Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is WikiLeaks a terrorist group? - The Week

Is WikiLeaks a terrorist group? - The Week

The WikiLeaks documents may superficially - at least to those who don't actually take the time to peruse them - seem to be detrimental to our national security. I found nothing surprising in the material that I have read so far. What nations and their representative say publically is generally at odds with the actual facts. And there may be some facts that should never see the light of day - but don't kill the messenger. (Some conservatives propose this action.)

One has to wonder what kind of security is in place if these documents seem to be so readily available? One wonders how many news organization had previously had access to some of these documents and chose not to publish them? Remember the Pentagon Papers?

The Pentagon Papers provided by Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo and published by the New York Times in 1971 ""demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance"".

It was about the Vietnam War. "The most damaging revelations in the papers revealed that four administrations, from Truman to Johnson, had misled the public regarding their intentions." Ironically the source for the papers was the Vietnam Study Task Force, created by the Secretary of Defense McNamara,  whose ostensible purpose was the writing of an "encyclopedic history of the Vietnam War". [Wikipedia].

Julian Assange is sort of  today's Daniel Ellsberg - no Internet in the 70s, but it was the days of good journalism. Like Assange - Ellsberg and his associate Russo were accused of treason. Suffice to say they were not convicted and arguably they did a great service by releasing the documents that at least in some part led to the end of the Vietnam War.

There is a difference between Ellsberg and Assange's role. Ellsberg was an insider and had direct access - Assange is an outsider given the documents. Thus, Assange is further removed form any potential culpability.

The WikiLeaks documents are unlikely to have the impact of the Pentagon Papers. Embarrassing is the only fair characterization of these leaks. Clearly the US ought to be embarrassed for the fact of these disclosures but not their content.

Of course, it is not surprising that document security is so lax given the many stories of government employees leaving their laptops with highly sensitive material where anyone can and do steal them. Thus, focusing on Wikileaks is at best an attempt to cover up the faults of those whose responsibility is to secure documents such as these.

Bureaucratese: livability & sustainability

Livability and All That | Newgeography.com: [Via Bojack.]

"Livability is one of those once innocuous words, like sustainability, that now receive almost unquestioned acceptance in the bureaucracy, academia and the media. After all, words like sustainability and livability have no acceptable negative form. Who could be in favor of anything unlivable, insensitive, unhealthy or unsustainable?"

"The problem here is a total disconnect between what people in a diverse democracy want, and what the central bureaucracy, and their academic allies, wish to impose. The livability agenda may be popular in the press and among pundits, but for most communities and people it’s neither popular nor remotely democratic."

Excellent read.

Anonymous posts breeds Contempt? Yes, but . . . .

The New York Times has an opinion piece that repeats an often published concern - trolling, i.e., "the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums." This posting is always anonymous. But when it comes to legal issues that anonymity can quickly disappear. [See earlier post, and this one too.]

Trolling needs to be discouraged because it produces no positive benefit. Trolling in a sense is somewhat akin to spam. It is bulk messaging with undesired content. There is a bullying or gang aspect too. The trolls invade a website with their content preventing any reasonable discussion of the particular article. Generally the trolls post comments that are in fact irrelevant.

Locally, the Oregonian seems to be a special target for the trolls. Often the comments are taken over by these trolls, and one has to believe that is their purpose. Of course, if they were to become known - the trolling would cease. I never post anonymously - knowing that my name is attached makes me think through my comments.

The New York Times opinion offers some solutions - one being the elimination of anonymous posting. The  problem is that it is the "throw the baby out with the bath water" approach. There are many good reasons to allow anonymous posting, but those reasons don't prohibit editing trolling comments.

The better solution lies in text monitoring software or actual human monitoring. There is no constitutional rationale that requires the publishing of comments. There is no constitutional reasoning that online sites protect the identities of  anyone that posts comments.

Arguably, it is the newspapers or the online site that encourages trolling by not monitoring comments and not eliminating those inappropriate comments. The Oregonian - OregonLive - seems to do little monitoring of trolling. This failure discourages those who have something relevant and reasonable to say.

The Portland Tribune appears successful in prevention of trolling by their approach - comments are not posted automatically, but require that the post be verified by email. You can remain anonymous, but your identity is known to the Tribune.

Anonymous posts can contribute to the discussion, but trolling comments do not.  News outlets and online sites have the responsibility to eliminate trolling.

Monday, November 29, 2010

And why are we there?

Afghan police officer kills 6 US service members - Yahoo! News

Fear-mongering expect more

Intolerance and the Law in Oklahoma - NYTimes.com:

"For a few days this month, it was illegal in Oklahoma for a state judge to base a court decision on Islamic religious law or consider any form of international law. It was a manufactured problem; the issue has never come up in the state’s courts."

