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July 18, 2007

Oregon ILWU may turn back LA-LB ships

Halting, strike-threatened talks between the ILWU clerks union and officials of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have created unsustainable uncertainty among shippers. Monday, news services reported that port-bound vessels have been diverted northward, including to Oregon. But Oregon is a union stronghold. Will the ships be welcome here without a labor contract signed in California? With union leaders scheduled to huddle today with Governor Ted Kulongoski's key staffers - former AFL-CIO officials Tim Nesbitt and Chip Terhune - vessels steamed closer to Oregon ports, and industry officials waited anxiously for more information.


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State's Rainy Day Fund to be tapped soon

The public treasuries of Oregon and other states might be flush now, but one prominent government analyst said Monday that states ought to be preparing for even tougher times than they faced a few years ago. David Osborne said elected officials, agency leaders and public workers are going to have to maximize government performance on budgets that are unlikely to get help from Washington, D.C., as federal fiscal problems grow.

"For the rest of your careers, you are going to be managing in an environment of fiscal scarcity that is going to be quite severe," Osborne told a gathering of managers and others at Willamette University.

But Osborne said the looming federal crisis offers opportunities for state and local governments.

"Politically, you can get away with things in a crisis that you cannot get away with in normal times," he said. "This is making it easier to use all of the innovations and tools that we've developed in the past 20 years to squeeze more value out of our tax dollars."

As a senior partner in the Public Strategies Group, Osborne has made a name for himself in injecting elements of entrepreneurship and risk-taking into the public sector, where they have not normally been found.

His presentation distilled parts of several books he co-authored, including 1992's "Reinventing Government," 1997's "Banishing Bureaucracy," and 2004's "The Price of Government."

Mike Marsh, the deputy director for central services at the Oregon Department of Transportation, said he uses Osborne's"Reinventor's Fieldbook" in courses he teaches at Willamette's Atkinson Graduate School of Management.

"It's very practical and helps connect us to customers," said Marsh, who attended the presentation.

"By using performance, you focus on what the customer wants and share expectations about whether you can accomplish it or not. In government, sometimes we haven't made that clear."

In one example based on work his group did in Washington, Osborne said 50 percent of health outcomes can be linked with personal behaviors such as obesity, physical inactivity, and use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. But only 4 percent of health spending went to prevent or moderate those behaviors.

Meanwhile, he said, 88 percent of health spending went to access to care, although those services had less influence on health than personal behavior, the environment and genetics.

When Washington was faced with cutting health spending a few years ago, Osborne said, lawmakers ended up shielding prevention programs and primary care as a result.

Since Gov. Ted Kulongoski took office in 2003, the Legislature has attached performance measurements developed by the Oregon Progress Board to virtually all state agency budgets.

There is a risk for managers in shifting the public and legislative debate about how programs are funded with an eye toward outcomes, Osborne said.

"There is no higher level of performance than the fact that if you cannot document that your program produces results at a good price, it might go away," he said.

Osborne said federal fiscal problems center largely on an aging population and the growing costs of Medicare and Social Security, which together with Medicaid and interest payments on existing debt will consume most federal spending in a decade. He said he had no good answers for those problems.

But Osborne also said the public should care about better state and local governments.

"If we do not win that support, poor children do not get the kind of education they will need to become part of the economic mainstream, the crime rate goes up, and our air and water will get worse," he said.


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The Oregonian ad sales in freefall

The downturn in the newspaper industry is getting worse. Last fall, newspaper executives and analysts were caught by surprise by the severity of a slump that took hold last summer. Since the beginning of this year, the rate of decline in advertising revenue has accelerated. Total print and online ad revenue was down 4.8% to $10.6 billion in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the Newspaper Association of America, compared with its full-year decline in 2006 of 0.3%.

The rate of decline in newspaper advertising revenue has accelerated since the beginning of the year. Competition from the Internet and other media has transformed the market. In addition, real-estate classifieds have plunged along with the property market. The decline, which has sent newspaper stocks into a tailspin, has prompted restructuring and consolidation, and has affected Dow Jones's talks with News Corp. and the auction of Tribune Co.

Publishers have reported sharply lower ad revenue for April and May. The depth of the downturn is expected to become clearer as many companies report second-quarter earnings in coming days. Gannett Co. plans to report today, and Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy Co. tomorrow.

In the first quarter, revenue for every major ad category -- classified, national and retail advertising -- was down. The sharpest declines were for classifieds, where spending dropped 13.2% -- not so much a result of competition from the Web as of economic woes affecting certain categories of advertisers. Real-estate classifieds, until recently a bright spot for the industry, have plunged along with the property market. Auto and employment classifieds are also sinking. Financial-news outlets such as the Journal are being hurt by a slump in technology advertising.

"Right now, you've got a perfect storm," says Edward Atorino, an analyst with financial broker Benchmark Co. He predicts total ad revenue will fall 4.3% this year. The decline will be one of the steepest in history.

The newspaper industry has been suffering from slow growth for years, of course, after decades of declining readership. In the past couple of years, though, competition from the Internet -- big portals as well as free-classified Web sites such as Craigslist -- and other media has transformed anemic growth into slipping revenue.

The decline, which has sent newspaper stocks into a tailspin, has prompted restructuring and consolidation.

Publishers are putting initiatives in place to generate a larger portion of ad dollars through the Web. Still, analysts say that growth in Web revenue is beginning to slow and isn't enough to offset the decline in print.

Newspapers' online ad revenue increased 31.5% in 2006 to $2.7 billion. In the first quarter of 2007, online ad revenue increased 22.3% to $750 million. Still, online represented just 5% of the $49.3 billion in total newspaper ad revenue in 2006.

