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Posts published in September 2015

Two men, one tough issue


This past week has witnessed two Jesuit-trained and educated men being tested by secular society’s differing, evolving and declining view on the sanctity of all life. The Roman Catholic Church they are members of adamantly adheres to the sacredness of life “from conception to natural death.” The two men are California Governor Jerry Brown and Pope Francis.

Both are keenly aware that secular society is undergoing profound changes and is well down the slippery slope of moral relativism by addressing these complex, often complicated highly personal matters as totally a matter of individual choice. Thus , two thousand years of tradition and history that says the first principle of the social compact is that people come together in society to protect the weak, the lame, the poor, the disabled from the predatory nature of the rich and powerful is now null and void. All is to be sacrificed on the altar of the all consuming self.

Heretofore many of society’s laws were extensions of this first principle. Both men understand that all institutions have a shared responsibility to protect life, whether a church or a governmental entity. They also recognize the difficulty in trying to legislate and anticipate every contingency and then codify it. The rub of course comes with the fact that despite laws saying a fetus is a person, its “right to life” only begins when it can exist outside the mother’s womb. And the law now gives a woman the right to make that highly personal decision hopefully before fetal viability, but justified under her right to personal privacy. This is summarized by the phrase “right to choose.”

The insidious genius on the other end of the life spectrum is that the proponents of physician-assisted suicide have largely succeeded in capturing the choice issue for their so-called death with dignity movement. Along the way they dropped the name Hemlock Society and adopted the name “Compassion and Choices.”

Recently, the California Assembly passed in a special session a law permitting physician-assisted suicide. Governor Brown may veto it without addressing the merits simply because it by-passed a committee-hearing which is always held during a regular session.

Let’s be clear about some of the deceit surrounding this end of life matter as championed by its supporters.

First, they often say this is a right to die as you choose matter. What they don’t say is one already can legally end their own life---start the car in the enclosed garage, take a bunch of sleeping pills and it’s over.

The real issues they don’t address are why the state has to be involved and why does a physician have to do harm counter to the Hippocratic Code? Oh, by the way, they redefine death along the way. Initiative 1000, passed by the voters in the state of Washington in 2008 by 58% to 42%, contains language mandating that the physician signing the death certificate of the suicide has to list the underlying disease as the cause of death, not the lethal dose of drugs prescribed by the doctor.

Presumably this is done in order to make sure insurance policies which have suicide exclusion clauses still pay. However, it is legalizing a lie. Oh, by the way, no one has to witness the suicide’s death. So don’t fall for the claim that such laws have plenty of safeguards. Ask yourself instead why is the state incentivizing premature death? Is pain really an issue?. Doctors say no that palliative care eases all pain today and even proponents admit that but their ads keep showing intolerable suffering. And who defines what constitutes dignity in one’s death?

No, the real issue for proponents of assisted suicide is pure and simple selfish power. They want to control how they leave this world though no one has control over how they enter this world. Without question they pass along their pain to their loved ones though they rationalize that they are sparing their loved ones.

Look at the data from Oregon and Washington. The few that avail themselves of this exit are almost all white, well to do, well-educated people who have the means and the connections to obtain the lethal drugs and find a physician to write the prescription.

Does California really need a law to put a patina of societal approval over their self-centered action? Does California or other states not recognize the mixed signal they send to our young at whom we spend millions with public service ads telling them not to take the road that has no return? Then we turn around and say that if they are 18 and a doctor says they have a terminal illness (and doctors can be wrong) they have a right to end their lives prematurely?

Here’s hoping Governor Brown emulates the courage of Pope Francis and speaks out for life and against secular society’s culture of death by vetoing the bill.

First take/pot stores

Tomorrow marijuana sales go legal in Oregon, and the location will be medical dispensary businesses licensed to sell to recreationalists as well. As it goes commercial, commercial labeling takes hold too. Here (from the official state list) are some favorite pot seller business names from around the state:

High Winds Cannabis, Hood River
bud4u, Mapleton and Florence
Pipe Dreams, Lincoln City
Meg's Marijuana, Springfield
Peace Love & Cannabis, Salem
Plane Jane's LLC, Portland
Cannabliss And Co., Eugene and Portland
The Grass Shack, Portland
Stoney Brothers LLC, Portland
Happy Leaf, Portland
Coastal Cannabinoids, Waldport

Too bad George Carlin isn't around to see this.

