Won’t be piling on, but this comment on the Dubai ports issue is particularly striking coming as it does from the member of Congress recently rated as the most conservative Republican in the Northwest.

Cathy McMorrisThat would be freshman Representative Cathy McMorris, who generally has been a Bush Administration supporter. But not on its ports proposal. Her statement:

“One of my top priorities is to ensure our national security and I am greatly concerned with the President and the Administration’s decision to move ahead with this deal that impacts several of our biggest and busiest ports in the U.S.,” said McMorris. “Ever since September 11th, our country has had a heightened awareness in national security issues. Our ports play a large role in our nation’s economy and we must ensure they remain protected.”

“I remain disappointed with the President’s firm stance on this issue and believe we must take a hard look at it before moving forward. It is appropriate for Congress to ask questions, further examine any potential security risks, and gain a firm understanding of any consequences associated with this deal.”

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How is the national controversy over port security playing in places like Idaho? We may get a clue in the latest from 1st District House candidate Norm Semanko, who may have been the first put out this statement (but likely not the last to say something similar):

Semanko said “these ports are a direct link to the rest of the nation and we need to make sure security is handled correctly”. Semanko also stated “that in the post 911 world we have to do whatever is needed to make sure we are secure and we don’t need to apologize to anyone for that”.

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The decision to adopt a new logo isn’t usually a major decision for organizations, county governments included. But maybe there’s a little more going on in the case of King County.

King County logos since the 1950sProbably not one person in ten thousand in King County could tell you who it was originally named for: William Rufus DeVance King, a politician of the mid-1800s whose primary distinction is that he is the only person ever elected vice president of the United States who never actually took office, on account of his death before he was able to get to Washington to be sworn in. He is an obscure and not altogether wonderful character, a peculiar namesake for one of the nation’s large counties. (You can read more in the book Washington State Place Names by James W. Phillips, University of Washington Press.)

King County’s leaders may have recognized that a while back, since for half a century the county’s logo has been some variation on a crown design. That makes design sense, but does it in any other way? Why should an American government, even at the county level, celebrate monarachy? And, in these days when other people across Washington worry about King County and Seattle taking over everything, why should the name and symbol of the county rub it in their faces?

King County Council Member Larry Gossett has been on this case for some years, with a proposal that the county’s formal namesake designation be changed to Martin Luther King, and its logo reflect him. And on Monday the council agreed to do just that. The logo itself has yet to be designed.

Gossett’s comment: “King County is the first government in the nation to adopt the image of our foremost civil rights leader as its official logo. This is truly a day to celebrate. This change gives respect and visibility to the fact that our county is named in honor of Dr. King. The image of Dr. King will be a powerful and influential symbol for the many thousands of visitors to our region now and in the future. They will immediately see that our logo reflects a government committed to diversity, peaceful resolutions to differences, racial and religious tolerance, and social and economic justice for all of its residents.”

Probably not everyone agreess, but an improvement, surely, over the honorific to the veep who never was and the symbol of a monarchy.

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There is some talk that one shouldn’t put too much weight on the just-released Rasmussen Poll on the Oregon governor’s race. But while there’s something to that, the poll does suggests some points worth bearing in mind.

First, the poll results, then qualifiers and thoughts.

The poll – apparently the first of one-a-month measures expected from here to November – does not measure the primary contests, only how two of the Democrats and three of the Republicans would match up against each other in a hypothetical general election.

Overall, incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski comes off pretty well. He defeats all three Republicans by clear margins: Kevin Mannix by 51%-36% (15-point lead), Ron Saxton by 47%-33% (13-point lead) and Jason Atkinson by 48%-36% (a 12-point lead).

Former Treasurer Jim Hill, challenging Kulongoski in the Democratic primary, does more or less as well: He beats Mannix 47%-35% (12 points), Saxton 44%-31% (13 points) and Atkinson 42%-36% (six points).

What can we reasonably draw from this?

Well, not a lot of exactitude, even allowing for the earliness of the season. Democrats complained that Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorensen, who has been in the Democratic primary for months, was not surveyed.

