From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil,” Slate reported.

Less than 5 percent of the Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere came directly to North America, according to Slate. Most went, instead, to Spanish Central America, Brazil and British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, in New England, in 1650 Connecticut became the second colony after Massachusetts to recognize slavery as a legal institution.

Theophilus Jones, Jr. (1723-1815), whose father built a house on Cook Hill in the southwest corner of Wallingford in 1740, was a slave owner. The house, which is still standing, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.


Theophilus Jones house, Wallingford, CT

Another slave-owner’s house still standing in Wallingford is the John Barker House, built in 1756.


John Barker house, Wallingford, CT

Slaves were brought into New England throughout the colonial period through multiple port cities:

  • Portsmouth, NH
  • Salem, MA
  • Boston, MA
  • New Bedford, MA
  • Providence, RI
  • Bristol, RI
  • Newport, RI
  • Middletown, CT
  • New London, CT

Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island ended up having the largest slave populations. If you’ve ever visited the historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, you may be surprised to learn that Peter Faneuil, who donated the site to the city, accumulated much of his substantial wealth from the slave trade.


Faneuil Hall, Boston

Similarly, John Easton’s family in Middletown, CT were leading slave merchants.

In “The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory,” Anne Farrow wrote about the ship Africa, with John Easton as its captain, sailing out of New London, CT in 1757 bound for West Africa. It crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailed up the Sierra Leone River on the west side of the continent, docked at tiny Bunce Island and loaded a cargo of slaves to be sold principally on England’s colonial islands in the Caribbean. Some of the “human cargo” probably stayed on board to be brought to Connecticut, where they were sold and owned by residents there, Farrow said.

According to the Hartford Courant, when John Easton died in 1774 his will contained 20-page inventory of his property, which included two Negro men, Accrow, valued at 100 pounds, and Gambo, valued at 25 pounds.

One of the few first-hand written accounts of an African being enslaved and shipped to the New World is Venture Smith’s A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States of America. Related by Himself, published in New London, CT in 1798.


Smith (His African name had been Broteer, 8-year-old son of Saungm Furro, Prince of the Tribe of Dukandarra in Guinea) was taken captive in West Africa around 1730 and taken to the coastal slave-trading center Anomabo (in present-day Ghana) for sale. Broteer later recalled that an officer on a Rhode Island slave ship purchased him for “four gallons of rum and piece of calico cloth.”  Most of the captives were later sold in Barbados, but Smith went on to Newport, RI and spent the next three decades as a slave in New York and Connecticut.

Venture Smith died in 1805. He was buried in the graveyard of the First Congregational Church in East Haddam, CT, along with his wife, Meg, and other members of their family. Smith’s gravestone can be seen there to this day.


“Sacred to the memory of Venture Smith, an African. Tho the son of a King he was kidnapped and sold as a slave but by his industry he acquired Money to Purchase his Freedom.” Venture Smith gravestone.

For nearly two hundred years New England maintained a slave regime that some historians used to claim was quite different from in the South.

Instead of slaves performing mainly agricultural labor, as in the South, the Medford (MA) Historical Society and Museum says New England’s slaves performed more varied jobs. “Owned mostly by ministers, doctors, and the merchant elite, enslaved men and women in the North often performed household duties in addition to skilled jobs,” the Society says. “They worked as carpenters, shipwrights, sailmakers, printers, tailors, shoemakers, coopers, blacksmiths, bakers, weavers, and goldsmiths. Many became so talented in the crafts that the free white workers lost jobs to them.”

But the idea that New England slaves were not situated on large agricultural properties has been refuted by other historians.

A 1764 inventory of “living creatures” on a 3000 acre plantation in Pomfret, CT listed 80 cows, 45 oxen, 30 steers, 59 young cattle, six horses, 600 sheep, 180 goats, 150 hogs and 27 Negroes, in that order.


Slaves working on a New England farm

And in 2015, Central Connecticut State University archeologists uncovered in Salem, CT the remnants of a large plantation that was worked by as many as 60 slave families in the years before the American Revolution.

According to research by the Hartford Courant, the creation of that plantation began in 1718 when Col. Samuel Browne, a wealthy Salem, MA merchant, began amassing land. He rented out some tracts, retaining about 4,000 acres for himself. That passed to his son and then to his grandson.


In 1690 there were only an estimated 200 black slaves in Connecticut; by 1774, that had grown to 5,100.

