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August 04, 2008


Enviros have argued for decades for higher gas prices, both through ending subsidies to US oil companies and by significant tax increases.

It's all well and good, until you look at the economic impact this would have on the least fortunate among us.

It's bad enough the Democrats and Republicans want to "balance the budget" on the backs of the poor, now we've got environmentalists wanting to shift the cost of tempering global warming to the poor, too.

Yes, let them eat cake! OK, I'm kidding. High gas prices are hardest on the poor and are an undiluted negative. Reality train anyone?

I must disagree. High gas prices are NOT an "undiluted negative", not when they discourage driving. And I challenge the notion that they affect the poor disproportionately. Many truly poor people can't afford cars anyway, certainly not the gas swilling SUV's that well-off people use to foul the air and toast the planet.

Recent studies have shown, however, that the urban poor ARE disproportionately victimized by a degraded environment. They also suffer economically from an incomplete and underdeveloped mass transit infrastructure. That's what politicians like McCain and Obama should be talking about, not about appeasing, and pandering to, the vast middle class with promises of quick fixes for lower oil prices.

Global warming --or climate change-- is not strictly an environmental issue. If the dire predictions come to pass, the economy will be turned inside out and upside down. And that affects everyone, rich or poor.

Terry, I admire your passion on this. Global warming is the issue of our time, perhaps the ultimate issue for human civilization.

But piecemeal solutions like regressive consumption taxes* aren't going to solve anything, and will only hurt poor people (who suffer enough under the current way of doing things).

We need structural economic change.

We need a global economy that is focussed on the common good, not the current system with its focus on infinitely sustained growth, the accumulation of individual wealth, and consumption of finite resources.

Driving cars is not the problem. Its just a symptom.

*I am in favor of progressive consumption taxes.

I'm not sure we fundamentally disagree, Steve, except on cars. I believe that something like 40% of greenhouse gases come from the use of fossil fuels in automobiles. If we were to cut that by half through a combination of alternative energy sources and less reliance on personal vehicles to get around, that would have a significant impact on the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

I don't think I've ever advocated a "regressive" consumption tax unless you mean higher gas taxes. The gas tax is actually more of a user fee, regressive, sure, but I would assume an economy "focused on the common good" would include massive spending on mass transit making driving an option rather than an economic necessity.

If there is such a thing as a "progressive" consumption tax, a gas tax which funded mass transit (and bicycle lanes like they have in Holland) might fit that description.

Global warming may be a bigger problem than anyone realizes. Last night's Nova (PBS) concluded that a phenomenon called "global dimming" caused by particle pollution in the atmosphere may be masking the real scope of global warming. Cleaning the air of particle pollutants (which has a cooling effect on the planet) while NOT simultaneously reducing the emission of greenhouse gases could --or would-- accelerate the earth's warming beyond the point of no return in as few as 40 years.

That's truly catastrophic climate change.

I'll retract my statement that high gas prices are an undiluted negative. I do think they have moved development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar into the mainstream discussion. With an Obama presidency (GObama!), I'll think we're likely to see some real progress in that direction. However, your counter regarding the regressive effect of high gas prices on the poor is weakly stated. You say the "poor" don't have cars. That's semantics. How about the working poor who need a car to drive to work and get their kids around. They have cars, but are disproportionately effected by high gas prices due to their regressive nature.

Thank you, Trueblue, for acknowledging the existence of the working "poor". I am one of them and gas prices are killing me. I am self employed as a cleaning lady, supporting myself and my 14 year old. I drive to work because I have too much to carry and too little time to take the bus. I also will continue to drive my son to school in the morning for the same reasons...guess what, we live in inner North Portland and must travel to find a decent school...We were already living
frugally and I never minded, I managed to provide a reasonable standard of living. But this year! Food has gone up, and
heating oil- how many people are going to be cold next winter (besides us)- No vacation this year, though we usually
manage a two week road trip and I am bone weary, I can't afford the time off or the gas.
I am so tired of this idea that the only way to discourage oil consumption is by price. What I hear is "get the riff-raff off
the roads so there is more room for us." How about WWII style rationing, ie everyone gets a certain amount at a reasonable price, above that pay more, need less-sell your coupons.
I know, too complex, its so much easier to ignore the lower end of the working class. Hey, if gas prices are getting to
you, you can always cut your cleaning lady's hours.

