Sockeye Blog

Think back to when you were a student... Did you have your own desk? Did you have time to ask a question when you felt confused? Did your teacher know your name?

Now flash to the present. What do Oregon classes look like? 

See for yourself:

Think back to when you were a student... Did you have your own desk? Did you have time to ask a question when you felt confused? Did your teacher know your name?

Now flash to the present. What do Oregon classes look like? 

See for yourself:

Overcrowded Classrooms, Rowe Middle School from Our Oregon on Vimeo.

Things we can calculate: Oregon class sizes have gone up. Oregon school funding and number of teaching positions have gone down.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: these were not inevitable policy choices. This was the result of bad decisions and skewed priorities over the years, including choosing tax breaks for the rich over adequate school funding for our children.

We know that disinvesting in our education is bad for all of us. The only thing we can't calculate is to what extent these policy decisions will harm the state of Oregon's future if we keep on with the status quo.

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When I first read Congressman Todd Akin's unbelievable, unfounded comments about "legitimate rape," I didn't react immediately. I scrolled right on past the outraged commentaries and their associated links. But then I stopped and realized what had happened -- I have become so desensitized to these types of statements from the GOP that I wasn't surprised enough to be outrage. 

You can see Akin's comments here, but the real story is not that the GOP has one member that is so adamantly opposed to a woman's right to choose that he fabricates scientific evidence about how the "...female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down" when experiencing rape. It's that Akin spoke out loud about the policies Republicans support.

But, wait just a minute! Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have distanced themselves from the Congressman and issued statements that they disagree with his comments. And so have plenty of other Republicans running for office.

But do they really think what Akin said is wrong? Or are they attempting to save face by pushing back on what turned out to be (surprise!) unpopular with the public?

As it turns out, the Republican Party ratified its draft platform language today, which includes support for a constitutional amendment to declare "personhood" for fertilized eggs, effectively banning all abortion for any reason, in any circumstance.

Sounds to me like Todd Akin was indeed speaking on behalf of the Republican Party platform when he spoke about "legitimate rape" in attempts to justify a policy that impose a ban on all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

When I first read Congressman Todd Akin's unbelievable, unfounded comments about "legitimate rape," I didn't react immediately. I scrolled right on past the outraged commentaries and their associated links. But then I stopped and realized what had happened -- I have become so desensitized to these types of statements from the GOP that I wasn't surprised enough to be outrage. 

You can see Akin's comments here, but the real story is not that the GOP has one member that is so adamantly opposed to a woman's right to choose that he fabricates scientific evidence about how the "...female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down" when experiencing rape. It's that Akin spoke out loud about the policies Republicans support.

But, wait just a minute! Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have distanced themselves from the Congressman and issued statements that they disagree with his comments. And so have plenty of other Republicans running for office.

But do they really think what Akin said is wrong? Or are they attempting to save face by pushing back on what turned out to be (surprise!) unpopular with the public?

As it turns out, the Republican Party ratified its draft platform language today, which includes support for a constitutional amendment to declare "personhood" for fertilized eggs, effectively banning all abortion for any reason, in any circumstance.

Sounds to me like Todd Akin was indeed speaking on behalf of the Republican Party platform when he spoke about "legitimate rape" in attempts to justify a policy that impose a ban on all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

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As it turns out, even we can still be surprised by the intellectual depths to which the Oregonian’s PolitiFact Oregon project can sink. Under the helm of publisher N. Christian Anderson III, PolitiFact has become a poorly disguised extension of his right-wing Editorial page.

The latest “ruling” from the PolitiFact team read like dispatches from Bizarro Planet, where up is down and yes means no—and “technically correct” means “mostly false.”

As it turns out, even we can still be surprised by the intellectual depths to which the Oregonian’s PolitiFact Oregon project can sink. Under the helm of publisher N. Christian Anderson III, PolitiFact has become a poorly disguised extension of his right-wing Editorial page.

The latest “ruling” from the PolitiFact team read like dispatches from Bizarro Planet, where up is down and yes means no—and “technically correct” means “mostly false.”