“The effects of the New England slave trade were momentous,” wrote Lorenzo Johnston Greene in The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776. “It was one of the foundations of New England’s economic structure; it created a wealthy class of slave-trading merchants…”

Harvard Professor Bernard Bailyn, in an essay on how New Englanders had achieved such a high standard of living by the time of the revolution, wrote, “The most important underlying fact in this whole story, the key dynamic force, unlikely as it may seem, was slavery.”

That was only about 3.4 percent of the state’s population, “But it was slavery, nevertheless, that made the commercial economy of 18th-century New England possible and drove it forward,” Bailyn wrote. “The dynamic element in the region’s economy was the profits from the Atlantic trade, and they rested almost entirely, directly or indirectly, on the flow of New England’s products to the slave plantations and the sugar and tobacco industries they serviced.”

As the Black slave population increased, Connecticut’s lawmakers enacted more and more laws to control it, according to David L. Parsons of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

The so-called Black Code, a series of laws passed between 1690 and 1730, described the rights and responsibilities of slave and master.

The Black Code formalized slavery in Connecticut. There were no laws specifically forbidding slavery, and custom and the laws controlling it combined to give slavery legal standing in Connecticut, according to Parsons. The early Capital Law of 1642, which prohibited stealing “man or mankind” was interpreted to mean only white mankind.

Parsons wrote of how black servants were required to carry passes outside of town or be treated as runaways. Sellers of liquor were not allowed to serve Blacks without permission from their master. It is not clear what was done to Blacks who drank without permission. Blacks were not allowed to sell items without proof of ownership or written permission from the owner. Blacks were liable to whippings for disturbing the peace or “offering to strike a white person.” Blacks found outside after 9:00 p.m. without a pass could be whipped. Whipping was also the punishment for slaves who used unseemly language.

As late as 1774, the Connecticut Journal justified the subordinate status of blacks, stating baldly that “God formed [blacks] … in common with horses, oxygen, dogs &c. for the white people alone, to be used by them either for pleasure or to labor with other beasts.”


On the eve of the American Revolution, Connecticut had 6,464 slaves, the most of any state in New England, according to one historian.

During the American Revolution (1765 – 1783), when at least 820 free and enslaved African Americans from Connecticut served on the Patriots side, some Connecticut slaves gained their freedom in exchange for service (The National Mall Liberty Fund  has collected a list of Enslaved and free blacks from Wallingford, CT who served on the patriot side during the Revolutionary War.).


Connecticut’s Gradual Emancipation Act of 1784 halted the importation of slaves and declared that children of black slaves born after March 1, 1784 were to be freed after turning 25. No current slaves were freed by the Act, however, and slaves born before 1784 remained slaves for life.

Not only that, but the act had a pernicious effect in that it encouraged some slaveholders to sell slaves and their children to residents of other states before the children reached 25, an action not prohibited by the law, where they would again be slaves for life.

Some historical writing on American history downplays the maintenance of slavery in Connecticut after the American Revolution and the Gradual Abolition Act.

In Hope of Liberty, James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton wrote, “ [m]any slaves were freed by the gradual emancipation laws in the North, and in a relatively short time (relative to the existence of the institution of slavery) slavery was abolished in the free states.”).  Similarly, in Black Odyssey: The African-American Ordeal in Slavery, Nathan Irvin  Huggins wrote, “…after the Revolutionary War] [t]hose states of New England, where there was a slight investment in slave property, were rather quick to disavow the institution.”

But other historians have challenged that view. In a 2001 Yale Law Journal article, Abolition Without Deliverance: The Law of Connecticut Slavery 1784-1848 , David Menschel presented evidence that the Gradual Abolition Act did not remove slavery from the state in a prompt and orderly fashion at all. Instead, he said, slavery’s termination was protracted because, “Legislators feared that uncivilized and uneducated blacks, emerging en masse from bondage into freedom, would endanger the fragile workings of Connecticut’s new republic.”

“In fact, though the number of slaves in the North declined after the Revolutionary War, slavery continued to exist there well into the nineteenth century,” Menschel said.

Even the State of Connecticut itself seemed to endorse continued slavery when, in 1784, it seized the estate of a William Brown, which included a number of slave children. An administrator of the estate petitioned the Legislature to free the children, but it rejected the petition and ordered that the children be bound out for the District of Norwich.