A federal court has issued a temporary injunction. But as the New York Times states: "Islamic law, known as Shariah, is no threat to our legal system and is not in force anywhere in the United States except within a religious community, in the same manner as Jewish Halakhic law or Catholic canon law."

Thus, it seems we are becoming a fear-based society that is more than just intolerant. Hate based fear is too prevalent. Arguably, since 9-11 the government, federal, state and local, have used the fear of "terrorism" as a motivating factor in accepting virtually every government intrusion into one's daily life.

Uncomfortable with the Oregonian

Portland's brush with terror | OregonLive.com:

"It is enormously comforting to learn that federal agents had Mohamed Osman Mohamud well in hand for the past five months, stringing him along as he plotted to kill as many people as he could in Pioneer Courthouse Square."

It is not so comforting that this is what comforts the Oregonian. What if the FBI made a mistake along the way. See this analysis. There is nothing in editorial that suggests skepticism. The Oregonian just follows along knowing the government can do no wrong, this time.

While mentioning the FBI's botched case against Brandon Mayfield, according to the Oregonian "the Mohamud case demonstrates the other side of the matter, when the FBI does its job well, heading off mayhem and arresting a suspect."

It is not difficult to argue that given the facts as we know them today - the Portland "terrorist" plot with the same FBI assistance could have been played out in any city.

The facts of the case have yet to be brought forward - yet the Oregonian is more than willing to accept the FBI's version of the facts.

So much for journalism.

Who is reading your email?

The recent FBI sting brought up thoughts about the federal government's access to what would ordinarily be private communications.  In the 60s the National Security Agency were listening in on telephone traffic. They were looking for certain trigger words. How much of that obtained communication was useful or disseminated is not known.

There is no reason to question the ability of security agencies to "listen in" on emails. It may even be easier as text, even coded text, doesn't suffer from vocal issues. Of course my blog posts are there for public consumption. But as with telephone communications, are my emails and blog posts subject to computer "listening?"

Would the listening be more intent or specific if my name sounded as if Islamic? E.g., Mohamed Osman Mohamud.

Businesses and panhandlers

Businesses ponder how to clear out Portland panhandlers « Daily Journal of Commerce

This is an article that once again explores the downtown panhandling problem with little analysis. Basically it is another repeat of the whining by Portland Business Alliance (PBA) demonstrating just how inadequate they are in their representation of the business community that they tax for operating revenue.

It is interesting to read that a national chain had made a decision not to locate downtown because of the presence of panhandling. One must have serious reservations about the veracity of that claim.

The problem is not unique to Portland, but the absence of a solution is unique to PDX. I lived in Berkeley where the real panhandlers, not the problem ones in Portland, would come into the restaurants and coffee houses asking for money. Of course, being a liberal community dollars were readily handed over. Therein lies the best solution - quit forking over money.

I submit that panhandling in cities the size of Portland and larger have similar panhandling problems. Many are in states that do not have as protective constitutional rights as Oregon. But the real issue is found in the definition of panhandlers.

In all of the news media reports about panhandling, the issues have pointed to a very small group of street thugs that have operated without the fear of the police. The PBA's fake cops have done little to ameliorate the lawlessness of this few. [See Portland Business Journal September 2009 article "Retailers air concerns over panhandling, sidewalk traffic."]

Court decisions have made it clear that state laws are sufficient to rid the streets of these street thugs. The city's own sting operations have proved successful, but they are never carried out to the fullest extent, thus applying only temporary pressure.

This is a policing problem pure and simple - PBA is not in the position to solve it. The parking meter trick has been done and was not successful. There used to be one in the PDC lobby - I wonder how much money that collected?

There is an implication that this is some kind of homeless problem where in fact there is no connection, except in the mind of PBA, between these problem "panhandlers" and the homeless.

City police patrolling the area as a beat would discourage the thugs and lessen, if not eliminate, the intimidation factor.

The PBA just doesn't have the skill set to analyze the problem and determine solutions. They have failed every step of the way. If you don't know the problem - you don't have the solution.

Portland terrorist - interesting analysis

at-Largely: FBI thwarts "terra" or terrorist plot in Portland?

This excerpt gives the favor:

"Most of the arrests made by federal authorities [. . .] have relied strongly on the FBI becoming directly involved in moving a plot along, providing material and/or financial support to the alleged plotters, and in some instances actually identifying the locations to be targeted, as with the case of the so-called Liberty City Seven."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mosque arson - other side of the terrorism coin

FBI Investigating Attack on Corvallis Mosque in Wake of Alleged Portland Bomb Plot | Willamette Week

Entrapment - the FBI trick?

