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Posts published in January 2006

That Wyden-Roberts talk

In the Watch for More file: That conversation between Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and now Chief Justice John Roberts.

In the decision released yesterday on Oregon's death with dignity (assisted suicide) law, Roberts wound up in the minority along with Justices Scalia and Thomas. The question: To what extent did that comes as a surprise to Wyden?

The reason for the question (as has been noted elsewhere) is that after Wyden and Roberts conversed last summer, in advance of the Senate vote on Roberts' confirmation, Wyden gave the impression that he had the impression Roberts would not vote to overturn the Oregon law.

An Oregonian story from August 10 noted, "Wyden said Roberts' comments on personal liberties and other issues of constitutional law left him hopeful that, if confirmed by the full Senate, Roberts would rule to protect Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide. ... Roberts told Wyden that he would look closely at the legislative history of federal laws and would be careful not to strip states of powers they traditionally have held -- such as regulating the practice of medicine, Wyden said. 'You don't get the impression from how he answered that he'd let somebody stretch a sweeping statute like the Controlled Substances Act,' Wyden said."

As the current confirmation process continues, what does that suggest about the level of honesty involved - either the official players with each other, or some of them with us?

“Social pollution”

Yes, it's a competitor - to Wal-Mart - speaking, but also a business leader, calling for greater corporate responsibility.

And Craig Cole has the grounding to speak. His Washington-born and raised grocery business has been losing ground, and shutting stores, in the face of a growing Wal-Mart presence. And a significant part of the reason, he says, is that while almost all of his Brown & Cole grocery employees receive health insurance benefits, most Wal-Mart workers do not. In changing the shape of our economy and culture, Cole suggests, Wal-Mart has become a kind of "social pollution." The Danny Westneat column spelling it out is worth a read.

Death with dignity survives

This afternoon's U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Oregon's Death with Dignity law may bring that subject up again for national debate, but it seems more likely to ease it in Oregon.

Supreme CourtOregonians have, after all, faced the law on the ballot twice (it was first passed in 1994), and approved it twice. And for all the concerns, there's been no evidence of actual abuse in the one state where physician-assisted death is legal: Just about 30 cases or s0 per year (a total over nearly a decade of around 200), in a state of more than three and a half million people. Those few, though, have some powerful stories to tell about the freedom they have in Oregon, but nowhere else in the nation.

In theory, this should have been a case supported by a states-rights-oriented Bush Administration: The Supreme Court's specific rationale was that "The CSA does not allow the Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide under state law permitting the procedure." (more…)

Quotable Kitzhaber

Just got around to actually reading former Governor John Kitzhaber's statement on his decision not to run for governor this year, but press his call for health care reform in other ways.

The whole thing is worth your attention, but these two paragraphs called out for a repost:

... our politics today have become largely transactional – “lower my taxes and I will vote for you;” “give me prescription drug coverage and I will vote for you.” And it works the other way around as well – “vote for me and I will cut your taxes;” “vote for me and I will fund schools first.” The problem is that these transactions are all about “me” – and have nothing to do with “us.” They are all about what I can get, not what I can give. They neither foster a sense of the larger public interest; nor do they do advance the common good.

And the fact is that we cannot solve the crisis in our health care system – or in our school system or in our economy or our environment – through this kind of transactional politics because they erode any sense of common purpose and foster the belief that if we can just elect a new governor; a different legislature or a different congress – all our problems will be taken care of. And that is simply not true.

A really re-activated Kitzhaber could have an effect on Oregon policy and politics beyond health care; the points he makes reach there, but also much further.

Constrained ugliness

Easy advice for a politician who can see disaster lying in wait just a mile or two down the road: Go public, and put your own spin on it, before the train wreck happens. Some of the leading lights in downtown Portland are on the verge of missing that advice before it's too late. They've been given a bit of a chance, though, thanks to the blogosphere.

OSHU tram, downtown viewThe subject concerns one of the more ambitious ideas proposed recently for central Portland, the Tram. Portland's downtown is located close to the Willamette River waterfront. Its medical university and central health care center, the Oregon Health & Science University, is located not far southwest of downtown, but steeply uphill, centered on Marquam Hill (aka Pill Hill). That has long meant a disconnect between OHSU and the general downtown area, a frustration to a number of civic players.

The current solution in mind, greenlighted jointly by the city of Portland and OHSU, is the Tram, an aerial carrier that would - like a ski lift gondola - link the campus with South Waterfront, a gentrifying area (with, importantly, semi-decent parking and Tri-Met bus connections) immediately south of downtown. South Waterfront has seen investments of about $2 billion in recent years, much of it connected, if sometimes loosely, to concurrent development at OHSU. We are talking Major Money involvement here, and strong support from the Portland Establishment; the external signal there has been the enthusiasm on the Oregonian's editorial page.

The Tram would prospectively pick up people every five minutes and unload them three minutes later at the other end, up to an estimated 980 people an hour on two 79-passenger train cars. It sounds like a neat idea, though it has its skeptics.Planners still say they want it up and running by this fall, though that seems unlikely.

One reason is the cost, a figure that has gotten ever more slippery; numbers like $15 million were floated at one time, while figures like $60 million waft around now. The Tram web site does say that most of it the money will come from OHSU development funds and other partners, and little from the taxpayers: "At the present tram budget of $45 million, OHSU and its development partners pay all but $3.5 million of it. The $3.5 million of public funds (which is about 8 percent of the total project cost) does not come from general fund money that could be used to pay for police or city services. Instead, it will be collected over time from the rising property values spurred by the redevelopment of the South Waterfront."