The 203 recreational stores (another 80 are medical only) range from the California to Washington borders, and some are scattered on the coast. As for what's easternmost, that would be one of the stores in Bend or Madras. - rs

Term limit testing


There are those who believe term limits for elective office will “fix” some of the problems we face with “career” politicians. While the idea is tempting for some reasons offered by supporters, I’m not convinced. In one Oregon county, we’re about to see if term limits are even legal.

Last year, Douglas county voters approved term limits for just their county. Now, one of the best and most effective commissioners in the state is running into the limit wall and taking the issue to court. While her case pertains to only one county in one state, it offers a look at how the issue could play out elsewhere. And where the courts are on the subject.

Susan Morgan has served two consecutive terms. Prior to that, she was in the Oregon legislature for several years. She’s experienced, effective, dedicated to public service and is as good at her job as they come. She is NOT the kind of public servant you want to lose in some “one-size-fits-all” attempt to rid the system of bad apples.

But, as she attempted to file her re-election papers with the County Clerk, she was rejected because of the Douglas County term limiting law. Viewed from the outside, it appears the clerk was simply doing what he was legally bound to do because of the 2014 referendum. So, Commissioner Morgan has filed what can be called a “friendly” action challenging the law.

In her filing, she says two independent legal opinions have concluded term limiting is “most likely unconstitutional because it imposes additional qualifications on the office of county commissioner (in addition to) the qualifications set out in the state constitution.” Further, “the ordinance limits the rights of voters to vote for the candidate of their choice.”

But, even before Morgan got to the filing stage, Clerk Dana Jenkins had been seeking some legal advice to have on hand if/when the term limits issue came up.

The legal eagle contacted opined the limiting ordinance is more than likely “unconstitutional as it impermissibly imposes additional qualifications to the office of county commissioner.” As for implementation, “It is evident the text and context of the Measure are ambiguous. It clearly imposes a term limit of eight consecutive years (but) is not whom or when the term limits apply and how they apply. It uses undefined and inconsistent terms and addresses similar concepts multiple times but in different ways.”

Term limiting is another “simple answer to a complex problem.” There are several basic reasons to oppose it. One is the loss of “institutional memory” from those who’ve served for some years. That’s often important because it can keep newcomers/reformers from making the same mistakes of the past. (NOTE: The Idaho Legislature is a stark exception to that as evidenced by the continuing waste of tax dollars in repeated losing attempts to fight both state and federal law. And common sense.) Institutional memory is more often than not deemed a good thing in almost any other field - and any other state - and is certainly important in public service areas.

Throwing excellent, long-serving office holders out just for the arbitrary mathematic hell of it also means more power for lobbyists who’re often around for many years. The newly elected would have to rely on the “institutional memory” of professional “civilians” paid to influence lawmaking. Is that how you want the process to work?

That same transfer of power would go to long-serving - but unelected - civil servants who’re also around for decades in their careers. If one such “servant” wanted to thwart creation of a new law - or of some elected lawmaker - he/she could just wait around, outlasting the office holder trying to get something done.

There are many other reasons why the seemingly simple “solution” offered by term limits would not be in the nation’s - county’s - state’s best interests. As the Morgan suit moves through the legal system, I expect many such problems will be duly expressed.

I’ve known Republican Commissioner Morgan for a number of years and would put her in the ranks of the best elected officials I’ve ever met, regardless of office. In some ways, it’s too bad such an effective politician has to be the test case for a bad law. On the other hand, she’s respected all over Oregon because of her tireless work in the legislature and elsewhere. It could be her justifiably respected reputation will assure her legal action is expeditiously handled by the courts before she gets to the absolute filing deadline and Douglas County loses her talents. And experience.

I admire many professionals who support term limits. I just disagree. Besides, we’ve already got ‘em. It’s called the ballot. Use it. It works!

First take/Noah

The first Daily Show of the Trevor Noah era probably pleased most watchers from the Jon Stewart era: Noah seemed up to the job, and the show seemed not to have lost its steam from the last months of Stewart's run. I'd been concerned, because up to this point we haven't been getting the better part of the deal from the transitions this year at late night Comedy Central. When Stephen Colbert left his Report at the end of last year, he was replaced in the slot by Larry Wilmore, whose show was a little less kinetic and seemed less essential viewing, though it has been getting steadily stronger over the months. Colbert's new CBS show is totally professional but scattered, unfocused, with a host much more concerned about being liked than he used to be; he's lost edge, and his material and interviews are less arresting. Noah, though, showed signs of bringing some of Colbert's edge back - his capabilities seem closer in fact to Colbert than they do to Stewart. There's serious potential here: After all the second-guessing, Noah may turn out to be an excellent choice for the program. - rs

Tax approaches

From a Facebook post by retired Idaho Judge Duff McKee.