The industry outlook has colored both Dow Jones's discussions with News Corp. and the auction of Tribune Co., which decided to go private in a buyout backed by real-estate magnate Sam Zell.

The Bancroft family, Dow Jones's controlling shareholder, remains sharply divided on the wisdom of a sale, although Dow Jones negotiators reached a tentative pact with News Corp. on Monday. A major factor likely to affect the family's thinking, as it ponders the deal in coming days, is how Dow Jones would fare given the industry's gradual slide. If the family votes against the deal, it could face hurdles finding a new buyer in a world where ad dollars continue to decline.

The worsening slump has already raised questions about Tribune's ability to complete its buyout. The publisher is taking on a heavy amount of debt to go private, and some on Wall Street question whether the company will still be able to afford the extra borrowings. Tribune is among the hardest hit; its ad revenue dropped 11.8% in May.

"Our going-private transaction is on track, and the financing for it is fully committed. We anticipate closing the transaction in the fourth quarter, following FCC [Federal Communications Commission] approval, and expect to be in full compliance with our credit agreements," says Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman.

Few have escaped unscathed. Gannett, which publishes 85 daily newspapers, including USA Today, said its newspaper ad revenue dropped 6.8% in May. Ad revenue at New York Times Co.'s News Media unit -- which includes advertising generated at its media properties, but not About.com -- dropped 9.9% in May. At McClatchy, which publishes 31 dailies, ad revenue in May dropped 11.5% to $153 million. Ad spending at The Wall Street Journal was down 3.4% in May.

The Journal is being hit by an ad cutback at technology companies. But for most publishers, one of the biggest factors behind the latest slump is the real-estate market. Until recently, the booming property market had kept real-estate classifieds growing, softening the impact of lower ad revenue elsewhere. But with the market stalled, advertising is plummeting.


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July 17, 2007

Jobs tax hike will replenish Wage Security Fund

The state Bureau of Labor and Industries is ready to step in and pay some 130 workers who unexpectedly lost their jobs July 5, when Maco Wood Products of Clackamas closed. Unpaid Maco workers are eligible to recover lost wages from the state's tax-funded Wage Security Fund, which compensates employees when their company closes without enough money to cover the final paychecks.

The fund receives a small slice of employment taxes paid by Oregon employers. Claims can be filed at any Labor and Industries office. For information, call 971-673-0761 or 503-378-3292, or check the labor bureau's Web site.

Maco President Jerry MacDuffee did not return a call today seeking comment on the company's situation. Earlier this month, MacDuffee said he was forced to close the company on short notice after his lender, Bank of the West, called its loans and refused to extend additional credit.

Aaron J. Bell, an attorney representing the bank, said Maco was in default on two loans and had exceeded its line of credit.

It is unclear if Maco will be able to remain in business. A court-appointed receiver is taking stock of equipment and other company assets that secure the bank's loans.


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Edwards leads Oregon bribery contest

Democrat John Edwards is winning the Labor Union and Trial Lawyer money race in Oregon. The former Senator from North Carolina has raised about $208,000 in the state. He's followed by Democrat Hillary Clinton, with about $125,000, and Democrat Barack Obama, with about $115,000. Clinton, a senator from New York, and Obama, her colleague from Illinois, are the overall money leaders so far. She has raised $63.1 million nationwide, to his $58.9 million.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is winning the GOP money race in Oregon. According to new totals from the Federal Election Commission, Romney has raised about $326,000 in the state. The Republican is doing well in states like Oregon, with large Mormon populations.


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State lawmakers failed to tackle solar warming

I strongly agree with the July 8 online editorial from the Des Moines Register (June 30), “Another View: Energy bill chugs along, losing steam” that Congress may be dropping the ball when it comes renewable energy. Our Legislature recognized the importance of clean energy last month when it passed Oregon’s state-wide renewable energy standard. That law requires our largest utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2025.

Surprisingly, the law was supported by utilities, unions and businesses — not just environmentalists. That’s because renewable energy development creates jobs and saves money for consumers while reducing global warming pollution. In fact, the latest analysis by our two largest utilities, Pacific Power and PGE, shows that wind power is among the cheapest alternatives available — edging out fossil-fueled generation in long-range cost comparisons.

But even though over 20 states have passed renewable energy laws since 2000, the result is a tangle of requirements that make it difficult for businesses to invest. And, many states have no standard at all. Thus the need for a national law.

Rep. Darlene Hooley can make a difference in this debate. She needs to co-sponsor the Federal Renewable Electricity Standard (H.R. 969) that requires utilities across the country to generate 20 percent of their electricity from clean, renewable resources by 2020. Oregon can’t solve global warming alone.

Steve Weiss, Salem


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AFL-CIO puts GOP out of office, out-of-state

Representative John Dallum (R-The Dalles) announced today that he would be resigning as a State Representative to move to Montana with his wife Dorothy. There is no word on what the effective date of his resignation will be or who may be interested in the position. John won a hard fought battle for re-election last cycle by just a few hundred votes and was poised to run again before his surprise announcement. John we wish you luck.


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July 16, 2007

Clackamas police assist suicidal citizens

A Milwaukie woman who died during a Saturday confrontation with police shot at and narrowly missed a Clackamas County sheriff's deputy before shooting herself twice, officials said Sunday. It's the second time in the past 30 days that Clackamas County deputies have shot a person believed to be suicidal. In June, a deputy shot 24-year-old Luke L. Seal after the man came at her in a parking lot wielding two knives. The state medical examiner ruled the shooting to be suicide by police officer.