Another reason for the inexactitude is that many of the candidates are largely unknown to most Oregonians. Few probably know, yet, who Atkinson is, many probably have forgotten (and not yet reminded themselves) who Saxton and Mannix are, and were trying to remember who Hill once was (among other things, the guy who came in second to Kulongoski in the 2002 gubernatorial Democratic primary). So what does it mean to pit Hill against Atkinson and get 42%-36% – probably just a general reflection that many Oregonians barely know who these guys are.

But more important (since Sorensen’s odds of a primary win are slim) was the absence of the biggest single question mark in the race: newly-minted Independent Ben Westlund. (In fairness, the poll was conducted only days after Westlund announced his entry into the race. Next month’s results presumably will include him.)

All of this is being well debated over on Blue Oregon.

Probably the most significant early indicator from the numbers, and maybe a real one, is this: Democrats, known or unknown, did comparably well against all the Republicans. This early polling does seem to indicate, in Oregon anyway, a preference for Democrats in what is looking like a Democratic year. Not a surprise, but something of a confirmation.

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Hadn’t seen note of this Idaho state legislation anywhere else, so be it noted here that House Bill 608 would establish a National Rifle Association motor vehicle license plate. (The bill describes the plates as national rifle association plates – lower case – apparently suggesting that the association is of such sweeping magnitude that the specific designation suggested by caps is unnecessary.)

Trucks over 26,000 pounds could not use them, but other vehicle licensees could. The bill doesn’t specifically give a rationale for the plates. The money raised would cover administrative costs and be deposited into the state highway fund.

The sponsor is state Senator Skip Brandt, R-Kooskia, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, through which the bill has already passed to the Senate floor. (A floor vote probably will happen Monday or Tuesday.)

So far, the National Rifle Association apparently hasn’t endorsed in the 1st District congressional race.

And, FYI, Brandt’s two large organizational contributions thus far have come from Qwest Communications ($1,000) and Union Pacific Railroad ($3,000), which periodically appears before the transportation committee.

There’s no specific available indication of whetber the NRA is in favor of HB 608. It is, however, on record as in support of Senate Bill 1402, which would, in its most significant provision, allow people in the state to carry guns concealed from view in more places, such as in their cars. The key exemption provision it seeks to add to law is “on property in which the person has any ownership or leasehold interest, or while the person is in any motor vehicle.” (It does add a requirement that if you’re carrying a concealed weapon for which you don’t have a concealed weapons permit, you have to – upon being approached by a law officer – say that you’re carrying. On the other hand: “provided however, the provisions of this section shall not apply to an ordinary pocket knife nor any lawfully possessed shotgun or rifle” (emphasis added).

Law enforcement, as one might expect, is opposed to the measure; Nick Albers, a former sheriff now speaking for the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, was quoted as saying “There’s nothing in there that says if you have a criminal record you can’t be carrying it concealed.”

That measure currently is in the Senate Judiciary Committee; given its makeup, we’ll speculate it stays there. But SB 1402 does have this distinction: Among its four sponsors, two senators and two representatives, is Representative Bill Sali, R-Kuna – like Brandt, a candidate for the U.S. House.

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At the opening of its sound decision Friday in Edward Gathright v City of Portland, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals got it wrong.

Its opening line defined the issue at stake this way: “This case concerns the intersection of two First Amendment rights: on the one hand, the classic right of an individual to speak in the town square; on the other hand, the interest organizations have in not being compelled to communicate messages not of their choosing.” The first is correct, the second is not, and – even if ironically – that is why the decision, sustaining free speech, was spot on.

Gathright is a well-known Portland character often seen preacing his version of the Word of God in downtown area locations, including two spots usually considered public squares, places where people periodically do stand and speak: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, on the Willamette River, and Pioneer Square, in the middle of downtown. Both also are often used for arts and other events.