“In addition to protecting the state coffers from the costs of caring for such dependents, the Assembly also seems to have believed that Brown’s former slaves would benefit from bondage, as this would ensure that the slave children would be ‘well governed and educated,’ ” Menschel said.

 It wasn’t until 1788 that legislation outlawed the slave trade in Connecticut, prohibiting the import of Africans and the export of Africans for sale, but in 1794 the state legislature firmly rejected a bill that would have abolished slavery in the state the following year.

In 1790, the first Federal Census showed there were 3,763 people held in bondage throughout New England, including  2,648 in Connecticut.

A 1797 act changed the emancipation age under the Gradual Abolition Act age to 21, but still didn’t abolish slavery.

By 1800, 83 percent of Connecticut’s Blacks were free, leaving 951 enslaved, but these were still being held onto vigorously, as the 1803 runaway slave ad below shows.


In 1810, the number of slaves in Connecticut had gone down to 310 and by 1820 the census put the number at 97.

The 1840 Census showed 17 African-Americans still enslaved in Connecticut, but anti-slavery attitudes were prominent.

Even free blacks began to speak up. The words of one free black man, Peter Osborne, are preserved in “An oration delivered before the people of color of New Haven, assembled at Wallingford on the eighth of July, to celebrate the fourth.”

In vivid, forceful language, Osborne applauded the displays of patriotism on the 4th of July 1845, but castigated white Americans for not sharing the freedom the American Revolution produced.

“The heroes of the revolution were gallant and terrible to establish and secure a government for the peace and happiness of the descendants of Europe, but they were not the less so to deprive the descendants of Africa of its protection,” Osborne said. He called upon all blacks to “…like a Roman army, invade prejudice, storm the castle of expediency, — to annihilate the inhuman trade of transportation–the deluded scheme of Colonization,  the scourge and curse of slavery.”

Connecticut finally abolished slavery entirely in 1848, when there were just six slaves left in the state, making it the last state in New England to fully abolish slavery.

We should know these things.

As Holocaust survivor and scholar Dr. Dori Laub has written, we must face our buried truths in order to live our lives.



*Recommended readings about Oregon’s racist past:

Breaking Chains – Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory by R. Gregory Nokes

Tells the story of the only slavery case ever adjudicated in Oregon courts—Holmes v. Ford. Drawing on the court record of this landmark case, Nokes offers an intimate account of the relationship between a slave and his master from the slave’s point of view. He also explores the experiences of other slaves in early Oregon, examining attitudes toward race and revealing contradictions in the state’s history.

When Portland banned blacks: Oregon’s shameful history as an ‘all-white’ state, Washington Post, June 7, 2017

Few people are aware of Oregon’s history of blatant racism, including its refusal to ratify the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution.

Oregon Racial Laws and Events, 1844-1959

Oregon’s Provisional Government passed the first Exclusion Law in the Oregon Country in 1848. It made it unlawful for any Negro or Mulatto (of mixed ethnic heritage) to reside in Oregon Territory.

Oregon’s Civil War – The Troubled Legacy of Emancipation in the Pacific Northwest by Stacey L. Smith

The persistent myth that Oregon was a free land where white unity against slavery made free-state status nearly inevitable often obscures the prominence of the slavery question in provisional, territorial, and state politics.














A plea to Oregon’s 2018 Legislature: For the kids’ sake, do something about Oregon’s failing public virtual charter schools


$60 million. That’s right, Oregon is spending at least $60 million a year on virtual public charter schools, many of which are failing to educate their students.

How appalling does it have to get before failing public virtual charter schools are shut down? How long will it take before other struggling public virtual charter schools are fixed?

When the state is struggling to adequately fund its public schools, diverting scarce resources to virtual public charter schools that don’t work is unforgivable. It’s time to do something beyond studying or ignoring the problem.

The latest to raise the alarm is Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

“The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has not focused on improving education for at-risk students in alternative and online schools and programs, though these programs account for nearly half the state’s high school dropouts,” said an audit released in December 2017 by Richardson’s office.

