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Reason check

That gangrene on our society called talk radio - it needn't and shouldn't be gangrenous, but too typically is - runs to its worst when the effort is to draw lines between the perfectly reasonable "us" and the out of line, irrational, zany "them." It's worst when it's subtle - alert listeners won't get what's being done surruptitiously.

Here's the background story (and the facts happen not to be disputed, because the incident was captured on Tri-Met cameras).

A Portland resident named Randy Albright was pedaling his bicycle (he happens to be an activist on bicycling issues) around Hawthorne Bridge, one of the bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland. He was not riding in the bicycle lane (most Portland bicyclists are scrupulous about sticking to these) since it had extra garvel that day, but in the main lane.. A Tri-Met bus rolled up and passed him, narrowly, there being little space available. He shook his fist at the bus; he may have swung at it with his fist as well. Then he followed the bus and, when it arrived at its next stop, he tried to get the attention of the bus driver. He apparently either did not, or the driver ignored him. Albright then walked his bicycle in front of the bus and planted himself and it there.

Almost immediately, a man exited the bus, swung at Albright and pushed him back onto the sidewalk. (Albright has said he was battered.) The man then re-entered the bus, which promptly drove off. Albright has filed a complaint against the driver; the activist passenger evidently has not been identified.

Talk jock Lars Larson, whose home station is Portland's KXL, asks the following on his web site: "Bicyclist suing Tri Met for his own road rage. Was rider [presumably, the bus passenger] unreasonable?" (more…)

Cross-border

Those porous borders around the Northwest are super-sensitive to legislation, maybe more so than anywhere else in the states. Subtle distinctions can have a big effect on interstate traffic.

As a student at the University of Idaho at Moscow, I would watch from my form window toward the west, to the point where Idaho became Washington, and where cars slipped between the two on Highway 8. Early in the evening, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, I would watch the steady stream of white lights from Pullman - heavy traffic to Moscow. After midright, the lights would turn red, traffic headed back to Pullman, home of Washington State University. The reason? Idaho's drinking age then was 19, to Washington's 21.

Change now drinking to smoking, as reports now point to smokers flocking across the border from Washington - where almost all public places, including bars, are required to be smoke-free - to Idaho, where the rules aren't quite so strict. That's ironic, since Idaho did toughen its statewide smoking rules considerably just a couple of years back.

So expect to see some altered traffic flows on the Lewiston-Clarkston, Pullman-Moscow and Spokane-Coeur d'Alene lines. The legal marketplace at work.

Placing Saxton on the spectrum

Ron Saxton, Republican candidate for governor, is a man pulled in a couple of dstinct directions. His main appeal is as the guy who's centrist enough to win over voters in the general election. But to get to the general election, he has to win a primary election where most of the voters are conservative.

Ron SaxtonThat makes for a question ticklish in the extreme: How "moderate" - or "conservative" - is Ron Saxton?

All this should be prefaced with our usual disclaimer: Such labels as "conservative," "moderate" and "liberal" have long since passed any point of real meaning, especially when the most "conservative" politicians in our nation's capital qualify as the most radical major politicians of the last couple of generations. The terms have more to do with branding and with group self-identification, and there they have real political impact and significance.

In running against two candidates commonly defined as "more conservative" - Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson - Saxton has been shorthanded as the moderate in the race. He hasn't really seemed to push against that definition, maybe because of the general election advantages it could confer.

But he has gotten support from a number of Oregonians who define themselves as very conservative indeed, and that may - with less than four months remaining till primary election deadline - start to send some ripples, and shivers, around the state. (more…)

After the storm

Spokane's new mayor, Dennis Hession, must know a bit about how Gerald Ford felt in the late summer of 1974 - a low-key, cool personality taking over in the wake of a mighty storm of chaos.

Dennis Hession delivers state of the cityIt may be just the right way. Introducing himself (till recently, he's not been a household word in town), and talking a bit about his upbringing (as a Catholic in Salt Lake City), a family man and a professional with a load of civic involvements, he struck a modest chord as he launched into his first state of the city speech:

"I believe strongly in open, accessible government. With that in mind, I thought it was important to disclose some information about myself. I’ll understand if by the end you are wishing for less transparency, but here goes."

Odds are Spokane wasn't looking for less transparency at all: The surprise opaque nature of Hession's predecessor, Jim West, underday the eight months of chaos the city endured before West's recall on December 6. By starting as he did, Hession gave a nod to the point that civic transparency is good politics as well as good government. (How many in Spokane heard Hession's opening lines and - just for amoment - cringed and thought: No shockers, please!) (more…)

Simplicity

Oregon went for simplicity in its preferred design for a state quarter, opting for a basic view of Crater Lake over more complex sets of images. In looking at designs for something as small as a quarter, that makes sense: Less can be more.

Will Washington go the same way?

Quarter design 1Quarter design 2Quarter design 3

When Governor Christine Gregoire gets to make the choice for her state, she'll have a similar option: Clearly, one of the designs - the salmon and mountain look to the left - says the state more swiftly and cleanly than the others. The middle design, of a tribal rendering of a fish, is simpler graphically, but also subtler - it would probably leave a bunch of people scratching their heads.

What's the popular choice? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has put the designs on its web page and asked readers to vote. Of the more than 3,100 votes so far, more than half (51.8%) went forthe design at the left, just 19.9% for the design in the middle, and 28.3% for the more complicated design to the right.

Job gaps

Before any Northwest politician makes pronouncements in this campaign year - and most of them, of both parties, will - about how wonderful their state's economy is, they had better first read and take into account the new report Searching for Work that Pays: 2005 Job Gap Study.

Job Gap studyIf they have any real interest in how real people in their states really live - not just an unfortunate sliver of people either, but most of them - this study by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations should have a strong sobering effect.

Consider this key finding and then ask how much our "booming economy" is doing for actual Northwesterners: "Of all Northwest job openings, 34% pay less than a living wage for a single adult and 79% pay less than a living wage for a single adult with two children, as shown in the chart below. It is important to note the distinction between jobs and job openings. Not all jobs come open during the course of a year, but some jobs may open repeatedly during a year due to turnover or seasonality of the work. Job openings are of particular interest because they provide employment opportunities for people looking for work."

The days of all boats experiencing a lift clearly are over. And yet the problem, and solutions, have to do with more than job pay in itself. (more…)

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.