Tonya Irene Yut, 39, died at her home in Milwaukie's Oak Grove neighborhood. At least one bullet fired by a deputy also struck her. The sheriff's office has not determined which deputies at the scene fired a weapon. Jeff McLennan, an official with the Clackamas County medical examiner's officer, declined to release until today the number of bullets that hit Yut.


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Out-of-state pollutants found in local wilderness

In a frigid shelter at the top of Mount Bachelor, Dan Jaffe brushed the snow from a rough plywood table, laid out a clean tissue, and unscrewed a stainless steel fitting from one of his scientific instruments. The University of Washington-Bothell professor of atmospheric and environmental chemistry removed a 1-inch disk with a hole in the center. There, on a shiny film of grease, five dull black dots made up of tiny soot particles appeared. He passed it around for the graduate students to see.

"Some of those particles," he said, "came from Asia." At 9,000 feet at the crest of the Cascade Range, the air is some of the cleanest to be found anywhere in the United States. But each breath - especially in the spring - can suck in tiny amounts of pollution from China and elsewhere in Asia. Soot, dust and chemicals come from coal-fired power plants, cars and trucks, forest fires, desert dust storms and even wood cooking fires.

China now emits more carbon dioxide - the atmospheric pollutant that is primarily responsible for global warming - than any other nation. But scientists working on mountaintops, with computer models and with aircraft stuffed with instruments are also worried about the effects of these lesser-known pollutants here.

"One might think of these sources as small in terms of their contribution. But it's a contribution on top of what we already have," said John Spengler, professor of environmental health and human habitation at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that air pollution travels great distances, said Bill Wehrum, EPA's acting assistant administrator for air and radiation.

What is not known, he said, "is how much pollution is moving over those distances, how much real impact it is having on public health downwind in the environment.

"The Europeans are asking that question about emissions from the United States. Asians are asking that question about emissions from Europe. And the United States is asking that question about emissions from Asia."

Early studies

In 1994, Jaffe was in Oslo, Norway, on sabbatical when he came across a computer model that indicated that pollutants in the Arctic were coming from China.

Back in the States, he secured a grant from the National Science Foundation to measure them. His first observatory was on Cheeka Peak, a 1,598-foot mountain on the tip of Washington's rainy Olympic Peninsula about 120 miles west of his home in Seattle.

In 1999, Jaffe took instruments to higher altitudes in airplanes flying off Washington and California. They found more pollution, particularly between 6,000 feet and 20,000 feet.

That led him in 2004 to the 9,000-foot summit of Mount Bachelor, a ski resort in the Cascade Range of Central Oregon, and to its ski lift house.

Hooded air intakes handcrafted from sheet metal lead to tiny rooms packed with instruments that measure carbon monoxide, ozone, mercury, soot and radon. Jaffe can read the instruments on his office computer, but must visit the site every few months to keep things running.

Since 2000, satellites have been able to watch dust, soot, ozone and nitrous oxides as they are blown across the Pacific at high altitudes. The dust and soot are visible. The gases show up in refracted wavelengths of light bouncing back to the satellites.

"By looking at the ratios of different pollutants, particularly carbon monoxide and mercury, we can actually say the ratio of these pollutants we are seeing here at Mount Bachelor matches the ratio of pollutants coming right out of China," Jaffe said.

"This is, in effect, a fingerprint -- a chemical fingerprint. When we see all these indicators, meteorological data, the satellite data, the pollutants fingerprint, we can be very confident these are pollutants coming across from Asia."

Staci Simonich, an assistant professor at Oregon State, also has instruments on top of Mount Bachelor. She and her graduate students are looking for things such as pesticides and PCBs, an industrial chemical outlawed in this country that causes cancer. The toxins attach to their own favorite sizes of dust and soot.

While levels are very low, "it's only going to increase from everything we know about the use of energy in those countries," Simonich said.

The spring offers prime conditions for pollution to travel from China to the United States. That's when a low pressure area forms over the east China Sea or the Sea of Japan, combined with a cold front that kicks the pollutants up into the free troposphere, the clear air above the haze you see when you take off in an airplane. The prevailing winds send the pollutants straight across to the United States.

In 2003, Jaffe and Dave Parrish of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration published a paper that found an increase in ozone over the Pacific of 10 parts per billion in 18 years.

"That's a fairly significant rate in that background air is only about 40 parts per billion and the standard is 80 parts per billion," Jaffe said. "That is going to make it harder for us to meet our own air quality standards."

And those standards likely will get tougher. On June 21, the EPA proposed lower limits for ground-level ozone, the principal component of smog, saying the current standards don't protect the public health.

Daniel Jacob, professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University, says that Asian emissions are growing 5 percent to 10 percent per year, and the trend is likely to continue through the next decade. He manages the GEOS-Chem computer model, developed by scientists around the world to study the effects of global emissions on U.S. air quality.

"The cars and factories we have in the United States are among the cleanest in the world, and it's difficult to make them cleaner," Jacob said. "So the question is whether we should maybe invest some basic air pollution controls in China as a more cost-effective way of dealing with some of the pollution problems we have."

The United States and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, are working with China to increase the efficiency of energy production and boost conservation. Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged to reduce energy use against gross domestic product by 20 percent by 2010. Last year energy use fell by only 1.2 percent, short of the first phase goal of 4 percent.

Barbara Finamore, who heads NRDC's China program, said the United States has an obligation to help: "The U.S. has outsourced much of its manufacturing to China and therefore outsourced the pollution inherent in that manufacturing, and that is what is coming back to haunt us."

But it is a tremendous challenge.

"Literally, there are millions of Chinese people who don't have cookstoves who actually cook on an open fire in the home they have," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said.