The audit noted:

  1. ODE should develop a more meaningful accountability system for…online education. More state involvement, along with consistent district oversight, could help online schools improve results with academically at- risk students.
  2. ODE should establish and monitor standards for crucial practices, such as annual district evaluations of these schools and programs.
  3. Oregon doesn’t require state approval for new public online charter schools, regularly evaluate online school performance in depth, increase oversight of poor-performing online schools or require online schools to meet performance standards to grow.
  4. Oregon doesn’t review online curriculum for compliance with state standards.
  5. School Districts differ significantly in the quality of their online school oversight. One district overseeing a for-profit online public online charter school said it is “pretty much hands off” regarding the school.
  6. The lax attendance standard at online schools raises the risk that an online school could receive taxpayer dollars even if students spend little time engaged with the school and make no progress academically.
  7. The level of district monitoring of for-profit public online charter schools varies significantly.

The audit recommended that ODE work with the Legislature to:

  • Require upgrades to accountability and oversight for online education, as some other states have done. Possibilities include
  1. Upgrading public performance reporting for virtual schools and programs.
  2. Requiring publicly available annual improvement plans.
  3. Requiring ODE review of plans for low-performing virtual schools and programs.
  4. Establishing performance requirements that statewide and regional virtual schools must meet before they can grow.
  • Increase standards for sponsors of virtual charter schools. Options that ODE and the Legislature could explore include spelling out individual district responsibilities in detail, increased ODE oversight of districts, and shifting sponsorship of the schools to a central body.

All good ideas.

The time is now to do something.


Addendum: I studied Oregon’s public virtual charter schools extensively in 2017. I found millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, appalling test scores, horrific graduation rates and failing schools just shopping around for new school district sponsors. For more, read the following:





Will the sky fall for charities under the new tax law?


Charities and much of the media are screaming bloody murder about the potential negative impacts of the new 503-page tax reform legislation.

“The tax code is now poised to de-incentivize the heart of civic action in America,” Dan Cardinali, president of Independent Sector, which represents charities, told the Washington Post.

“The GOP tax reform will devastate charitable giving,” shrieked the Los Angeles Times.

Stacy Palmer, Editor of “The Chronicle of Philanthropy,” said on Public Television’s Newshour that as much as $20 billion might not be given in 2018 next year because of the tax law change. An Indiana university study estimated the reduction would be $13 billion.

This apocalyptic vision fits in nicely with the attempt by Democrats to demonize the tax reform law and the Republicans who voted for it in hopes of reaping benefits in the 2018 elections.

But is charitable giving really going to implode? I think not.

The primary concern among the nattering negative cadre appears to be that the number of Americans who qualify for the charitable tax deduction will drop sharply now that the standard deduction has been doubled to $12,000 for an individual, $24,000 for couples. This will result in fewer people itemizing their deductions, and you can only deduct donations if you itemize, a key factor motivating charitable giving, according to the doomsayers.

But this ignores the fact that an awful lot of people already give generously from the heart without claiming a charitable deduction. According to the most recent IRS data, 68.5 percent of households chose to take the standard deduction under the old system, leaving them unable to claim a charitable deduction, but a lot of them made donations anyway. In 2016, the largest source of charitable giving was individuals at $281.86 billion, with two thirds of households giving money to non-profits.

It is estimated that under the new tax law, the share of people itemizing deductions could drop to as few as 5 percent.

It seems highly unlikely that individuals who haven’t been itemizing or those who won’t itemize under the new tax system will decrease their charitable giving when the standard deduction is doubled. In other words, the vast middle class will still probably give, though charities may want to ramp up their appeals.

What looks considerably more threatening for charities is changes in the estate tax under tax reform.


Before the tax reform law, the estate tax applied only to estates worth at least $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 million for married couples. The estate tax applied a 40 percent tax rate to estates worth more than those amounts.

In other words, the wealthy have been encouraged to make charitable donations because these donations were not taxed. If their money was left to heirs instead, the estate would pay taxes on amounts greater than about $5.5 million dollars for an individual or $11 million for a couple.

The new tax law tax doubles the annual exclusion amount (the exemption) for estate taxes to $10 million. Couples who do proper planning could double that exemption.

Only 0.2% of all estates ended up being hit with the estate tax under the old formula. The Tax Policy Center estimates that some 11,310 individuals dying in 2017 will leave estates large enough to require filing an estate tax return.

Under the new law, it’s likely that fewer than 1,000 estate tax returns will be filed per year with a tax due. In other words, just 10,000 individuals may be less likely to make charitable donations to avoid estate taxes.

But those individuals control a lot of wealth and many may be people who were previously motivated to give by a desire to avoid estate taxes.

