Writings and observations

You hit that huge pothole, bust your axle and you think: I oughta sue the government! They’re supposed to maintain the roads, aren’t they?

Suits like that can get iffy, but Washington state in 2009 doled out about $50 million in settlements and judgments.

Its officials say that’s more than in comparably-sized states. And Attorney General Rob McKenna reportedly is planning legislation that will make suing the state a lot harder.

In these state budget-cut times, that’s understandable and probably inevitable. But tell it to the guy who figures he’s been wronged by the state. Who pencils out best in that equation?

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Washington

muhammed
Mohamud

In a way, it was the story that didn’t quite become one. Fortunately.

On the evening of November 26, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a student at Oregon State University journeyed to the Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, where the city Christmas tree was about to be lit. A few blocks away, according to FBI reports, he press a button which he believed would case an explosion killing hundreds or thousands of people at the square. The bomb was a fake, Mohamud would up not as a killer but as a pawn in an FBI sting – they had provided the “bomb,” the transport to Portland, and much else.

In a strict sense, it was a story that wasn’t, since no bomb exploded, and in fact none was ever there. But Mohamud’s arrest, and the legal proceedings that will kick in earnestly in 2011, are guaranteed debate fodder. Was the kid (age 19)

racing down a track toward doing major damage? If he had not been spotted by the FBI, would he in fact have killed? Or was he subtly manipulated by the feds, led into the act by the fed’s easy provision of transport, materiel and cooperative (seemingly) partners? Some people have made up their minds already. For us, at year’s end, the answers are not fully in yet. But they are bound to affect the conversation in the year ahead.

More to the point, seems to us, is the law enforcement and security aspect of this. While there was some talk of added policing in Portland’s downtown, no one seems to have panicked. We visited the Square about a week after the arrest, and it was full of people – attending a beer fest. Many people (Oregonians anyway) may have paid attention that this event was quashed not by metal detectors or backscatter machines but by investigation, human resources, data analysis and shoeleather – the same way most of these sort of plots get averted.

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Oregon

In this low-news week – the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s almost always is – we’ll take a look back at 2010 in the Northwest through two lenses.

First, a dozen “indicative” stories – high-profile news of the time that has significance beyond the daily news cycles. Then on Friday a rundown of five larger trends that seemed to shape events in the Northwest (and sometimes far beyond).

The upcoming dozens stories aren’t intended to match up to the regular news media lists of top stoties of the year. The standards are different; ours are measured less by the blaring size of headlines than by their larger significance.

For example. The Oregonian and the state’s news organizations would be remiss if, by their usual standards, the story of the disappearance of Kyron Horman didn’t rank high, or even at the top. It generated endless huge headlines (which far outran actual news), and local TV spent a whole lot of time on it. It was high-interest, without a doubt. But as to its larger significance? Not so much, unless you include addition of yet another round of security at some area schools. So Kyron won’t show up here.

The stories related to relatively specific events or chains of events. The trends are bigger picture; if something major doesn’t show up among the initial dozen, it may be swept up within the five trends.

The stories and trends are numbered, but don’t take from that a serious rank order of significance: It’s mainly a way of keeping track (for reading and writing) of where we are. But for various reasons, they all do merit a little head-scratching.

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