China uses twice as much energy per unit of gross domestic product as the world average and 10 times more than Japan, the world leader in efficiency. And more than half of the 800,000 deaths each year as a result of urban air pollution occur in China, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, China is expected to build 140 new coal-fired power plants during the next three years, and each one will last 30 to 70 years, Johnson said. "So what they do today will have a lasting legacy."

Effect on weather

While Jaffe is focused on pollution at mountaintop elevations, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Center for Clouds, Chemistry and Climate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., is looking higher.

He and Jeff Stith of the National Center for Atmospheric Research lead an international research team that is looking at dust and particulates blowing across the Pacific at up to 30,000 feet.

A Gulfstream-V jet jammed with scientific instruments scoops up air samples and analyzes them. The jet flies between Japan, Hawaii and Alaska, climbing from near the ocean's surface to 50,000 feet, constructing a profile of the layers of dust.

"For the first time we are following the dust," said Ramanathan. "Literally we are baby-sitting it all the way from Japan across the Pacific Ocean into North America."

Ramanathan is primarily interested in the weather and global warming ramifications of soot and dust. A study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, based on computer models, found that tiny particles from Asia are helping to produce stronger and more frequent storms over the Pacific.

It comes back to the idea that the individual droplets of water vapor that make up clouds need a nucleus to form. Nature has always provided dust and soot from forest fires and dust storms in Mongolia; now combustion from cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants and millions of cooking fires are providing more.

At the same time, "by sheer dumb luck" pollution actually has helped reduce global warming by helping to form low-elevation clouds made of water vapor that reflect sunlight and heat back into space, said Ramanathan.

But when those tiny particles of soot rise to 25,000 feet, they help form clouds made of ice. Instead of reflecting sunlight, they act like another blanket on a cold winter night, trapping the heat of the earth.

Based on earlier measurements, 25 million kilograms to 30 million kilograms of soot floats over the Pacific, and about 75 percent of that is from Asia, said Ramanathan.

"At one point in the middle of the Pacific it looked like a wall of dust," said Ramanathan. "That's when I started to imagine it was like Genghis Khan. If he were to invade he would come behind this wall of dust.

"But we are ready for him thanks to this aircraft. We can measure it."


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July 15, 2007

Monday: Roseburg nurses picket for closed shop

Unionized Mercy Medical Center nurses in Roseburg went through another round of negotiations with the hospital Friday, in what has been a year-and-a-half process of trying to agree on a new contract. The 41st negotiating session was Friday, and ended no closer to a contract. The nurses will be holding an informational picket to garner public awareness and support for their cause from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday in front of the Roseburg hospital on Stewart Parkway.

The process has come to a halt over the issue of closed shop. The nurses' union is demanding that all of the hospital's 344 nurses be required to join the union, or pay "fair share" dues which are 85 percent of the approximately $60 union dues, per month. "Until the issue of closed shop/union representation is resolved, it doesn't appear that the other issues will be addressed," said Kathleen Nickel, the communications director at Mercy Medical Center.

Paul Goldberg, the Oregon Nurses Association union boss, said there was also a proposal that the nurses could pay the equivalent of the "fair share" to a volunteer group associated with the hospital, instead of to the union or possibly to another health care area at the hospital. Nickel said she has not yet heard of this proposal.

Other issues still unresolved are wages, benefits and retirement plans, and management rights. The hospital said it brought a new economic proposal to the negotiations Friday, which the union did not respond to in the meeting, due to the impasse on the close shop issue. The union countered that there were a few changes to the hospital's proposal, but fundamental issues had not been addressed.

Both sides are basing wages on what other hospitals pay, but the disagreement is over which hospitals. ONA says that the smaller hospitals in Cottage Grove, Coquille, and Reedsport, which average between three and 50 patients at a time, are too small and do not compete with Mercy, which averages on the order of 130 patients. These smaller ones should be taken out of the camparison pool, ONA contends.

They did agree on the nurses' step-increases in pay, according to Laura Garren, a nurse who is on the bargaining committee.

The nurses at Mercy voted to join the ONA about a year and a half ago, with about a two-thirds majority, and negotiations began in May 2006.

Kathleen Ross, a registered nurse who has been working at Mercy for 22 years, does not personally support the union.

"The union says that it is about patient safety and patient care, but I hear now that it's about closed shop, whether everybody has to join," she said. "I don't appreciate that, being coerced into paying for someone else's choices or being threatened with losing my job. Everything the union claims is about fairness, but how fair is that."

She does supports the nurses that want the union though, as long as they respect her right to choose.

"I do believe that the ONA and the group of nurses that asked them to come believed they needed representation to get what they wanted," she said. "I sympathize with them and by all means if they need it, I support them, but don't expect them to ask me to pay for it."

She says that there were some issues about patient safety that the administration began working out before the union came and that they have continued to work on with the union.

Garren, who has also been a nurse for over 20 years, says that "fair share" or closed shop is important because having all the nurses part of the union, gives it more bargaining power. Goldberg echoed her, citing why all the nurses must pay the union, not only those who want it.

"Those nurses (who don't want to be part of the union), whether they want to be represented by us, are legally represented by us... whether they want to pay dues, are the beneficiaries of our efforts," he said.


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Poll: Congress rates worse than Bush, except in Oregon

In the eyes of the U.S. public, Congress is doing even worse than the president. Public satisfaction with the job lawmakers are doing has fallen 11 points since May, to 24 percent, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. That is lower than for President George W. Bush, who has not fared well lately, either. Bush has been taking heat over the Iraq war, his decision to spare a former top vice presidential aide from going to prison and his desire for an overhaul of immigration laws that critics said would give a free pass to illegal immigrants. His job approval rating in the AP-Ipsos survey remained virtually unchanged at 33 percent.