One of the featured commentaries in Saturday’s Statesman had me underlining phrases and chortling to myself with unexpected satisfaction. Ed Lotterman, the economist and sometime columnist from St Paul, wrote to extoll the little known but widely respected economist Professor John Taylor, of Stanford University.

But what caught my attention was the skewering Lotterman gave along the way to supply-side economics. I thought to myself, here at last may be a clear answer to the clown car’s insistence that tax rates be cut across the board.

Without getting too far into the weeds, economic theory can be divided into two schools: Keynesian theory as developed by John Maynard Keynes in the middle 1930s, and the classic view, such as the theories of Alfred Marshall as published in 1890 and founded upon the works of John Stuart Mill (middle 1800’s) and Adam Smith (late 1700’s), among others. Keynesian theory can be construed as centered on the consumer or demand side of the equation, and is focused on the short run. Classic theory, such as Marshallian economics, is more concerned with the production side of the equation, and takes a longer view.

Keynes’ views are still at the center of most modern thinkers. He thought consumers and their demands were the key economic drivers of the economy, and that government action was the fastest, most effective and therefore best way to influence these interests in the short run. Deficit spending, control of money and aggressive tax policy were simply tools in the bag to help regulate and smooth out bumps in the road. The assumption here is that periods of economic adjustment should be anticipated and wherever possible ameliorated by prompt action of the government. Most Democrats adhere to some form of modernized Keynesian theory.

The classical economists, like Marshall, reckoned that the fundamental axis of any economy consists of wants and needs, which are in constant flux and are constantly seeking equilibrium. Marshall thought that in the long run, these forces would naturally adjust to maintain an equilibrium if left alone. Neither taxes nor the supply of money should be manipulated for anything but short term effects, with a long run objective of permitting market forces to control over artificial restraints. Periods of economic adjustment should be tolerated with minimum levels of government interference. Republicans have traditionally favored some variant of the classical view.

The “supply-side theory” is an extension of the classical thought brought to light during the Reagan years, and advanced today by the extreme right edge. It takes the premise of the classical view of economics a significant step further to the right in three areas: (1) the elimination of government restraints to production; (2) elimination of government regulation of the flow and quantity of money (The extreme view here is for a return to the gold standard); and (3) cut tax rates for all, even if such is to levels below that required to generate revenue for current needs. The tacit assumption here is that periods of economic adjustment should be tolerated with no interference from the government.

Lotterman maintains that supply-side economics has been completely debunked by most economists, including the more distinguished of those from the right, like Professor Taylor. He observes that in his 34 years of teaching (which would reach back to the edge of the “trickle down” economy days of Ronald Reagan) he has not run across a single textbook that asserts supply-side economics as truth.

On the specific question of tax policy, the plain facts are that if tax rates are cut to a level below that required to maintain the government, the short term effect will be that revenue will decline and the deficits will increase. Without further cuts to spending, which even the Republicans concede would be Draconian, Keynesian theory teaches that where such is imposed in time of economic growth, the extra stimulus is artificial and unnecessary and becomes inflationary.

The upshot of it all is that measured by today’s present level of increasing growth, any artificial tax reduction would increase deficits without any commensurate benefit in the short run, and if maintained into the long run, such will eventually destabilize the economy.
This means the answer to the question on clown car’s pronouncement of tax policy is that in the short run, we lose, and in the long run its all nonsense. Period. Class dismissed.

First take/session

Oregon legislative days for this month are cranking in, with what's looking like a preview of the regular session in February. What's on deck? The loud protests calling for a statewide raise in the minimum wage (which otherwise isn't slated to be raised this cycle) are getting top attention, and seem to be the leading Democratic issue. Representative Brian Clem had a useful comment about it, though: "Inside the building, the noise will probably be about minimum wage. I see it as rural versus urban — can we have one statewide minimum wage policy?" Or put another way, is there a way to separate it out? Other hot topics mentioned more by Republicans are led by PERS - which will be a big budget topic in the next biennium - and transport funding. Whatever else, the next session is likely to be devoted to very practical matters. - rs

A place of refuge


The uproar over refugees - as reflected in the Middle East, across Europe, and in the speeches of the Pope as he traveled across the United States - has reached a new level in its emotion and sweep.