The 9th Circuit describes the case:

Plaintiff Edward Gathright is an evangelical Christian who preaches outdoors to the general public. In recent years, he has taken to doing so in various public locations in the City of Portland, including the Pioneer Courthouse Square and Waterfront Park, and often at privately sponsored, City-permitted events open to the public in those venues. Gathright himself has observed that it is “not unusual” for people hearing his jeremiads “to become upset” or “angry” when, for instance, he calls women “whores,” “sluts,” “Jezebels,” “prostitutes” and “daughters of Babylon” or, at an event celebrating tolerance of homosexuality, he dons a t-shirt reading, “Got AIDS Yet?”

On at least six occasions, Portland’s police officers forced Gathright to leave the open events he attended by threatening him with arrest for trespass. They did so not because Gathright violated a public nuisance law or like ordinance, but because Portland enforces the right of permit holders sponsoring an event to evict any member of the public who espouses a message contrary to what the permit holder wants as part of its event. Under Portland City Code (“PCC”) 20.08.060, “[i]t is unlawful for any person unreasonably to interfere with a permittee’s use of a Park.” The criminal trespass statute under which Gathright was excluded defines trespass as remaining unlawfully on the premises of an event after failing to honor a permittee’s lawful direction to leave the event.

Read this precisely, and you’ll see that while Gathright’s freedom of speech really is one side of the teeter-totter, the other side is not the ability of an organization to control its own message but rather its ability to control it in a contracted-for public venue. If Gathright wandered into an event held at, say, a downtown hotel and did his thing, he would be removed from the premises and that would be that. The organizations holding events in public locations gain some public visiblity but if they’re asking other people to give up free speech rights, they may be asking a bit much.

Think it through: This case is really about the extent to which governments can contract away the right of citizens to say their piece on public property, which they – all of us – support with taxes and authority. It is also about the right of private entities to determine whose speech is acceptable, and whose not, in public places. How much money is your free speech worth? Or – mayor – how much money is the free speech of your constituents worth?

The city of Portland, to its credit, has amended its ordinance already in the direction of allowing speech more fully. But this case is one of a growing number nationally raising the question: What are our governments bargaining away?

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Astate of the state speech delivered to something other than a legislature may be useful (whether or not required), but it functions quite differently than a normal statehouse annual speech. Inevitably, it is delivered in a governance vacuum, and – in its most pertinent sense – to a political audience.

Ted Kulongoski preparing his addressFriday, instead of reaction from legislators on the prospects for passage of a governor’s program, Oregonians heard reviews from the men who would like to replace Ted Kulongoski as governor.

Everything enunciated Friday was predictable. The governor said the state of the state was good, better than it was four years ago: Even in the overtly governance parts of the speech, it evidently was delivered with a direct view to the campaign ahead. As at the beginning: “And together, we have done things, things that have improved the lives of thousands of Oregon families. So today I say to you: The heartbeat of our state is stronger – and hope burns brighter. Oregon is back!”

There was, scattered through the speech, some acknowledgement of problems (notably a weak job market – though not framed that way; he spoke instead of individuals job seekers or holders who need help). But the overall tenor was of solutions in the works.

Is Kulongoski basing his campaign on the proposition that people are upbeat about the state? Sounds that way; and if so, it could be an iffy strategy.

So too, however, could be gloomy opposition campaigns. As the other candidates for governor were canvassed in news reports, you heard a lot of “too little, too late,” “why didn’t he act earlier on?” and similar. Problem is that those points have no emotional resonance for most voters, who tend to respond better to upbeat optmists.

That seems to be where Kulongoski is positioning himself. His gamble is that enough Oregonians are happy enough to buy in. It seems likely to work to this extent: His opponents will have to be careful how they frame their ongoing response to it.

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Before we get back into that nonsensical mess of figuring out who’s more “liberal” or “conservative” than who, among the candidates for office, let’s pause and reflect on how little those standards mean.

Today’s lesson comes from the National Journal, one of the best political publications in the country, rigorously nonpartisan and usually about as fair as any you’ll find. Annually, it publishes a set of rankings of members of Congress, from one end of the spectrum to the other, and the new one is just out. (It does two lists, actually, one noting most and least liberal, the other most and least conservative. In the interest of efficiency, we’ll just use the “most liberal” one here – the measures are easy enough to follow from either end).