The 24 percent approval rating for Congress matched its previous low, which came in June 2006, five months before Democrats won control of the House and Senate due to public discontent with the job Republicans were doing.

Just two months ago, 35 percent of the public approved of Congress' work. Poll respondents from both political parties say they are tired of the fighting between Congress and the White House, and want the two branches of government to work together on such issues as education, health care and the Iraq war. "They don't approve of anything he does," Theresa Holsten, 55, a Republican, said of Congress. "He can't do anything right, according to what some people say. It irritates the living daylights out of me."

Tammy Lambirth, 42, a data researcher, disapproves of "all the fighting that they do all the time."

The latest tussle involves Bush's refusal to hand over documents and let former White House aides answer questions from the Democratic-controlled Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys. The dispute could end up in federal court.

"The Republicans are just stonewalling everything, and the Democrats are just not stepping up and making them do what they need to do, especially about Iraq," said Lambirth, a Democrat. "They need to make our troops get out of Iraq."

While the public's approval of Congress has dropped 11 points since May, the percentage of Democrats who are turning up their noses at Congress — like Lambirth — nearly doubled. Among Republicans, though, not so much.

Approval among Democrats fell 21 points, from 48 percent in May to 27 percent.

It remained low among Republicans, at 20 percent, and has not changed significantly in the past two months.

The telephone survey of 1,004 adults was conducted July 9-11 in English and Spanish by Ipsos, an international public opinion research company. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.


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Member of newly unionized security force arrested

A screener at Portland International Airport was arrested Friday afternoon on accusations of stealing from a passenger's bag, the Port of Portland reported. Tuesdea Renee Palmer, 38, of Portland faces counts of theft, possession of a controlled substance and official misconduct, said Steve Johnson, a port spokesman. Police would not say what was stolen from the passenger, who probably went ahead on a flight, Johnson said.

Palmer, who has worked for the Transportation Safety Administration since late 2002, was placed on indefinite suspension, said Tina Burke, an agency spokeswoman. Burke said she couldn't speak to the woman's past. Mike Irwin, TSA Oregon federal security director, said in a statement, "TSA's transportation security officers at PDX are outraged by this individual's behavior."


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Vernonia ponders prohibition paradox

Chatter filled the hot, hazy air here Friday, from a swimming hole where wrestlers backflip off long knotted ropes to a senior center thrift shop where tutting ladies pursed their mouths, from the local credit union where tellers came to tears to the hardware and auto parts stores where regulars spoke like oracles: The fate of Aaron Miller was on the minds and lips of Vernonians.

And so was the fate of Miller's champion, Kenneth Cox. Miller is the elementary school principal who admitted smoking pot last week when a deputy questioned him at Fort Stevens State Park near Warrenton; Cox is the school superintendent who welcomed a school board decision Thursday that leaves the principal on the job.

Vernonia is the school district whose decision to randomly test athletes for drugs was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995.

It's the kind of small former logging town where summer vacation equals fresh-air boredom -- in the woods, along the reservoir, beside the creek, behind the diner. Canopies of towering fir and cedar shade fishing holes. A pioneer museum draws visitors down the main thoroughfare, which crosses one bridge midtown and another on the way out. Yes, it's called Bridge Street.

A police blotter in The Independent, the weekly newspaper, offers what you might expect in a place with a population of 2,300: 10 people stopped for riding bikes without helmets; a runaway taken to social services; two minors released to their parents after being found with liquor; a woman arrested for possession of controlled substances; drug paraphernalia found and destroyed.

"It's rural Oregon," said Jay Nesmith, behind the counter of Vernonia Hardware. "We've got that laid-back, lefty hippie lifestyle going on here."

Meaning: Drugs haunt this place.

Signs near the school campus shared by grade, middle and high school students warn it is a "Tobacco Free Zone." The local chapter of the Lions Club -- to which Miller, 41, belongs -- supports a program to educate kids about the dangers of drugs such as marijuana. Students on sports teams face random urine tests. Failure can lead to suspension, costly drug rehab classes, loss of ranking.

Miller will face undisclosed disciplinary consequences.

"I have been accused of setting a double standard in taking this action," Cox wrote in a statement posted on the district's Web site Friday. "I believe, however, that I have set a higher standard for Vernonia administrators than for other staff members. Mr. Miller will be dealt with in a fashion similar to, but more severe than, that which we deal with students. If a student is caught using drugs they face consequences -- but being summarily expelled from school is not one of them."

"They let him slide"

The decision to allow Miller to stay was met with relief at the Vernonia Country Kitchen, where Shawnna Lloyd delivered baskets of bacon burgers and grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches to a pair of patrons.

"He's a nice guy," she said, echoing many here where even childless residents keep track of teachers and coaches.

Her fifth-grade daughter, Melissa, and kindergartner, Christopher, attend Washington Grade School, where Miller is the popular principal.

Popularity aside, lifeguard John Murray wondered how students would react to what amounted to "a slap on the wrist."

"They let him slide," said Murray, 47, never taking his eyes off the river, dammed for summer, where a dozen kids paddled. "What a horrible example for them. He's supposed to be a role model. I think he should have been removed."

Irving Russell, on a bench outside the senior center, agreed.

"They raise hell about kids and drugs," said the 75-year-old retired bridge inspector, "and then when the principal comes along -- who knows better -- they exonerate him. Seems to me he and the superintendent should be brought down."

Teens shrug it off

Just out of town, high school wrestlers Tylor Owen, 16, and Zack Nutting, 15, swung from ropes at the idyllic swimming hole, an elbow in the creek where crawdads troll underfoot.