Over the weekend, the Oregonian ran a PolitiFact piece on Secretary of State Kate Brown’s comment about the multiple roles that the Secretary of State has in Oregon.

Here’s what she said: "Our neighbor to the north, the state of Washington, they elect a lieutenant governor, a secretary of state and a state auditor," Brown said in a May television interview. "I basically do all three of those jobs for less than the price of one of them."

(As a former staffer at the Secretary of State’s office under a different Secretary, I can attest to the truth of this. Oregon’s SOS runs many seemingly unrelated agencies: Elections, Auditing, Corporate Filings, Archives, just to name a few, plus sits on the State Land Board AND fills in as Acting Governor if the governor is ever incapacitated.)

PolitiFact Oregon took a look at Brown’s statement, compared her salary to other elected office holders in Washington, and deemed that “when Brown said she’s a threefer, essentially doing in one role what Washington elects three people to do, she’s technically correct. She selects the chief auditor, she is typically seen as the de facto lieutenant governor and, of course, she is Oregon’s secretary of state.”

So there you go. Her statement is correct, and that’s that. Right?

Not so fast. Remember that under Anderson’s watch, “facts” are less important than “twisting the truth and journalistic integrity in order to advance Anderson’s political ideology.”

So, instead, they rated her statement “Mostly False” (pretty much the exact opposite of “technically correct”) by introducing a bunch of facts that Brown never asserted, like the role of agency managers who work under the elected officials.

Anderson is clearly intent on driving away the last of his core readership by pushing the paper to the right so that it resembles papers like the Orange County Register and the Colorado Springs Gazette, the last two conservative newspapers he helmed. But he’s not content to leave his right-wing politics on the opinion page, and he’s now using reporters and fact-checkers to push his agenda.

Frankly, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the newspaper’s future is now more uncertain than ever.

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This November, Kevin Mannix wants Oregon voters to pass a new tax break for the richest 2% of Oregonians— forcing hundreds of millions in cuts to schools, senior care, and other state services. His measure would repeal the Estate Tax, which would only benefit estates worth more than $1 million. It would also create a massive new tax loophole that would allow rich families to avoid paying taxes on their wealth. (Read more about the bad policy here.)

This November, Kevin Mannix wants Oregon voters to pass a new tax break for the richest 2% of Oregonians— forcing hundreds of millions in cuts to schools, senior care, and other state services. His measure would repeal the Estate Tax, which would only benefit estates worth more than $1 million. It would also create a massive new tax loophole that would allow rich families to avoid paying taxes on their wealth. (Read more about the bad policy here.)

Mannix is the one bringing this terrible idea to Oregon, but it’s not an original concept. This is part of a nationwide coordinated effort by lobbyists for large corporations and the rich to cut taxes for the wealthy—even while states are struggling just to keep school doors open. This all-out effort is a major part of the strategy on the right to increase the amount of wealth concentration at the very top, while the middle-class plummets.

Here’s who’s driving this effort across the country:

ALEC: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an organization that serves to pair up elected officials with representatives from oil, tobacco, banking, and other corporate interests, providing an opportunity for corporations to write state laws and deliver them directly into the hands of the those politicians. Last year, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) discovered a trove of 800 “model bills” that big corporations like ExxonMobil and Bank of America wrote and sent back to state Legislatures around the nation.

While we know ALEC has several Oregon members, we don’t know the full extent of ALEC's involvement in Oregon politics and with Oregon politicians. What we do know, though, is that the corporate interests at ALEC crafted a model bill directing state legislatures to resolve a repeal of the federal Estate tax. Turns out, the resolution’s talking points are nearly identical to Mannix’s campaign talking points.

The fact that Mannix is carrying an ALEC-inspired proposal shouldn’t be surprising. For many years, Mannix has pushed for Oregon to adopt the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law that ALEC got passed in numerous states—including Florida, where it led to the death of Trayvon Martin.