You could argue forever what criteria should determine “conservative” and “liberal” rankings, but the Journal’s are considered roughly mainstream. So: Here are how the six senators from the northwest rank among the 100, in terms of liberal standing:

Patty Murray, D-WA (17th)

Ron Wyden, D-OR (18th)

Maria Cantwell, D-WA (28th)

Gordon Smith, R-OR (49th)

Larry Craig, R-ID (60th)

Mike Crapo, R-ID (75th)

(Remember: Reverse the numbers from a scale of 100 to see roughly where they stand conservatively.)

More or less seems to make intuitive sense, doesn’t it? Except maybe for Craig’s standing: He’s almost always been tagged as one of the half-dozen or so most conservative senators, and Crapo along with him. That they rank so low on the conservative scale – and Craig, supposedly, coming in toward the liberal end of the Republican caucus – seems a bit odd.

And the Smith ranking: If you split the Senate into a liberal and a conservative half, according to this, Smith would fall on the “liberal” side – an idea few Republicans or Democrats would agree with.

Now consider the region’s House members.

Jim McDermott, D-WA 7 (9th)

Earl Blumenauer, D-OR 3 (46th)

Jay Inslee, D-WA 1 (88th)

Adam Smith, D-WA 9 (123rd)

Peter DeFazio, D-OR 4 (127th)

Rick Larsen, D-WA 2 (131st)

Brian Baird, D-WA 3 (132nd)

David Wu, D-OR 1 (135th)

Norm Dicks, D-WA 6 (138th)

Darlene Hooley, D-OR 5 (142nd)

C.L. “Butch” Otter, R-ID 1 (224th)

Dave Reichert, R-WA 9 (229th)

Mike Simpson, R-ID 2 (303rd)

Greg Walden, R-OR 2 (313th)

Doc Hastings, R-WA 4 (337th)

Cathy McMorris, R-WA 5 (352nd)

Mostly and in general, this looks fairly rational – it fits overall with most people;s conceptions of these people. The idea, for example, of Simpson, Walden, Hastings and McMorris grouped roughly together in the distinctly conservative part of the House, though not at its rightward edge, seems about right. On the other side, McDermott seems more or less placed about correctly among the most “liberal” members, and the followup by Blumenauer and Inslee feels right.

But what do you make of Butch Otter as the “least conservative” Republican in the delegation – left of Reichert, who is treading carefully in a district trending to the left of where he is? Could it be that Otter really isn’t that “conservative”?

Not likely, by the usual standards of the term. Probably what bumped his ranking toward “liberal territory” mostly was his stand on the Patriot Act, though he would argue (and convincingly) that stand resulted from his conservative viewpoints. (Same with Larry Craig.) But such considerations often get smudged in rankings like these.

That’s not a blast at National Journal, just a recognition that trying to bring coherent definition to an ideological structure as incoherent as ours is inevitably a terribly difficult task.

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Starting point in figuring the chances for an independent candidate for major office is, well, behind the major-party candidates, if only because that’s what history tells us. If Oregon has previously elected an independent to governor, as it has, then it is also true it has not in 76 years. It never has to the U.S. Senate. (Wayne Morse doesn’t count; his switch from R to I came after one election, and he switched again to D before the next one.)

But such considerations are starting points only, and newly-minted Independent Ben Westlund of Tumalo is sprinting in his new governor’s race.

A news release from his campaign touts that he “attracted significant support in his first week as financial pledges and contributions passed the $100,000 mark Wednesday afternoon. Over 100 volunteers have also registered online to help gather over 18,000 valid signatures he needs by August 2006 to qualify for the ballot. The financial support came from over seventy contributors including $4,000 raised through Westlund’s website ( www.benwestlund.com). The petition sheets to place him on the November ballot are available on his website.”

That’s not a bad start; a couple of strong fundraising months at somewhere near that level could put him in a competitive position financially. And the 100 volunteers are not a bad beginning either.