According to the National Committee for Responsive philanthropy (NCRP), study after study shows that tax policy matters in charitable giving and that the estate tax is one of the most important motivators for those at the top of the income distribution. “Rather than see a sizable portion of their estates subject to taxation, wealthy families give while living to reduce the size of their estates; and they also give in the form of bequests upon their death, “ the NCRP says.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has compiled detailed data on publicly reported charitable gifts of $1 million or more in each state. The largest recipients include private and community foundations, colleges and universities, healthcare programs, the arts, museums and libraries. The Chronicle assumes that a large proportion of those donations is motivated by estate tax planning.

So Oregon charities relying on big gifts may be in for a harder struggle going forward.

The Chronicle data shows the following significant gifts of $1 million or more to Oregon institutions just in 2017 and 2016:


Donor Recipient Gift Value
Anonymous U. of Oregon (Eugene) $50,000,000
Anonymous Oregon State U. at Corvallis $25,000,000
Robert W. Franz Providence Health and Services (Portland, Ore.) $20,000,000
Michael and Arlette Nelson U. of Portland (Ore.) $10,000,000
Anonymous Oregon State U. at Cascades (Bend) $5,000,000
Fariborz Maseeh Portland State U. (Ore.) $5,000,000
Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation (Jordan Schnitzer) Portland State U. (Ore.) $5,000,000
Anonymous U. of Oregon, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (Eugene) $2,250,000
Keith and Julie Thomson U. of Oregon (Eugene) $2,000,000
Tim and Mary Boyle Providence Foundations of Oregon (Lake Oswego) $2,000,000
Tykeson Family Foundation (Don Tykeson) Oregon State U. at Cascades (Bend) $1,000,000
Robert W. Franz Blanchet House of Hospitality (Portland, Ore.) $1,000,000
Charles McGrath Oregon State U. at Cascades (Bend) $1,000,000

Note: Most of the bequests listed in this database are estimates. In many cases, donors’ bequests are announced long before their wills are settled.




Donor Recipient Gift Value
Philip H. and Penelope Knight U. of Oregon (Eugene) $500,000,000
Gary and Christine Rood Oregon Health & Science U. (Portland) $12,000,000
Charles and Gwendolyn Lillis U. of Oregon (Eugene) $10,000,000
Philip H. and Penelope Knight Fanconi Anemia Research Fund (Eugene, Ore.) $10,000,000
Tim and Mary Boyle U. of Oregon (Eugene) $10,000,000
Allyn C. and Cheryl Ramberg Ford U. of Oregon (Eugene) $7,000,000
Edward and Cynthia Maletis U. of Oregon (Eugene) $5,000,000
Roberta Buffett and David Elliott Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland) $5,000,000
Don and Willie Tykeson John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts (Eugene, Ore.) $2,000,000
Tim and Mary Boyle Reed College (Portland, Ore.) $2,000,000
David and Anne Myers Columbia River Maritime Museum (Astoria, Ore.) $1,000,000


Note: Most of the bequests listed in this database are estimates. In many cases, donors’ bequests are announced long before their wills are settled.

















Lobbying for foreign interests: where are the patriots?



All for a few coins.

Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor, had a lucrative $530,000 lobbying contract with Inovo BV, a Netherlands-based consulting firm owned by a Turkish national.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates have pleaded not guilty to federal charges, including failing to register for lobbying they did for Viktor Yanukovych, the thoroughly corrupt former president of Ukraine, and his pro-Russian political party. A popular uprising ousted Yanukovych in 2014.


Anti-government protesters clash with the police at the central Kiev square in the Ukraine

Thousands of Syrians were dead and Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were hosting Syrian refugees as Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, pursued a war to new heights of brutality.


Syrian refugees.

But the war and refugees weren’t U.S. lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James’ concern. For a fee of $5,000 a month, the firm promoted a positive image for Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma. The firm’s efforts paid off when American Vogue magazine published “A Rose in the Desert”, a fawning article about Asma, her British roots, designer fashions and good works.


“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert, Vogue.

The Vogue story praised the Assads as a “wildly democratic” family-focused couple who vacationed in Europe, fostered Christianity, were at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the “safest country in the Middle East,” and wanted to give Syria a “brand essence.”

American lobbying firms and so-called think tanks have shown time and time again that they have no compunction about fronting for vile foreign donors or representing foreign countries trying to minimize criticism of their human rights abuses or advance positions potentially inimical to American interests.