The Koch Brothers:  One of the most active nation-wide organizations that works to repeal the estate tax around the nation is the Policy & Taxation Group. Not only does this group work to abolish the federal estate tax, they also work to “coordinate the efforts of other tax reform organizations to eliminate the duplication of effort and present consistent data” (from the Policy & Taxation Group website.) If the Policy & Taxation Group was involved in Mannix’s efforts, why wouldn’t he reveal this partnership? Probably because a report by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy identifies the individuals behind the group – including Charles and David Koch.

We don’t know the extent to which these national groups are funding Mannix, because he’s hiding the identities of his political donors. But it’s clear that giving the wealthy a major estate tax break is part of a concerted effort to let the rich get richer, while the rest of us pay the costs.

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Let’s face it, the news today can be downright depressing. It’s important to remember that things aren’t all bad — in fact, there are some really great things happening around us all the time. Introducing, The Bright Side of Life!

Happy Friday, folks! Here are a few stories that brightened things up around the OO office this week:

Let’s face it, the news today can be downright depressing. It’s important to remember that things aren’t all bad — in fact, there are some really great things happening around us all the time. Introducing, The Bright Side of Life!

Happy Friday, folks! Here are a few stories that brightened things up around the OO office this week:

The WiIlamette River gets some national attention as the US Department of the Interior adds the river to its registry of "National Water Trail Systems."

New species (within a new taxonomic family!) of spiders discovered in Oregon caves: the troglaraptor!

And, yes, it's hot. We know. But never fear: it's going to cool off this weekend! (And, in the meantime, here are some tips to stay cool. To this list, we'd add get some ice cream!)

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What’s that? You think the rich are paying their fair share? Umm…

What’s that? You think the rich are paying their fair share? Umm…

From the New York Times

It so happens that this summer the Internal Revenue Service released data from the 400 individual income tax returns reporting the highest adjusted gross income. This elite ultrarich group earned on average $202 million in 2009, the latest year available. And buried in the data is the startling disclosure that six of the 400 paid no federal income tax

[The] data demonstrates that many of the ultrarich can and do reduce their tax liability to very low levels, even zero. Besides the six who paid no federal income tax, the I.R.S. reported that 27 paid from zero to 10 percent of their adjusted gross incomes and another 89 paid between 10 and 15 percent… So more than a quarter of the people earning an average of over $200 million in 2009 paid less than 15 percent of their adjusted gross income in taxes.

Our schools are struggling, public safety has been slashed, and basic health care services for our seniors and people with disabilities have been drastically reduced. So, yeah, forgive us for thinking the rich don’t need any more tax breaks at the expense of our community needs.

But here in Oregon, that is exactly what Kevin Mannix is proposing. The Oregon Estate Tax Repeal (Measure 84) is a new tax break for the wealthiest Oregonians and will force the state to make cuts to vital services like education, health care, and public safety. Mannix has made his priorities clear: tax breaks for the rich are more important that funding our shared community needs, like schools.

So when you cast your ballot this November, it’s important to ask yourself: What are your priorities? Do you think the rich need more tax breaks? Or do you believe we should preserve stable funding for our schools and other important community services by saying ‘no’ to Measure 84?

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There’s been a slew of news pieces on Paul Ryan since Mitt Romney announced Ryan’s name Twitter unleashed the news of the VP pick. Much of the coverage so far has pointed out that Ryan’s entry into the race will make the debate over taxes and the budget clearer.

There’s been a slew of news pieces on Paul Ryan since Mitt Romney announced Ryan’s name Twitter unleashed the news of the VP pick. Much of the coverage so far has pointed out that Ryan’s entry into the race will make the debate over taxes and the budget clearer.

Because while Paul Ryan has made his name and political career on a staunchly conservative platform, eschewing those crazy “liberal” ideas like science and women’s rights, what Ryan is best known for – and the clearest view into his political agenda – is the Ryan budget proposal.