Neither had been born when the school district started mandatory drug testing of its athletes in 1989, nor two years later when a seventh-grader, James Acton, refused to take a drug test as part of a tryout for middle school football. He was banned from playing, and his parents sued the school district. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995, and in a 6-3 decision, justices upheld the district's policy.

But between splashes, the teens said they knew about the history and about current rules that test them during the wrestling season. They mentioned classmates and friends who faced discipline for dabbling in drugs. It didn't seem fair, they said.

Still, they shrugged off Miller's conduct in the state park, where Deputy Chance Moore approached the principal after sunset and smelled marijuana. When he asked whether Miller had been smoking pot, the onetime baseball coach and teacher became visibly upset and said, "I could be in a lot of trouble for this, but, yes, I have been smoking marijuana."

The Vernonia School Board called the incident a single act of "poor judgment," adding that Miller had voiced "very sincere remorse for his actions."

Owen and Nutting were also willing to let bygones be.

"I don't think he should be taken out just for this," Owen said.

Nutting chimed in, tugging the rope before swinging into the still air: "It's just pot."


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July 14, 2007

Blazers removing Oden's tonsils on oregonlive.com

The Oregonian newspaper, continuing its push into multimedia, is offering an interactive streaming videocast of Greg Oden's tonsillectomy in Vancouver, WA later today. Blazers beat reporter Jason Quick will moderate Dr. Don Newell's performance at The Vancouver Clinic. Quick will be joined by various medical, media-marketing, and basketball experts. To participate in the videocast, and for more details about the Blazers' #1 pick in the NBA draft, go to a special Standard TV & Appliance Oden's Tonsils website set up for the program: odenstonsils.oregonlive.com


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SEIU Local 503: "Best contract in 15 years."

State government and its largest employee union reached a two-year deal Friday morning after a marathon collective-bargaining session that lasted more than 24 hours. Exhausted state negotiators agreed that Oregon will remain one of only 3 states that pay 100% of its workers' health-insurance premiums. The agreement includes pay increases from 3 percent to 3.2 percent over the course of the two-year contract, with a minimum raise of at least $80 per month. Other unions waiting to negotiate will now expect at least as many concessions by the state.

The tentative deal was reached about 10:30 a.m. Friday.

SEIU members will vote in August on whether to ratify the contract.

"It's been rather tough this week, but I feel like we held onto our goals, and we achieved a lot of what we were trying to get," said Linda Burgin, the union's secretary and treasurer.

SEIU, which represents about 18,000 employees statewide, worked to help lower-wage workers in the new contract, Burgin said. By establishing minimum raises -- $80 per month as of July 1, 2007, and $85 per month as of Nov. 1, 2008 -- the lowest-paid workers will end up getting more than if they were to get cost-of-living compensation.

The state also agreed to increase the starting salary for lower-paid workers beginning in late 2008, said Susan Wilson, who oversees collective bargaining for the state. Furthermore, the state abandoned its proposal to establish a two-tier classification system for custodians, through which those with less-demanding jobs would be paid less.

The SEIU, however, also made concessions, Burgin said. For example, the union asked for salary increases for about 120 to 130 job classifications, but only got about a third of those.

In the end, those at both sides of the bargaining table cited a "fair" deal.

"It's probably one of the best contracts we've had in at least 15 years," Burgin said.

The Legislature provided $125 million to cover state worker pay and benefit increases for the 2007-09 contract.

The existing SEIU contract expired June 30 but has been extended until a new one is signed, officials said.


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AFL-CIO picks new House leaders

Thursday, the state AFL-CIO chose new majority leaders from the 31 Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives to develop an agenda for the emergency session in 2008 and the regular legislative session in 2009.

The labor bosses re-appointed Rep. Dave Hunt, D-Clackamas, as House majority leader. Also picked were:

• Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, as majority whip
• Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, as assistant majority whip.
• Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, as assistant majority leader for policy.
• Reps. Phil Barnhart of Eugene, Tobias Read of Beaverton and Chip Shields of Portland as assistant majority leaders for political concerns.


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State police managers sue for union perks

Seven sergeants with the Oregon State Police have filed a class-action lawsuit against the agency, arguing they should be hourly employees paid overtime for their work. The lawsuit filed in Marion County Circuit Court this week involves sergeants stationed across Oregon, including men stationed in Marion, Clackamas, Klamath, Columbia, Jackson and Clatsop counties. According to the lawsuit, the sergeants are paid a salaried wage as though they are supervisors, but their primary duties are not managerial.

"In fact, many average in excess of 75 percent of their time performing, as their primary duty, job duties which are considered the primary duty of troopers under their supervision," Eugene attorney Rhonda Fenrich said in a May 7 letter to the Oregon attorney general's office. The agency has confused the issue by ordering the sergeants to account for all their time as either "supervisory-field" or "supervisory-non-field," Fenrich said in the letter.

Because of that, sergeants who perform normal trooper activities such as responding to a drunken driver or ticketing a speeder track their time on the call as "supervisory-field," even though they haven't supervised anyone, she said.

The lawsuit asks that the state police be forced to pay its sergeants for all unpaid overtime, as well as 30 days penalty wages.

Lt. Gregg Hastings said state police commanders are aware of the lawsuit.

"Because it is an ongoing situation, we can't comment on it, but we are working on it," he said.


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July 13, 2007

State considering range of tax hikes on wealthy

Over the years, Oregon's volatile tax system has been the subject of dozens of studies, with legions of recommendations on possible changes. But none of the plans passed muster with voters, leaving a spending system in perpetual shortfall, propped up by property taxes for local governments and income taxes for the state, enough to keep public services flush when times are good, and begging when the economy turns sour.