At least 77 U.S. firms have represented 170 governmental or pseudo-governmental entities of the Soviet Union/Russia trying to influence U.S. policy since 1950, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Early this year, the Egyptian government hired Washington, D.C.-based firm Weber Shandwick and then-subsidiary Cassidy & Associates to enhance public perception of Egypt and its intelligence agency.


Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi

Since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office as president, the internal intelligence agency, Amn al-Watany, has lived up to its reputation for harassing veteran activists, worker organizations, professional unions and what remains of the student activist movement, according to World Politics Review, which analyzes critical global trends. Prominent dissidents—including iconic figures from the 2011 uprisings, such as the leaders of the April 6 Youth Movement—continue to be held in prisons or are subject to surveillance and control by the state security forces.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) governs registration of agents for foreign interests. In its 2017 FARA filings, BLJ Worldwide said it represents the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) a non-profit based in Hong Kong that describes itself as engaging in promoting relations and facilitating exchanges between China and the United States.

According to the filing, BLJ was very busy promoting China’s interests in the first half of 2017. The firm supported trips to China by reporters from all these U.S. media outlets: Slate; Quartz NFR; The Daily Beast; NBC News; Bloomberg; Businessweek; The New Yorker; The Des Moines Register; the Grand Rapids Free Press; the Chicago Tribune; and Independent Journal Review.

BLJ also hosted a dinner for representatives from CNN, Financial Times, the Economist, Associated Press, Bloomberg and CNBC.

AL-Monitor, which analyzes the trends shaping the future of the Middle East, won the 2017 Online Journalism Award for Explanatory Reporting for a series on how the Gulf States have been throwing money left and right in an effort to undercut Qatar in the eyes of President Donald Trump and undo Obama’s fledgling reconciliation with Iran.

According to Maplight, a non-profit which works to reveal the influence of money in politics, lobbyists for foreign interests gave more than $4.5 million to federal lawmakers and candidates during the 2016 election. Foreign lobbyists and their firms’ political action committees were also responsible for packaging a total of $5.9 million in donations for candidates and party committees, through an influence-enhancing tactic known as “bundling.”

Because the donations come from foreign governments’ U.S.-based lobbyists, they effectively circumvent American laws designed to bar direct foreign donations, Maplight reported. Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to any federal, state, or local campaigns, or political parties. But foreign governments frequently hire U.S. citizens to represent their interests, and those people face no such contribution ban.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thinks he has a way to address all this. He wants to strengthen FARA. To that end, he has introduced legislation that would substantially increase FARA disclosure requirements.

But in my view the issue isn’t just disclosure. It’s also the willingness of American businesses to put the interests of foreign powers over those of the United States.

As citizens of the United States we should respect others and try to understand different viewpoints, but that doesn’t mean American lobbyists should take foreign money to advance the influence of foreign thugs and undermine U.S. interests.

Have they no shame?












Ron Wyden’s shapeshifting on corporate taxes.


Democrats are savaging Republicans for passing the tax overhaul bill. A key criticism is its reduction in the corporate tax rate. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is leading the chorus. But a few years ago he proposed a bill that included a similar change.

Politically motivated deceit? Duplicity? You decide.


“Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is poised to become the new chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is the sponsor of a major tax reform plan…(that) would cut the corporate rate to 24 percent from 35 percent.” —Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute & Brookings Institution, December 26, 2013

“The U.S. is stuck with a 35% corporate tax rate—one of the highest in the world—and a painfully complicated and outdated tax code… I continue to believe that reducing the current corporate tax rate by approximately one-third will bring the U.S. in line with other developed countries that long ago recognized the need to evolve their policies to compete globally while growing their domestic economies.” — Senator Ron Wyden, Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2014

“Senator Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants to cut the corporate income tax rate to 24 percent from 35 percent, chiefly by eliminating loopholes. Wyden has advocated this proposal for years.” — Reuters, June 17, 2014



“The details leaking out… paint a clear picture of an unprecedented tax giveaway for the most fortunate and biggest corporations.” — Senator Ron Wyden, Accounting Today, Sept. 19, 2017

“Massive handouts to corporations does not mean higher wages or more jobs for the middle class. Corporations are already swimming in cash.” — Senator Ron Wyden, Facebook post, Nov. 30, 2017

“U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says he wants to muster the same public outcry that sank Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act to turn back Republican plans for tax cuts benefiting corporations and high-income earners.”— Senator Ron Wyden, Woodburn Independent, Dec. 19, 2017