Did the FBI trick bomb suspect?

See the Portland Tribune's decent attempt to address the issue of entrapment surely to be raised many times in the days to come.

Hate and violence not ignorance and bliss

FBI: OR bomb suspect spoke of best site for blast - Yahoo! News

The news story is really about an Islamic center arson occurring in Corvallis after the arrest of the "terrorist." In reading the comments to this and other stories related to the bomb plot, it seems that there are those who will hate regardless. Of course they are anonymous comments.

As an aside, it isn't clear why the Islamic center wasn't under police surveillance; and isn't clear why there has been substantial failure by most of the media in making clear that is a domestic terrorist case. Ironically the "terrorist" was assisted by the FBI and not by any foreign terrorist group. In the sting - it was the FBI providing the means and method of the attack.

Bureaucratizing hunger

PolitiFact Oregon | Oregon is one of the nation’s most food-insecure states, but it is among the top five?

Food insecure? Really! Why is it that government agencies expend the effort to make a problem sound less a problem? If you are interested read this paper: "The Concept and Definition of Hunger and Its Relationship to Food Insecurity."

The paper references the 1990 Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO) Report on Nutritional Assessment that had these definitions:

Freedom of the press - not really

US Department of State: still tightlipped over freedom of speech — RT

"An RT crew was locked up in a US jail for 32 hours after they covered a rally near the so-called “school of assassins” in the state of Georgia."

"“We can see the newspapers in this country editorialize in favor of free speech and the First Amendment, give stirring and passionate defenses of these core American values,” said Peter Hart from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.“But when a journalist from another media outlet is arrested without charge, without provocation and put onto a paddywagon, those media outlets are largely silent.”"

Doomed to repeat the failures of the past

US presence in Afghanistan as long as Soviet slog - Yahoo! News

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Best coverage so far, concise with pertinent facts

Postbulletin.com: Official: Teen in Portland bomb incident not directed by terrorists - Saturday, November 27, 2010

Xmas tree ceremony bomb

See two earlier posts: Interesting - can't wait for more detailsOSU student nabbed in bomb plot.

The weekend is the time to break news where it is desired that the "news" be read or heard by the fewest possible. From the comments in the online local media - that seems to be happening this weekend, i.e., few seem to have read or heard about it.

It has been interesting to see the absence of reaction or discussion about the event. Saturday morning into the afternoon I sat in the coffee shop and overheard virtually no conversation about the incident. About 1 in the afternoon two people sat next to me and for one it was a new item that he discovered upon opening his newspaper. He made a brief comment to the other person who apparently cared little. No further conversation. No buzz.

There will be an argument that this is a FBI plot to enhance public opinion of the FBI and their ability to protect us. And similarly there will be the allegation that it is the government's attempt to keep us in fear. But the reaction by the public thus far indicates that neither rationale has any basis.

But there is so much to the story to be disclosed. In reading some of the comments in the Oregonian and Tribune stories - they seem to know more than I have read in any story. Of course the anti-Muslim crowd have started their mumbling even though his religion hasn't been stated. Although the CIA Factbook shows Somalia religions: Sunni Muslim. 

It will probably take a week for the local news media to get to the details - but it ought to be interesting.

OSU student nabbed in bomb plot

OSU student nabbed in bomb plot:

"They got out of the van and walked to meet another undercover agent, who drove to Union Station, the Portland train station, where Mohamud was given a cell phone that he thought would blow up the van, according to the complaint."

"Mohamud dialed the phone agents had given him, and was told the bomb did not detonate. The undercover agents suggested he get out of the car and try again to improve the signal, and when he did, he was arrested, the complaint said."

See my earlier post. And for more information on the "terrorist's" OSU connection see the Corvallis Gazette Times accompanying story.

Interesting - can't wait for more details

US 'foils Oregon bomb plot' - Americas - Al Jazeera English:

""The complaint alleges that Mohamud attempted to detonate what he believed to be a vehicle bomb at a crowded holiday event in downtown Portland, but a co-ordinated undercover law enforcement action was able to thwart his efforts and ensure no one was harmed," David Kris, the assistant attorney general for national security, said."

"While the public was never in danger from the device, this case serves as yet another reminder of the need for continued vigilance both at home and abroad."

The 19 year old Somali born terrorist is apparently a naturalized US citizen residing in Corvallis which about 85 miles south of Portland about midway between Salem and Eugene. [Map] The FBI was on to him and allowed him to indulge in his apparent desire to explode a bomb at the Portland Xmas tree ceremony. The FBI provide all the material assistance he needed except that nothing would explode.

