Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: February 22, 2007”

Splits, With Consequences

Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith

When in December Senator Gordon Smith spoke on the floor of the Senate to break, for the first time, with the Bush Administration on Iraq, and position himself mostly with Democrats, that event was widely viewed as having significant political consequences for Oregon politics in 2008. And it may. It was widely seen as a reflection of Smith's possible difficulties as he looks toward a re-election campaign in an increasingly blue Oregon.

But his decision Wednesday to support a locally significant but far less known Democratic position could have even larger political effects.

That position is in support of the proposal by Oregon's Democratic Governor, Ted Kulongoski, to raise cigarette taxes by 84.5 cents per pack, and use the money to underwrite health care for uninsured children. On Wednesday, he appeared together with Kulongoski at the Statehouse to endorse the idea.

Let us count some of the many ways this simple endorsement shook Oregon politics.

(more…)

Death blows

The old description of editorial writers as the people who ride onto a battlefield after the fighting is done, to shoot the wounded, may fit neatly today's Seattle Times editorial on the proposed expansion of NASCAR into Kitsap County.

The NASCAR proposal, which would set a region-scale track operation in a location with inadequate transportation capacity (meaning, the crowds of track-goers would swamp local highways and ferries) and incur massive public subsidies for the privilege, certainly has seen some skepticism in this spot for some months. (We see no problem with a NASCAR facility located in a more logical place, and which pays its own way.)

Over the last third or so of last year, public opposition to it, especially locally in Kitsap, seems to have solidified. By the time the legislature - which was being asked for legislation to allow it local and for money for its private backers - convened in January, it seemed to have been politically adjudged DOA. Nothing that's happened since seems to have changed that, as a string of newspaper headlines has made clear.

So the editorial about the current NASCAR legislation might have been great six months ago (before legislative introduction, true, but when its contours were known) rather than very good now. It still has some real muscle. The bill, it said, is "is a slick piece of work that is tougher to stomach with every turn of its 57 pages. . . . The outrageous number of exceptions and tax breaks should also give legislators pause. . . ." And it makes sound points about the hash it would make of important provisions of local planning law.

Sometimes the wounded do merit shooting.

Alone on the mountain

Mount HoodWe don't maintain to have perfect insight into the minds of extreme sport enthusiasts. Part of the thought process does seem clear enough, though: Society has become so safe, so boring, so un-challenging, that somewhere there ought to be a place where you can still test yourself against the elements, against the wild.

Mountain climbers have sought such a place on Mount Hood, where the peaks rise higher than 10,000 feet (it rises to 11,237 feet) and the risks can be real. In the last few months, people have died on that trek. But just last week, three climbers were rescued, efficiently, because they carried and activated electronic location devices. The timing was remarkable: Just then, a bill in the Oregon Legislature, proposed by Representative John Lim, to require that climbers moving above 10,000 feet carry such locators, was moving through the legislature.

The mountain-climbing community was outraged. “Self-reliance and knowledge are what’s going to keep you alive on the mountain,” said one at a hearing. Such locators may give climbers a false sense of security give them an easy out instead of exerting themselves to get themselves out of risk. Underlying seemed to be this: You're civilizing one of the few ways we have to get away from societys safety nets, to be truly self-reliant.

Part of the problem with leaving it at that, though, is that when people on the mountain go missing, searches are ordinarily launched. Such searches can be highly expensive, meaning that - apart from whatever responsibility other people in society feel toward the climbers - these searches can cost a great deal, and can put the searchers themselves at some risk.

So how about this as a compromise . . .

Amend the bill to say that if climbers don't want to carry locators, they have two other choices. They can agree, in writing, to pay all costs of any search for them, and maybe a liability fee beyond that. Or, they can state in writing that no search for them should be launched, and emergency organizations won't be required or encouraged to.

That would certainly take care of the societal safety net.