Now, though, a new 30-member group led by government union officials is girding itself for another comprehensive look at tax reform. "This is, or should be, the primary focus of the 2009 session," said state Sen. Frank Morse, R-Albany, who long supported changes to the tax system.

So far, it's not yet clear what shape tax reform might take. But at least one intriguing proposal has surfaced, championed by conservative Republicans such as Rep. Dennis Richardson of Central Point.

The idea is an offset, reducing an existing tax and replacing it with a different one, so that individuals don't pay more, but the overall system is more insulated from the economy's twists and turns.

One possibility is a phasing out of property taxes for all residents who own property assessed at less than a certain amount, be it $1 million or $10 million, or somewhere in between. In its place would be a sales tax, perhaps set around 5 percent, and shared at least in part with cities and counties, who currently rely on local property taxes for much of their funding.

Andy Shaw, a policy analyst with the League of Oregon Cities, said municipalities across the state are intrigued by the idea, after struggling with restrictions on the growth of property taxes, which by law can't increase more than 1.5 percent per year. But property taxes are at least a stable, predictable source of income, he added, making it a risky proposition for local governments to give up a large chunk of that revenue.

Sales taxes, proponents say, allow governments to capture revenue from sectors of the economy that are currently virtually tax-free, such as the so-called ``underground economy,'' fueled by under-the-table cash payments, and the state's flourishing tourist industry.

Taxes have long been a fraught topic in Oregon, with the state's voters repeatedly turning back any attempt to institute a sales tax. Elections in the state can be lost over a candidate's support for tax increases.

But Morse and others think Oregonians are ready for a serious discussion of tax reform.

For one, they say, Oregonians got a serious dose of the downside of the state's current system when the 2002-03 recession hit hard. Schools closed down early, prisoners were let out of jails, and the Oregon Health Plan was pared way back, because the income tax revenues coming in just weren't paying the bills. With that experience still relatively raw, the need for reform may have come into sharper focus, Morse and others said.

"We are still counting on the most volatile revenue system that you could invent to sustain critical programs," Morse said. "And that volatility will return. It is just a matter of when."


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Oregon education corrupted by out-of-state $$

Oregon will be one of two states represented at a high-powered leadership program at Harvard University next week, but the training, usually reserved for CEOs, has a new target: educators. Forty top officials from four school districts and the Oregon Department of Education will attend the weeklong seminar, funded in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, a private foundation that has funneled as much as $3 million in the past six years to sharpen the leadership skills of Oregon educators.

Leadership has become a buzz word in education in recent years as research suggests that student performance improves with strong direction from superintendents and principals.

"The typical view of the principal 20 years ago was the guy focused on the management of the building," said Rob Larson, director of the Oregon Leadership Network, which includes administrators from 11 districts. "What's happening now is, education is more complex and we need to look at how to move to the next level."

School officials from Portland, Beaverton, Salem and Eugene will join colleagues from Massachusetts attending the training program, which gives educators tools for working with teachers and parents. The Wallace Foundation and Harvard professors designed the program, which relies on private-sector expertise of professors from the Harvard Business School as well as the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"The skills we demand of educational leaders today have not been taught to them historically at the education schools," said Lucas Held, director of communication at The Wallace Foundation. "Really, the focus has been administration. But leadership is critical if school improvement efforts actually are going to pay off for kids."

The Oregon delegation includes state Superintendent Susan Castillo, one Nike official, a representative from the Legislature and from the Oregon Employees Association.

Pat Burk, chief policy officer for the state Department of Education, said it's important that lawmakers and business officials understand education and leadership so they can influence policy on a statewide level.

"This is a huge opportunity for us," Burk said. "We want to include insiders and outsiders. We envision educational leadership to be broader than just superintendents. We want community members and others to be leaders in education."


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State hostile to voter-backed property rights renewal

In front of an adoring government union audience, Gov. Ted Kulongoski evoked the spirit of Tom McCall, the governor who championed no-growth, no-compensation land-use planning three decades ago. Far from neutral, the two-term Democrat urged his Labor backers Thursday to support a downgrade of Oregon's property-rights law, twice-approved by voters. Measure 49, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot, would essentially repeal 2004's Measure 37.

"It is fitting that we are standing on the banks of the Willamette River, across from a park named for someone who exemplified Oregon's pro-union, anti-growth mentality," Kulongoski said at the opening of the campaign for Measure 49. "The reality is that this river, and Tom McCall's legacy, are very much at risk."

Under statewide planning requirements of a 1973 law that McCall championed and subsequent regulations, most lands outside cities are protected for farming and forestry and are off-limits to development.

But Measure 37 requires government either to pay landowners when regulations reduce property values, or waive the regulations.

More than 7,000 claims seek either compensation of $15 billion -- the entire state budget from the tax-supported general fund and lottery proceeds for the next two years -- or development of more than 750,000 acres.

"If you look at a map, you can see that a high percentage of Oregon's best farmland is being threatened by development," said Bruce Chapin, a Salem-area farmer, a co-chairman of the statewide campaign for Measure 49, and a representative of the Marion County Farm Bureau. "It will be much harder for farmers to operate. It puts conflicts in the middle of our best farmland and will in time jeopardize our industry."

According to Measure 49 supporters, current claims under the 2004 law could result in at least 251 new subdivisions in Marion County, each with four or more houses, covering a total of 20,625 acres. Marion County is Oregon's top agricultural producer by value.

Measure 49 would allow landowners to build up to three houses on a rural site without further requirements, if they could have been built legally when owners acquired their land, and up to 10 each on a maximum of two sites if owners can provide appraisals.

Dick Day, who lives near Newberg, and many of his neighbors voted for Measure 37 because they sought to build only a house or two.