Arguably from today's headlines, the FBI is doing their job. The Tribune had the best story. See my post questioning intelligence as in security. But the skeptic wonders about this story. Will we later be reading about how the individual was entrapped by the FBI?

This is a great opportunity for the journalists of the area - the few that there may be - to ask the right questions and get the answers. Of course it may take a trip or two to Corvallis - the first impediment.

He is described as a naturalized citizen, but it might be interesting to know how he became naturalized. E.g., "Children under 18 become citizens automatically upon the naturalization of one or both parents."

The story as played out in virtually every newspaper - local and nationally - is nearly the same. For the most part the story appearing in the various media outlets was written by AP Staff William McCall and Nedra Pickler. The source for the material is a probable FBI "news release" and the affidavit filed at court.

Thus far - it is a regurgitation of what the FBI wanted to be printed. And that is fine - you have to start somewhere. But, now it is up to our news media to read between the lines and tell us the story behind the headlines.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why you shouldn't smoke

BBC News - Passive smoking 'kills 600,000' worldwide

People who kill others usually go to jail. Don't complain or feel sympathy for the smokers that are banned to the outdoors even in the rain and cold.

It is hard to believe that people continue to smoke in the face of the cause and effect health problems. Smoking not only affects the health of the smoker but also those around the smoker.

Frankly, what people do to themselves is their issue, but when what they do also affects the health and well being of others - then it is a societal problem. Clearly, something more is needed than high taxes on cigarettes.

Intelligence - these are our protectors?

BBC News - Karzai aide blames British for Taliban impostor

The so called intelligence community like that in the UK and USA continue to fail even the simplest tasks. Terrorists must have the utmost contempt for the abilities of this intelligence. With little effort the CIA, MI6 and others can be fooled, and when fooled, they point the finger at others.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clouds - is that where you want your data?

Google’s Chrome OS Is Prepared for a Netbook - NYTimes.com

Google is pushing the cloud concept further with its Google operating system. Essentially it will have the look and feel of the Chrome browser. A device that can access the Internet will be the traditional computer. Is this prudent?

"Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid." Maybe a better definition is found at Techmixer: “Cloud computing refers to both the applications delivered as services over the Internet and the hardware and systems software in the datacenters that provide those services. [. . .] The datacenter hardware and software is what we will call a Cloud.” See some of the advantages in the Newsweek article: "Does it mean that computer software is becoming obsolete?"

Police risk gunfire to rescue women

Police risk gunfire to rescue women from Southeast Portland home during standoff | OregonLive.com

To my surprise - it is an Oregonian article, but my surprise dissipated when I saw that the author was not Maxine Bernstein nor Steve Duin. And not to my surprise, the article brought little attention from those, other media outlets and bloggers, who are traditionally anti-police.

 It was written by Joseph Rose who rarely, if at all, writes about police matters. It was well written without the anti-police bias one can expect from opinion reporter Bernstein or columnist Duin. It may have defaulted to Mr. Rose because of the holiday, but it was really pleasant to read a story by a reporter.

Urban renewal - the pot at the end of the rainbow

Rose Quarter indecision choking other neighborhoods « Daily Journal of Commerce

What follows is basically my comment to the Journal's article. The headline clearly states the gist of the article. The article would have one believe that there is some consensus in the neighborhoods and their need or desire to tap into PDC funding.
There is something wrong with the picture being painted or it is my perspective. E.g., it is difficult to believe or imagine that the neighborhoods want urban renewal knowing that they will have taken on 20 years or more of debt via tax increment financing. A tax debt that comes without a vote.

What is seen in articles like this, not necessarily a criticism of the article, is the concept that the money PDC disperses comes from some sort of pot at the end of the rainbow. Free money it is not - property taxes pay for urban renewal. Urban renewal tends to benefit developers at the expense of property owners.

Even though property owners other than home owners, e.g., commercial or rental housing, can benefit from urban renewal, blight removal, they can and do pass on their risk to lessees. Only the developers have a no risk position.

This is another situation where property owners have become the banks for businesses: ". . . the neighborhood could benefit from PDC’s loan programs for businesses in urban renewal areas. Several businesses are ready to expand, but few lenders are willing to loan money."

The fact that private capital is unavailable ought to be a sign that the project is not financially feasible. Urban renewal does well when blight is eliminated, but not so well when the sole goal is to aid and bail out developers or, in this case, provide expansion seed money for businesses.

Governments, especially local governments and their agencies like PDC, are incapable of operating in the financial and economic realm of the business world. As the mayor and PDC continually make clear - politics is not a business attribute.