Could there be more than first met the eye? Let’s see what sort of consistency the Westlund campaign develops this spring.

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Measure 37 is back in full, and not. Legally, it has returned to status as functional and operative law of Oregon. Politically? That may be another matter.

Its constitutionality was upheld firmly in today’s decision by the Oregon Supreme Court in Hector McPherson v. Department of Administrative Services – it left no part of the legal attack on the land use law standing. Most basically, the court held that a lower court judge and the plaintiffs misunderstood the relationship between the measure and the nature of legislative power in Oregon.)

The summary paragraph read this way: “In sum, we conclude that (1) plaintiffs’ claims are justiciable; (2) Measure 37 does not impede the legislative plenary power; (3) Measure 37 does not violate the equal privileges and immunities guarantee of Article I, section 20, of the Oregon Constitution; (4) Measure 37 does not violate the suspension of laws provision contained in Article I, section 22, of the Oregon Constitution; (5) Measure 37 does not violate separation of powers constraints; (6) Measure 37 does not waive impermissibly sovereign immunity; and (7) Measure 37 does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial court’s contrary conclusions under the state and federal constitutions were erroneous and must be reversed.”

Every challenge posed so far was rejected, and that probably means Measure 37 will not be thrown out by the courts, period.

There may be other meanings as well, though.

One is that the legal battle may shift rather than conclude. While the measure has been deemed constitutional, the new decision did not at all seek to address the many interpretive questions around it. Can, for example, a new buyer of land take advantage of the Measure 37 prerogatives a prior owner had? That’s one question in dispute. There are others. And now that Measure 37 clearly is staying on the books, there will likely be many more.

Another point is that the policy debate over land use in Oregon will return to the places where it most properly belongs, in legislatures, local governments, political campaigns and among interested organizations.

Another is that, with the retention of Measure 37, much of the air is likely to go out of the land-use-law-change movement. Whenever a political movement succeeds in its goals, much of the energy and emotion drains, often quickly, and usually transfers to the opposition. (Think of the historic trends in the debate on abortion.) Land use law advocates may find a shot of energy in several of this year’s elections in Oregon.

[ADDED] The half-year or so that the measure has been under legal cloud has brought to a halt the forward momentum, and probably has led to some reflection on the part of a lot of Oregonians. An editorial in the Eugene Register Guard may have brought out some of the next round of thinking as this political year progresses:

“The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Measure 37 was constitutional, but it didn’t rule that it was fair or sound public policy. It is neither, and the new ruling underscores the need for strong leadership from Gov. Ted Kulongoski – the same kind of leadership that former Gov. Tom McCall showed more than three decades ago when he shepherded the current system into existence. Now, that system must evolve if it is to survive. The governor and state legislators must act if Oregon’s unique land-use system is to protect the state’s quality of life for future generations.”

In politics, battles never end. They simply change form, emotion and ground.

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It may help to know that the chief lobbyist working on the new Idaho doctor-apology legislation is also one of the key figures, stretching back some years, behind the state’s “tort reform” legislation – attorney Ken McClure.

But that may mean more than one thing.

Here’s the skeptical take. When you get legislation in hand which blocks prospectively important evidence in cases of medical malpractice, as is the case with House Bill 634, now on the House floor, careful consideration is called for. And bear in mind that “tort reform” means limiting the scope of what can be sued about, and for. Is this simply a device to allow malpracticing physicians to slip out of legitimate lawsuits?

That would be the dark view; a reasonable counter view (which McClure clearly notes) is that fear of lawsuits has chilled a great deal of honest discussion between physicians and patients. It has led to all manner of unfortunate results, from dispensing drugs which probably aren’t needed but will serve to cover a doctor’s behind, to an inability to say the simple but highly important words, “I’m sorry.” A great deal of civilization has been lost to our lawsuit-happy ways – a fact no less real than the malpractices that do occur and should be litigated.

When we attended journalism conferences in years past, we often heard a piece of advice from gurus on media litigation. It was this: If you did something wrong, apologize. Very often, that simple response is all someone is looking for, and often it will end the prospect of lawsuits before it begins.