When Ryan announced his plan last spring, the analysts over at Oregon Center for Public Policy and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities took a look through the report to determine what Ryan’s plan would mean for Oregonians. Here’s what they found out:

  • Ryan’s budget proposal dramatically cuts assistance programs for poor and vulnerable citizens. More specifically, the program would slash Medicaid, Social Security, and SNAP food assistance.
    • SNAP: Oregon would lose about $1.88 billion over a ten-year period in SNAP, reducing opportunities to help the state’s most vulnerable. That’s a lot of meals no longer deliverable to the folks that need them. In fact, Ryan’s proposal doesn’t stop at just reducing funds, but would also transform SNAP into a block grant – which means that each state gets the same amount of limited money, regardless of needs or situations. As Oregon is the state with the highest percentage in the nation of food insecurity among youth, this would be particularly detrimental to our state.
  • While Ryan’s budget purports to be ”unable to afford” the programs necessary to protect our most vulnerable (seniors, people with disabilities, the working poor), Ryan’s proposal miraculously found the budget to create new tax cuts for millionaires. And as Oregon ties its tax code to the federal code, this would mean reduced revenue at both the federal and state level.

We’ve said before that the upcoming election will be about choosing our priorities and the direction of our future, on the state and federal level. With Romney’s new VP pick, the policy implications just got a little clearer. The question is: What kind of state and what kind of country do we want to have? One that protects students, seniors, and community safety, or one that gives more and more tax breaks away to large corporations and the rich?

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Over the past five years, our spending priorities have grown out of balance.

In one infographic:

Over the past five years, our spending priorities have grown out of balance.

In one infographic:

Thanks for sharing on facebook and twitter.

(For more information, check out this post from when we first explored these numbers.)

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In the midst of doing some research for a later project, I surfed across some pretty cool tools on student loan debt. While we've looked before at student loan debt skyrocketing amidst tuition increases, it's fascinating to get a look at the scope of the problem.

Check it out:

In the midst of doing some research for a later project, I surfed across some pretty cool tools on student loan debt. While we've looked before at student loan debt skyrocketing amidst tuition increases, it's fascinating to get a look at the scope of the problem.

Check it out:

From the New York Times is an interactive map of student debt by university. You can check out how student debt has changed over the years, discover what percentage of graduates have debt, and view out how various variables affect student debt:

From the Institute for College Access and Success comes this map which allows you to select your state and view key statistics, including average debt, total enrollment cost, and percentage of students receiving Pell grants -- nationally, state-wide, or by university.

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The Atlantic has a great article this week on income inequality in America.

The Atlantic has a great article this week on income inequality in America. Duke University Professor Dan Ariely writes about the discrepency between actual income inequality and the (much more optimistic - and incorrect) perception of wealth distribution. 

Imagine that we took all Americans and sorted them by wealth along a line with the poorest on the left and continuing as wealth increases until on the right we have the richest. Now, imagine that we divide them into five buckets with an equal number of citizens in each. The first bucket contains the poorest 20% of the population, the next contains the second wealthiest tier, and so on down to the wealthiest 20% (see Figure 1).

Figure1.png

With this in mind, from the total pie of wealth (100%) what percent do you think the bottom 40% (that is, the first two buckets together) of Americans possess? And what about the top 20%? If you guessed around 9% for the bottom and 59% for the top, you're pretty much in line with the average response we got when we asked this question of thousands of Americans.

 

The reality is quite different. Based on Wolff (2010), the bottom 40% of the population combined has only 0.3% of wealth while the top 20% possesses 84% (see Figure 2). These differences between levels of wealth in society comprise what's called the Gini coefficient, which is one way to quantify inequality.

 

 Figure2.png

It goes to show why it can sometimes be a challenge to discuss the issue. Turns out, many American's belief systems on taxes and economic fairness are formulated from an inaccurate baseline.

Further, Ariely asked respondents to indicate their ideal level of wealth distribution. Check it out:

Figure3.png

(h/t to Patrick Emerson at the Oregon Economics Blog.)

As it turns out, Americans wish that wealth was distributed more fairly than they think it is -- and yet they think that it's distributed more fairly than it actually is. 

In other words, we've got a long way to go to get to where most of us want to be. We should start by saying no to politicians and tax policies that want to further cater to big corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

And there are some opportunities available to us now. In Oregon, we can vote this fall to repeal the corporate kicker tax break. At the national level, we should be calling on our electeds to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest who don't need any more tax breaks.

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