But refugees are not new. Not even in Idaho.

And the prospect of taking in refugees wasn’t really controversial, not for a very long time, and refugees (most notably Afghan refugees, but others too) often got notable support from conservatives.

The Idaho state Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program was launched in the mid-70s when refugees fled Southeast Asia, fleeing the then-ascendant Communist regimes in the area as the Vietnam conflict wound down. Eastern European refugees, from stressed counties in that region, became more prominent in the refugee stream in the 80s.

In the 90s, the refugee office noted, “Idaho resettled over 5,000 refugees, more than half of which were from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Civil war, ethnic cleansing and unchecked violence forced millions of Bosnians to flee their homeland, and the subsequent impossibility of return for many led to a major resettlement effort by the U.S. The other half of the refugees arriving in the 1990s originated from other European countries, Africa, East Asia, the Near East, Central Asia and the Caribbean.” That pace continued into the 2000s. In 2012, the office said, “686 refugees and special immigrants arrived in Idaho from 20 different countries.”

None of this occasioned any great controversy.

In Idaho most refugees' services, and so many of the refugees themselves, have been based in Boise. Twin Falls, through the College of Southern Idaho refugee center, has been the secondary hub, and by far the hottest debate in Idaho has been centered there.

Last week more than 700 people packed a community forum at Twin Falls about the local refugee program; it even drew Larry Bartlett, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office on Refugee Admissions. Much of the discussion was supportive, but some of it was not. About halfway through a speaker joked that there were a few empty seats in the room “we’d like to fill with refugees.” The Twin Falls Times News reported that then “a group of people wearing black T-shirts with the logo of the Three Percenters on them left,” and one man shouted out, “This is propaganda.”

In Twin Falls right now, there is no hotter topic.

Why now?

Some of it may have been sparked by news that Syrians may be among the refugees coming to the Magic Valley. But so what? People from around the globe have come to the area for years.

One speaker said, “A word we’ve heard over and over again this summer is ‘sharia.’ And I think a lot of people are worried about refugees bringing values to this community that don’t jibe with traditional southern Idaho values. . . . Why should Twin Falls take in people that might not necessarily share the values that are traditionally here and have been practiced here for years and years?”

That same question could have been asked in the 70s, when Idaho took in refugees from far away. Or in the 80s, or 90s. But, in the main, it was not. Idahoans were far more confident in themselves then. Why are so many so frightened now?

First take/sage grouse

The biggest news in Idaho last week was the determination by the federal Department of Interior that sage grouse would not be declared as endangered, in large part because of actions the states have taken where the grouse are extent. Some changes in federal environmental rules, reflecting the state activities, were put in place. A number of western governors cheered the development. Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter was not one of them. He, in fact, was displeased enough to file a lawsuit over the federal decision. Was this simply a matter of Obama Administration enthusiasts banding together for a big new federal rule? Before you conclude so, consider this statement from Oregon state Representative Cliff Benz, a Republican who represents a massive area on the east side of his state facing the Idaho border:

The decision not to list the Grouse under the ESA means that protection of the bird on private, and to a certain extent, federal land in Eastern Oregon will be regulated by Salem and not Washington, D. C. This means that when a land owner wants to change the use of his or her land, in a way that might affect core grouse habitat, they will be able to address the issue with Oregon, and not federal, people. Although change of regulation or arguing about the application of rules at the state level is difficult, it is not impossible. Changing regulations at the federal level is extraordinarily difficult and expensive, so avoiding a listing under the ESA and the massive wall of federal regulations that would have accompanied the listing, is a huge victory for Oregon.

Said Rep. Bentz (R-Ontario): "It is impossible to thank all of those who worked so hard for this hugely positive result, but I want to specifically thank Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, Oregon Cattlemen's Association Vice President John O'Keeffe, Drewsey rancher Carol Dunten, and from the Governor's office, Richard Whitman, (Senior Natural Resources Advisor), for the enormous amount of work, and time, and in many cases, unbelievable patience they devoted to the effort."

(photo/Jeannie Stafford, US Fish & Wildlife Service)