What does one call a governmental system whereby the government and its politics determine the business and economic environments? Where the source of money used to support business comes from its citizens and residents? It certainly is not capitalism or free enterprise.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gang violence and Portland's gun control plan

The Week had this quote by Garvin Franklin a former gang member now doing outreach, but went on to ignore its significance: “The ordinance does not address the root cause: Who is supplying the guns?” It points out the rather silly and political aggrandizement by the mayor and his pet police chief. [See too Week's editorial]

The new gun control ordinances, unlikely to survive the expected legal challenge, are gun control ordinances plain and simple. It is wrapped in anti-gang rhetoric, but contains little if anything that will in any measurable way stop gang violence. It is pure politics.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lake Oswego city attorney wants to spell out who is, is not a journalist

Lake Oswego city attorney wants to spell out who is, is not a journalist

This has to do with their city's, and it applies to Portland too, executive sessions. The issue came to a head when a blogger attempted to attend an executive session. Executive sessions are those closed door meeting where the city or agency does not want public scrutiny. In many cases it is for good reason. Clearly, some situations requiring maintenance of confidentially mandates a public deliberation cloaked in privacy. To insure that this privilege is not abused the news media is to sit in and observe.

However, those who sit in are not free to publish anything about the content of the meeting. The article states as a rationale for not including bloggers is that news organizations can be easily punished for violation of the confidentially. And it is a decent argument that executive sessions need the freedom of frank and honest discussions that can't occur in pubic meetings or might not occur if content were to be published. Although some would argue why not?

A perspective from a former Portland gang member

A former Portland gang member leaves prison with a mission: to help others from following him | OregonLive.com

There was an excellent article in the Oregonian by Maxine Bernstein despite that I don't see her as an excellent journalist. She can write a good story but too often, as I see it, her writing is way too biased against police officers. Rarely does she take on the command structure. But that is off the point.

The story has all the good feel that can come from someone, Mr. Branch, who apparently has turned his life around - from gang member to gang outreach activist. His has a clear message for the mayor, the rest of the city council and the police chief:

"They say the city needs to get beyond the usual cat-and-mouse game: Gang members spray bullets on the streets and young people die; city leaders, the police chief and prosecutors vow more federal prosecutions, stiffer curfews and new gun control crimes."

"Branch said such threats won't intimidate young gangsters. Threats didn't get through to him when he was young. "Measure 11, that all you got?" Branch recalled thinking. "If it doesn't matter when you hear you're either going to end up in the penitentiary or you're going to die, you think a few more gun laws will?"

Mr. Branch and others like him ought to be working, as in paid, for the city. What do you think is the probability? Worse yet is that his message more likely than not fell on deaf ears.

Say it isn't so - can things get worse? Apparently so.

U.S. Pursues Sweeping Insider-Trading Probe - WSJ.com:

"The investigations, if they bear fruit, have the potential to expose a culture of pervasive insider trading in U.S. financial markets, including new ways non-public information is passed to traders through experts tied to specific industries or companies, federal authorities say."

Who will Wall Street blame now?

TSA - the bullly

TSA has met the enemy — and they are us - Yahoo! News [An uncredited use of Pogo's famous phrase by Yahoo! News.]

"After nine years of funneling travelers into ever longer lines with orders to have shoes off, sippy cups empty and laptops out for inspection, the most surprising thing about increasingly heated frustration with the federal Transportation Security Administration may be that it took so long to boil over."

The TSA is a good example of an agency running amuck. It has used its power to continue to push and shove us until the frustration finally takes hold and the public starts to push and shove back. Thanks to Mr. Tyner who had the balls (and didn't want TSA to feel them) to stand up. 

Enough is enough.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cavity search next?

In an earlier post I noted the start of opposition to these airport invasions of privacy in the name of security. Ever since 9-11 the basic privacy rights has been degraded to a point that there is none. Nothing seems to stop our government in efforts to erode certain - once guaranteed - rights.

This isn't about whether there should or should not be airport security, but whether the government has crossed the line in their efforts "to protect" us. Of course they have crossed the line and they have done their best to keep us scared so we will sheepish like go along with their proclamations of need to violate your body.

The full body scanners that present you to the TSA personnel naked are an invasion of your privacy. But bad as these are, TSA took the next step to further invade your privacy rights - touching you where virtually no other can. It is illegal. Not only are men touched in the groin, but woman are felt around their breasts and one would assume their pelvic area is not off limits.

And just to let you know that the full body scanners whose pictures are never to see the light of day - you might find yours on the Internet. This from Washington Post: "Full body scanner images released online -- just not images from an airport scanners." Also do a simple Google search "pictures from airport scanners."