Mneloa, I hope your son appreciates how hard you are working to make a life for him and get him the education he will need to succeed. Good luck to you both! Oil prices dropped pretty hard this week so we should be getting some relief at the pump soon.

Hmmm. I like the idea of gas rationing. And you're right, mneloa, price probably isn't the only way to discourage oil consumption.

By the way, notice that I said the "truly poor", not the working poor. And I acknowledged the "hardship" imposed by high gas prices on people who must drive for their livlihoods.

My target is those who unnecessarily drive gas-guzzling SUV's. And the companies who produce them.

One last point. No one should have to drive their child to school because there isn't a "decent" school in the neighborhood. I invite you to visit PPS Equity and join the discussion on ways to make sure every neighborhood has a "decent" school.


This goes back to an old disgreement I've had with you. Your strategy for making sure that every neighborhood has a decent school is to stop transfers (if I understand correctly). Under your system, Mneloa's son would be stuck at the school she perceives as inadequate. You believe that if the more motivated kids (or more motivated parents) can no longer escape the bad situation, it will eventually help the other kids and eventually strengthen the school. So, your strategy might help some future kid (or might not), but it sure wouldn't help mneloa's son. It sounds like from mneloa's perspective it would hurt him.

This is why I've never been willing to hurt some kid in school today who wants to escape a subpar school, so as to theoretically help some future kid. My strongest feeling is to make sure that kid in school right now gets the best education he/she can find and if that means transferring, so be it. I can't sacrifice some real kid now for your theory about how to fix the problem at some future date. Indeed, I viscerally react against the idea of trapping good kids in bad schools as a means to make things better. I don't think it'll work.

OK. This is getting kind of fun. Now that I have gotten my son into his last PPS school... I feel that I can speak up without
Terry, I have been following PPS Equity since before it was created. And in all fairness, I have never considered myself as
"poor", I was brought up totally white collar middle class, my parents could afford to send me to college...BA German &
Russian literature...
I bought a house with part of my inheritance, used the rest to spend time with my son.
This is where I'm in a position to observe what is really going on in our society. I live in a gentrifying neighborhood, not
quite there yet; I clean for people who make upwards of $300,0000.
These clients of mine have not changed their driving habits.
Its pocket money for them.
Trueblue, thank you, my son does appreciate our circumstances, and that buying him his own computer has a lot to do with our no vacation year...I could go on and on about why Jefferson would not work for him. But lets just say Grant
offers Economics and French. And that he's not really that motivated though really bright; he will likely sink or rise to
the level of his peers.
The transfers won't stop until the tipping point is reached. Enough middle class kids to cause the schools to drop the remedial approach. Which I see coming in 5 to 10 years according to the # of baby strollers I've seen lately as opposed
to druggies (I've been here 8 years). Forgive me for being a bit sour, I had thought Jefferson would be fixed by now.

I can really understand your choices and appreciate your insight that comes from working with upper middle class people.
I remember working as a nanny for a rich East coast family when I was 17. I thought I was really making a lot of money at $70 a week plus room and board. My employer handed me a pair of pants to hem. I looked at the price tag--they cost $80 (!!!!) and this was in 1975. That was an eyeopening moment for me about class and privilege, more so than seeing the two homes they had, or the 3 Mercedes in the garage.
I am a little stunned that people are not responding to global warming by driving less, but if money is the main motivator why would people with 6 figure incomes do anything? Like Terry, we have downsized and simplified, but still I think we have a long way to go. I sometimes feel cramped in our 700sf house, until I remember that most people in the world would have a big extended family living in this space, not just three people.
You raise an important issue re: school choice. How do we weigh our choices to give our children the best education right now, vs changing the outrageous racist inequities of the American school system?

I've got one for you. With the reconfiguration of the Grant cluster a couple years ago, transfers to Fernwood middle school (now Beverly Cleary 2-8) were basically shut off. Previously, there was a very significant transfer-in of lower income and minority students into Fernwood. It really was a model of an integrated school that was performing well. I think that the motivation to stop transfers was partly racially-motivated. The affluent "liberals" who populate the surrounding neighborhoods feel rather more comfortable without those "other" kids in school. Some will speak of this motivation; most prefer not to. I realize there are layers upon layers upon layers at work. However, Terry's solution of simply stopping transfers itself serves racist (or at least racially-motivated) purposes and creates immediate problems, purportedly in hopes of solving longer-range ones.