No less could be true in medicine. And that could be helpful all around.

Post Script – Note the medical/legal deal just announced at the Washington statehouse, a component of which is a similar version of the “no-fault apology” provision.

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It may help to know that the chief lobbyist working on the new Idaho doctor-apology legislation is also one of the key figures, stretching back some years, behind the state’s “tort reform” legislation – attorney Ken McClure.

But that may mean different things.

When you get legislation in hand which blocks prospectively important evidence in cases of medical malpractice, as is the case with House Bill 634, now on the House floor, careful consideration is called for. And bear in mind that “tort reform” means limiting the scope of what can be sued about, and for. Is this simply a device to allow malpracticing physicians to slip of legitimate lawsuits?

That would be the dark view; a reasonable counter view (which McClure clearly notes) is that fear of lawsuits has chilled a great deal of honest discussion between physicians and patients. It has led to all manner of unfortunate results, from dispensing drugs which probably aren’t needed but will serve to cover a doctor’s behind, to an inability to say the simple but highly important words, “I’m sorry.” A great deal of civilization has been lost to our lawsuit-happy ways – a fact no less real than the malpractices that do occur and should be litigated.

When we attended journalism conferences in years past, we often heard a piece of advice from gurus on media litigation. It was this: If you did something wrong, apologize. Very often, that simple response is all someone is looking for, and often it will end the prospect of lawsuits before it begins.

No less could be true in medicine. And that could be helpful all around.

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Not much attention to this elsewhere yet, so be it noted: The Oregon Supreme Court decision on Measure 37 is expected to be released on Tuesday morning.

That is courtesy of the McMinnville News Register, which quietly broke the story Saturday.

No word yet, of course, what that decision will be. We’ll be watching.

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Our political discourse could use a lot more fact checking. On the national level, a number of well regarded sites (FactCheck.org for one) have made it their business to check the accuracy and reasonableness of statements, allegations and articles. The Northwest has nothing like that.

This site has tried to do such work occasionally, and will continue to. More emphatically, it will try to link to fact checks on other sites, and do what it can to encourage the practice.

With that in mind, first up: A piece on Washblog, “WA Farm Bureau misrepresents facts to support ballot Initiative.” Writer Noemie Maxwell parsed the remarks of Steve Appell, president of the Washington Farm Bureau, as he pitched the case for an initiative (tagged the Property Fairness Initiative) intended generally to match Oregon’s Measure 37 in its intent of allowing certain property owners to bypass land use regulations.

Maxwell turned to committee minutes, official filings, recorded statements and other original material to conclude that important parts of the Appell speech were misleading at best. It is worth a read.

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Steve Ahrens has been a fixture at the Idaho Statehouse for 31 years, and we’ve known him nearly that long. That makes the idea of his retirement, which he has announced will happen this fall, the more startling: Hardly anyone now around the Statehouse knew it pre-Ahrens.

Steve AhrensIn just about all of his time there as a (first) reporter and (later) lobbyist and (for 16 years) president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, he has also been more than a fixture: He’s been a major presence. That’s accounted for in some part by his employers, the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Boise Cascade and IACI, which represents most of Idaho big business along with a chunk of medium-to-smaller business. But that’s not all. Ahrens is courteous and has a sense of humor and a sometimes surprising informality, and an interest in helping out the newbies who regularly show up, and all that helps over the long haul. (In our Ridenbaugh Press lists of influential Idahoans, Ahrens has almost always ranked high, and a lot of people would have been shocked if he hadn’t.) But that’s not all either.

There is another thing about Ahrens that non-professionals might not get: He’s a hardcore legislature addict. The minutiae of the legislature, the personalities, the political campaigns, the vote counts, the structure of the committees, the rules and the process – Ahrens has immersed himself into it all deeply, for a very long time, and he can talk about it with the kind of attention to intricate detail that a really good mechanic could use in describing how his favorite make of car works. He is evidence that, apart from all else, information is power.

No small thing, as 31 years will attest.

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