One of the often seen arguments for this increased need to touch an individual in his or her most intimate and personal areas is that the recent "terrorist" attempt to hide an explosive device in his underwear demonstrates a need to search your groin and your breasts.

Take a peek at the "bomb" sewn into the underwear. It could have been put anywhere on his body or clothing without likely detection. Even with the increased security procedures it is not likely that the "bomb" would have been detected at boarding. It could have been hidden in his rectum. Anyone willing to have his genitals blown off would be willing to have that explosion take place inside the body. 

The jails have body cavity searches because of the ability to bring contraband into jail. "For example, objects may be concealed by inserting them into the rectum. Illegal drugs can be placed in condoms and temporarily stored in the colon. Cylinders such as cigar tubes are used to hide money, intravenous syringes, and knives."

Take a peek at the medical journals list of objects found in the rectum (a partial list): "A bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's syrup, an ax handle, a nine-inch zucchini, countless dildoes and vibrators including one 14-inch model complete with two D-cell batteries, . . . ." Needless to say there is plenty of room to store virtually anything the government uses to justify their outrageous conduct.

History demonstrates that people will give up their lives for a cause especially those with extremists views. Japanese Kamikaze suicide bombers is an example. Why does anyone believe that there would be no one that would stick a bomb or bomb making materials into their rectum?

And it has become apparent with the involvement in Iraq and elsewhere that children will be used as suicide bombers. For example see this 2009 Washington Times article. Are we then willing to see our children subjected to these invasive searches?

The Oregonian editorial board riding their high horse made an attempt to justify the use of these procedures with  an editorial with a cute title: Welcome to the less-friendly skies. The gist of the editorial that it is necessary for our protection. Keeping us scared is the objective. One wonders whether they fly regular flights - you know those that most of us fly? Would they subject their children to this molestation?

See this from the Washington Examiner: "The President and his family — preferably with DHS Secretary Janet “The system worked” Napolitano — should show up at Dulles or Reagan airport on a weekday with a camera crew in tow, as airport pat downs are typically done in full view of hundreds of travelers. All of America will to see the TSA handling the President’s crown jewels. Then a rubber-gloved federal agent will run his hands all over his wife and daughter’s privates while he watches."

I would add congressmen and women and all government officials who are enabled to avoid airport security. But, the message might get to the law and rule makers who decide for us but don't have to suffer the effects of their decisions if the TSA National Opt-Out Day has some measure of success.

The heart of the problem is failed intelligence. 9-11 and other attempts should have been prevented by intelligence gathering. The focus of resolving the problem should be on the intelligence community. Unless we are willing to subject each man, woman and child to strip and body cavity searches - there will always be someone that will get by airport security.

It seems that the terrorists have won - they have us seemingly willing to undergo the most degrading and invasive conduct by our government in the name of security.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Refusal of Calif airport groin check

Finally someone who has had enough.

"If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."

"I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal."

Go straight to the blog post.

See Scanners and pat-downs upset airline passengers.

Great video.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Catlin Gabel - success story

It cannot be denied that Catlin Gabel (CG) is a success. The school states that: Students learn to think, write, and speak critically and independently.” Of course that is standard rhetoric. But, the fact that the school produced two finalists (the only two from Oregon) in the Intel Science Talent Search is credible evidence supporting that statement. Evidence too is found from their website where it is stated: 100% are admitted to college and more than 20% are National Merit semifinalists or commended scholars.

Take a look at an interesting comparison between CG SAT scores and a high performing public high school such as Lincoln High. From CG: SAT scores for the class of 2010:Reading 657Math 649Writing 651. From the Oregonian, Lincoln High: SAT scores Reading 581Math 578Writing 564. Clearly CG is performing better.

The chart at the right shows 2009 SAT comparisons: Portland Public Schools, Oregon, USA and Catlin Gabel. Interesting enough PPS does better than the state or nation, but CG out preforms.

While it is argued that SAT testing is useful only for comparison purposes, I submit that when the test scores are as good as CG's, it demonstrates an effective and comprehensive educational program. And, it is more than teaching test taking. {See this article Wondering What to Think About All These Tests?]

It is interesting too that when one looks at the top 72 Oregon "outstanding" schools Lincoln High is near the top, but there are three Beaverton public high schools above Lincoln High: School of Science and TechnologyInternational School of Beaverton; and Arts and Communication High School.

It isn't clear from the test scores and the like why Catlin Gabel and others are so successful. They are clearly successful - and not just by a few points But why? And why hasn't there been any studies concerning successful schools?