Trueblue is right. The school board starting talking about the inmportance of neighborhood schools two years ago. Then they said they were going to examine the transfer policy. Suddenly Jefferson students transfer rights were diminished, when students at other schools had the freedom to transfer. I hardly think that their motivation was to preserve Jefferson as they continued to dismantle anything that was good about the school.

Yes, they locked the Jefferson students in the building in order to avoid flight from their terrible mishandling of Jefferson. One PPS official said in a public speech two years ago that there no longer was any need for allowing minority kids to transfer into other neighborhood schools to achieve racial integration "because Portland residential patterns are no longer segregated the way they were 20 years ago." What a crock. I do believe that PPS Equity tends to overlook this side of the equation.

Huh. Well I'll just step right out and say it. It really is not about race any more. It's about class. It's about behavior.
It's about kids who come into the system (like mine) with maybe 1000 hours of one on one reading time, and those who
have never seen a book.
It's about a school that excuses certain behaviors as "cultural".
I dare you; take a walk around Grant Highschool. Admire the grounds, the tennis courts, the track.
Then come on over to my neighborhood. Well, shoot, you can't walk on the Jefferson track because it's all locked up.
Ditto the tennis courts. And we're in a " park poor" area.
AND we're kind of off the original subject so I'll throw out another wild idea for cutting oil consumption. RAISE THE
DRIVING AGE TO 18. With liberal exceptions for rural folk, working kids, hardship cases. But, oh, gosh, who would that

I would be 100% behind raising the driving age to 18. I am a little troubled by your suggestion that behavioral differences are unrelated to cultural differences. There are cultural differences and those have a clear racial component. Blacks and particularly black men have long been undervalued in our society and they do what any undervalued group does--they disinvest; they rebel; they do what they need to do to preserve their dignity--even if doing so is self-destructive with respect to success in mainstream "white" society. Race has a lot to do with the problems at Jeff and I don't think that can be denied. Saying it is about "class" sidesteps a huge racial component to the real problems.

Yes, exactly, you get it, trueblue, I really have to think about how I say things. But I have brought up my son with my
mantra..."Honey, all people with dark skins do not behave like our neighbors. And many people with light skins are
just as bad, they just don't live here."
I really did get to know those neighbors, the woman my age whose 5 children were taken from her. The son who came
back, had 2 girlfriends pregnant at the same time. One broke his windshield with a brick, or was it the other girlfriend's
car. 2:00 am anyway. He came back again, a year or so later. Having done some time. After his mom had been "gentrified" out. Or was she gone because of the constant drug traffic.? Anyway, this lovely young man, so much potential, is lost at 25, even if he could get a job with his record he'd owe it all in child support for 3 children... And so it goes. Actually she brought him over that last time because she knew I had a soft spot for him. She mistook my interest; I am actually still embarrassed at what she had in mind.
Class, on the other hand. All people of color are not the same, there are plenty of people who do not share my skin tone, yet who have similar values...I do not see much evidence of them moving into this neighborhood.
It's certainly food for thought.
One more brilliant idea for cutting driving: Subsidize delivery.

Having lived in Amsterdam for a short while, I want to call attention to the fact that the Nederlanders not only set their gas prices high enough to significantly decrease personal auto use, but they centrally plan their transportation system.

What this means, e.g., is dedicated lanes for pedestrian, bike, tram, and vehicular traffic, with separate lights for each. The tram and the bike are the fastest ways to get anywhere, and they are the least costly.

This is not rocket science. Why can't we do something similar? (To answer my own question, maybe it has to do with the McBama duopoly, which favors corporate profits over sanity.)

You keep shouting out there in the wilderness Harry. Your ideas are good, but this country is not even close to accepting them. Its going to take incremental change working within the system. But gadflies also serve their purpose.

Patience is necessary, but changes do not always come incrementally, nor do they come from working in the system. To me, a better way to describe how change happens politically is that there is a tipping point and then things can happen rapidly. Until then, each action, inside and outside the system, adds up in ways we cannot always know. My heroes are those who stand up and speak out when there is seemingly no hope, as well as those who patiently chip away at the system. Harry is not "out there in the wilderness". There are lots of us who prefer the outrageous gadfly type of politics. I never could be polite for very long, not when acts of outrageous injustice are going on.

I think you misunderstand my reference to wilderness. It was not intended as a pejorative, but only to indicate that it is so far outside of current mainstream thought that it is unlikely to produce any tangible results--like voting for Nader. Changes do come from working within the system. The gadflies also serve their purpose.

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