Those assurances aren't convincing everyone. (more…)

Idaho immigration: Answers and approaches

Among the issues standing foremost among the hardy perennials of time, immigration just about stands alone - as a never-ending source of discord, and as a topic that never goes away, anywhere. People have been moving around since people have been on the planet. In this country alone, immigration has been a hot topic since English settlers in the mid-Atlantic complained about all those damned Germans moving into Pennsylvania. (We don't know what compaints the native Americans had a century before that, but they had the biggest cause of legitimate complaint: The first European newcomers were the only ones who really did bring massive death, disease and destruction.)

There are two ways of looking at immigration: Mindsets, really. One is the fearful, the xenophonic, the alarm about the alien "then" - formerly southern Europeans or the Irish, most recently people from south of our borders. The panic-attack mindset sees these people as as a threat, or worse, as an invasion, putting us real Americans in peril.

Not a few people think that way, but most Americans probably take a calmer view. Immigration, after all, has been happening in this country since before it was a country, and while not everyone arriving here has necessarily been a model citizen, these arrivals have helped keep our nation vital, energetic and on our toes; they help us avoid complacence. This larger attitude isn't a "throw open the doors" mentality; most Americans want non-porous borders. But most Americans probably take the view that immigration is a matter of approach, that it should be managed, rather than a slam-shut final answer which would (presumably) aim at closing the borders. People should be allowed to come in, but to the point and in such a way that the country receives more benefits than problems.

All of which is a long way around to the debate between two of the Republican candidates for Idaho's 1st House district seat, Robert Vasquez and Sheila Sorensen. (more…)

Polls and Democrats

The most trenchant part of Dan Popkey's Idaho Statesman column today was the lead: "Idaho Democrats fill ballrooms every two years to shout, 'This is our year!' The balloon bursts on election day."

Sure has, for election after election since the early 90s. The year will come, at some point, when Idaho Democrats quit playing Charlie Brown's football game with Lucy: No political status remains quo forever. So, is this the year? In today's column, Popkey maps out a case in the affirmative. Wisely, he makes no flat predictions. But he does note that Idaho Democrats are getting a little more aggressive (which, by degrees, they are). And he says, noting a new Idaho Association of Realtors poll, the issues seem to be lining up more favorably toward Democrats than toward Republicans, and this gives the Democrats a major opening.

That last is the debatable point. (more…)

Drat, no excitement

The usually sharp Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn seemed a bit scattered in today's post-Kitzhaber-announcement column. Could the reasons have to do just partly with the nature of Kitzhaber and more with the nature of politics?

Kitzhaber had for the last three months or so held out the possiblity of running for governor. He was considering it, he said, as a way of promoting his health care plan for Oregon, which he may turn into a ballot issue. Put over-simply, it appears to contemplate taking the billons Oregonians now pour into the health care and reshuffle its use in more efficient ways - an appealing prospect if politically a tough proposition.

One suspects Kitzhaber knew all along that a governor's race would be a lousy way to do that, and dangled the possibility of a race to draw attention.

Sarasohn's column (no link available yet) seemed to want to suggest Kitzhaber was rejecting politics as a means to his end. The columnist pointed out that after all, Kitzhaber was able to push the Oregon Health Plan ahead while he was a leader in the state Senate and while he was governor.

But Kitzhaber apparently never has said that the effort ahead would be apolitical, only that seeking political office doesn't seem to be the best way to get this job done. Sarasohn edged toward suggesting that was wrongheaded, and a rejection of the political process. He stopped short, though, because saying that would raise a problem: The implication that the only meaningful participants in our political process are those with important-sounding titles in front of their names.

Ask a Washingtonian which single person in the last decade (or, hell, make it two) has had the biggest impact on policy in that state, and the likely poll winner would be Tim Eyman - a private citizen, never elected to anything, a pusher of initiatives: A man whose influence many decry as negative, but whose policy impact has been nonetheless enormous. Oregon has had its counterparts, and Kitzhaber may be displaying shrewd political sense if his thought is to marry his political cachet and charisma to the power than can come from playing the role of a populist outsider. Which he likely could do to Oscar caliber.

With the right issue, the right approach and the right support, you don't even need to be a Kitzhaber to have political impact. That may be, in the end, what Kitzhaber has come to realize.

Church and charity

[Maybe we're just grumpy today. But what will follow is three posts on three separate opinion items in Northwest daily newspapers which merit a rejoinder. Was there something in the rainwater that just fallen around the region that loosened the thinking processes?]

What follows is not a slam at churches, and it also is not - in the main at least - any kind of slam at charitable giving. But today's Oregonian piece "Give more, get more, Oregon," by Ronald B. Davies, cries out for counter point.

The piece notes that Oregon's richest man, Phil Knight (founder of Nike), is in the process of giving massively to Oregon charitable organizations - a fine act, beyond simply commendable. Davies (an econmics professor at the University of Oregon) then worries, "Is Oregon, not the richest of states, setting itself up for a fall when the last of Knight's estate disappears?" He notes accurately that Oregon is home to fewer (per capita) very rich people than a number of other states, and a sidebar says that "the rich make up just 16% of our economy" compared to a national average of 22%. Who constitute "the rich" and how their specific impact on the state's economy has been determined to within a percentage point is left unsaid; but that's a lesser matter.

More important are two other points the piece makes, one specific and statistical, the other philosophical. (more…)