It is my belief that educational success stories are the result of families and schools that have high expectations of their students, and not because of some culture or wealth determinates or whether the school is private or public (includes charter). Nor is it the teacher to student ratio, diversity, or even funding. It is not that these factors, and others, don't have some influence - they are just not primary.

I repeat - why hasn't there been any (published) studies concerning successful schools?

Portland schools look for $550 million in building upgrades

The Portland Tribune's article: Portland schools look for $550 million in building upgrades. It seems that PPS is floating this early to anesthetize the public. It is stated: "The bond measure’s rate, about $2 per $1,000 of assessed value, would cost just under $25 a month for a median household worth about $275,000."

It might not have been intended but it seems that the thinking is that $25/month isn't much. It wasn't clear how that figure was determined, but if I knew my taxes (I don't own property) were about to increase by $25 a month I would be more than concerned.

There was this attempt by PPS to justify the building upgrades: "Seattle is also rebuilding its schools and is seeing a spike in enrollment because the schools are more attractive." Query: Is this way to get children in school?

Rather than justify its needs to rehab its buildings with conventional rationale - PPS seeks to connect the building upgrades with improvements in educational content and corresponding results. Of course, there is the tried and true connection to jobs - it is the rallying cry, however fraudulent, for construction projects.

Does anyone really believe that the PPS dropout rate will decrease or that the on time graduation will increase with new or rehabilitated buildings? [See Oregon high school graduation rates.] Will new buildings increase learning? Ironically one the buildings that the money will be spent on - Lincoln High School - does fairly well in test scores

Granted that the rationale for this potential bond measure is valid, i.e., the buildings need upgrading; but  with TriMet, urban renewal and others looking to suck up more and more of the property taxpayer's dollar - something has to give.

Where is the rational proposals for educating Portland students to be competitive not only in Portland, but in Oregon and USA?

PISA & NAEP education assessment data - nation states, USA and states

The Oregonian had an article about a study using data from Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The focus os the study is on math performance. The NAEP will release a report on the 2009 Nation Report Card in math and reading on November 18, 2010.

The study is "U. S. Math Performance in Global Perspective; How well does each state do at producing high-achieving students?" by Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann. Prepared under the auspices of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next Taubman Center for State and Local Government Harvard Kennedy School; PEPG Report No.: 10–19, November 2010.

The study can be found on the PISA sitethe Education Next site, and Harvard's PEPG site. The study is important for a variety of reasons, but a most important one is that it provides a comparison of the effectiveness of disparate educational systems - international, nation, and states.

Thus one can get an appreciation as to where we are as a nation or as a state in comparison to other nations and states. Interesting is that while Oregon does poorly in testing it is doing better than the national average. But there is a concern, I think reflected in the Oregonian article, that since the state is "better" than the nation as a whole - we should rejoice. 

It isn't clear from the myriad of articles on educational performance that Portland Public Schools or the state recognizes the need to raise the expectations bar. It must be remembered too that for the testing the US schools are public schools. Thus, how much better would the state had scored if the state standard was that exhibited by the private Catlin Gabel or the charter International School of the Cascades or even the public School of Science and Technology?

The study is an excellent read. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What is left to "Made in USA?"

KGW had the story relating to the sale of Sara Lee to a Mexican, yes Mexican, firm Grupobimbo. The KGW story was too brief, but one wonders about the total effect of this sale. Assuming that all extant USA locations stay at present employment levels - the profits escape to Mexico. Thus while one might claim "Made in the USA" - arguably the important part - capital - can and will be used in some other country than the USA.

Thus the value to the USA is not only employed USA workers but capital that stays in the USA used to emply more USA workers.

Drop outs - more than a statistic - a travesty

The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond does the best writing about the Oregon school system, especially Portland Public Schools (PPS). See her article: 'Not acceptable:' Nearly one-third of Oregon high school students drop out. Too bad that PPS leads the way. I am not well comforted to know that a very liberal city has such a poor public school educational system.

The drop out rate for PPS is about 33% and the on time graduation is about 53%. Schools with high graduation rates have low dropout rates. But the statistic on time graduation rate also includes those enrolled for a fifth year as well as those receiving special education diplomas.

For those who may be surprised at the numbers - it comes, according to Hammond, as a result of a change in the method of counting that will - next year - enable a state by state comparison. It is a substantial difference. Using the old method the tally this year instead of 66% would have been 85%.

Who do you think they were fooling all these past years? Thankfully, the feds put a stop to the fraud.  It all has to do with the feds trying to improve the educational system nationwide. While some criticize the federal "intervention" it is starting to make a difference in that if schools want federal money ( a return on taxes) then they have to improve. Clearly states like Oregon were not going to do it on their own. If nothing else, the public will be able to see more transparency and accountability in their local, state and national schools.

What also might be surprising, but shouldn't be, is the composition of the Oregon dropouts: 72% are white; 15% are Hispanic; 52% are male; 14% have disabilities; 10% are gifted; 43% are low income. [Oregonian]. The surprise is that 13% is apparently left to be divided among Asian, black and the ever present "other." But no surprise is that while the PPS has high drop out rate and a low on time graduation rate - little is being done about it.

"Low graduation rates are a primary reason that Portland Superintendent Carole Smith has called for redesigning the district's high schools." I think the Oregonian got it wrong. A look at that link doesn't lead one to believe that the goal is to better the graduation rates or lessen drop out rates. Not surprisingly for a city that uses "sustainable" as it was an article (a, an, & the), the linked web page states that PPS is taking "a major step toward creating a more sustainable high school system."

And take a peek at a Tribune article where the PPS goal is to float a bond measure for its infrastructure - Portland schools look for $550 million in building upgrades. The Tribune has these quotes from Smith: “Even in these tough times — particularly in these tough times — education is worth the investment.” “Portland residents understand the value of education in helping our community’s young people be competitive in the job market.”

Hogwash! Not one dollar will go to increase the ability of PPS to turn out better educated high school seniors. But of course - it will be a "shot in the arm" for the local community. There is not one indicator that portents a positive change in the increase in the education of Portlanders' students and thus the ability of these students to obtain good jobs in Portland, Oregon, or anywhere in the USA.

Now don't you feel better? 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Keith Olbermann Suspended

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann suspended for contributing to 3 Democratic candidates seems to be just another flash in the pan issue. The issue, if any, is the violation of company policy established for journalists. He apparently has violated that policy and thus far has not whined about being a victim.

Rachel Maddow: “We are not a political operation. Fox is. We are a news operation. And the rules around here are part of how you know that.

Imagine a news organization trying to maintain some appearance of propriety. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Grove Hotel - the white elephant

Grove Hotel
Apparently David Gold and his partner John Jay have made an interesting proposal for the Grove Hotel - a youth hostel. Of course it is to be affordable, which basically means they want property tax payers to fund their project. The Grove is owned by city (PDC).

It is interesting in a puzzling sense. Gold, and maybe Jay is included, owns Blocks 33 (Goldsmith Block) and block 32 except for the Grove Hotel. Block 33 is presently a parking lot which has proven to be an attractive option to development. But, Block 33 has been the talked about proposed site for the Asian grocery store Uwajimaya.

Block 33
It is understandable why Gold and Jay want something other than a zero income housing, shelter, or housing of recent released from incarceration located next to their properties - but a youth hostel?

The Grove is on W Burnside catercorner from the US Bancorp tower - the big pink - which has never proven to be a catalyst for development on Burnside. Old Town portion of Burnside is pretty much social services (used in broad sense) row.

It is far from being a prestigious location. E.g., the Miller Nash law firm is looking to move from the Bancorp building stating that the "lawyers are ready for a change in scenery away from the gritty Burnside strip and neighboring Old Town." [Oregonian].

So what happened to the proposed large mixed used development for the two blocks including the Asian grocery store? [See HAP]. Gold has been trying to develop those properties for a long time. Why not develop the Grove into something worth while?

There is more to the story.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Audacity in the face of futility

Pissing in the wind is what I suspect the chair of the Old Town Livability and Public Safety Committee might feel about his efforts. Howard Weiner has been and still is the preeminent leader in Old Town. Old Town would not be as safe and livable as it is without Howard's dogged determination. 

Howard doesn't live in Old Town but has a business there and he walks the walk. Most of the other business owners always find excuses why they can't participate in finding solutions. Yet they are quick to complain. It is always easier to leave it to somebody else.

He has been working to improve Old Town long before I moved to Old Town and apparently continues even after I moved out. I read the recent minutes from the committee and Howard is still working and still facing much of the same problems.

These problems, mostly drug oriented, find temporary solutions, but without continual efforts by the police and other city agencies - the committee has yet to find permanent solutions. 

I sincerely hope, and if anyone can do it - it is Howard, that he will get that rock up to the top and over. But, as long as the neighborhood leaves it to one person to do the job - it might not ever get done. Effective problem solving need collaborative efforts.


Russian president's view on WWII

Russian president gives his view on WWII - RT Top Stories

An interesting interview by Russia Today with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussing WWII. Maybe only someone who remembers the Good War, the Russians call it the Great Patriotic War, will find the interview interesting, but it is a refreshing view.