"We thought it was a good compromise and would protect our farmland and property rights," Day said. "That's how Measure 37 was presented, and that's what I voted for. Unfortunately, Measure 37 turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Day said after Measure 37 passed, a neighboring landowner filed a claim for a 112-lot subdivision in an area with narrow roads and inadequate groundwater.

"I believe Measure 49 comes as close as we can to having that true intent," he said.

The property-rights group Oregonians in Action, which led the campaigns for the 2004 measure and an earlier measure that voters passed in 2000 but the courts struck down, is gearing up to oppose Measure 49.

"I suspect we will be outspent again," Dave Hunnicutt, president of the group, said in an earlier interview. "But we will prevail again."

Hunnicutt has said the claims consume only a small percentage of Oregon's land area.

But at the rally, Measure 49 campaign manager Liz Kaufman said the terms of the debate have changed.

"This is no longer a theoretical issue for Oregonians," said Kaufman, a veteran of several campaigns. "Now real claims have been filed for development, not only in their own backyards but across the state. It's no longer a question of whether it will happen, but when it will happen."

The Oregon Farm Bureau Federation is backing the new measure, as are some businesses such as ODS Corp. and NW Natural, the gas utility.

Later, at a meeting of the Statesman Journal editorial board, Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, said he intends to bring up the issue in door-to-door conversations and small-group meetings. Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, also said Measure 49 is a good response to criticisms of Measure 37.

"I think opponents will try to shoot this down with procedural arguments rather than stick up for big developments," Clem said. Except for some claimants, however, "no one has told me to keep Measure 37 as it is."

A public-opinion survey paid for by the governor's political-action committee indicated that 70 percent of those sampled supported either a repeal or a revision of the 2004 measure.

"The bottom line is that we face a clear and present threat to our prime farmland, our forests and the communities and families supported by those lands," said former Gov. Barbara Roberts, who spoke at the rally.


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July 12, 2007

A few misbehave, many must pay the price

The director of Oregon's state parks will temporarily close Holman State Wayside while the department seeks solutions to a long history of public sex crimes being committed there. Assistant director Dave Wright said that state park administrators have been weighing options since the Polk County Sheriff's Department arrested eight men, including teachers, on charges of public indecency in a sting in May.

"For the past 30 or 40 years, the park has suffered from an unusually high level of public sexual activity," Wright wrote in a statement that will be read to the commission today at a meeting in Florence of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission. "Polk County reports for the past 12 months alone show the sheriff dispatched patrols to the park at least 92 times, and 19 escalated into investigations, arrests or other actions. They report that most of the offenses are drug-related or sexual in nature."

The closure will be effective as soon as practical, pending coordination with Polk County and the Oregon Department of Transportation, Wright said. The park is about four miles west of Salem on Highway 22.

The closure, imposed by state parks director Tim Wood, will prevent traffic from entering the parking lot, and the park restroom will be closed.

The closure will be in effect no more than 12 months, and in the coming six months the operations staff for state parks will develop options for a permanent solution, Wright said. Those options, once decided, will be presented to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission for approval.

Wood's decision to close the park temporarily does not require action by the commission. He will, however, be at today's meeting to answer questions.

Wright said solutions could range from a permanent closure of the park to selling the park.

A priority in any solution, he said, will be keeping the paved bikeway through the park open. It is owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation.


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SEIU Local 503 rakes Oregon over hot coals

Both sides in state labor talks hope to reach a final agreement today on a short and generous two-year contract for state workers, in what's expected to be a marathon negotiating session. SEIU wants to assure that workers won't pay anything for insurance premiums. Oregon has already agreed to remain only one of three states in the entire nation to fully pay 100% of workers' health insurance premiums, including the first dollar.

"Our hope is to stay until it's done, if that's possible," said Cory McIntosh, a state worker and bargaining team leader for Service Employees International Union Local 503. To put more heat on the state, SEIU Local 503 staged a rally at noon Wednesday at the Executive Building in Salem, which includes offices for state labor negotiators. The state raised its offer Tuesday, proposing a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, as of July 1, 2007, plus a 2 percent COLA on Jan. 1, 2009.

"It's progress. They're going in the right direction," said Catherine Stearns, a Department of Human Services hearings representative who is on the bargaining team. SEIU wants to assure worker pay doesn't lose pace with inflation.

The union is seeking to raise the pay scale for many lower-paid workers. The state has agreed to raise some pay grades but is proposing to reduce pay for custodians with less-demanding jobs, after doing a study of what other states pay. That is expected to fall the SEIU's way.

The state initially proposed a new custodian I category with a starting wage of $8.47 per hour and a maximum of $11.33 per hour.

Custodians now get $9.31 per hour to start and up to $12.73 per hour.

John Hess, a veteran state custodian who lives in Keizer, said the new rate would cause high employee turnover because custodians could get better pay at local governments in the Salem area.

"They're going to lose a quality service," he said.

The state responded with a two-tier proposal, offering to pay the lower amount to new hires only.

McIntosh said SEIU would rather strike than settle a contract with custodian pay at the low level the state proposed.

"We've been very clear on that."

The state made major concessions on SEIU's demand to restrict contracting-out of state services, and as a result, Oregon taxpayers will receive no cost benefit from competitive bidding.

The state proposed changing the way it compares public and private-sector salaries when making the determination of what provides the most economical way of providing services. The state proposed to count only 80 percent of state worker pay, said Sue Wilson, who oversees collective bargaining for the state. That's to respond to SEIU complaints that private sector companies offer "lowball" prices to get their foot in the door, and raise prices later, she said.

During the middle of the negotiations, the state Legislature provided a $125 million floor to cover state worker pay and benefits increases for the 2007-09 contract. The state offer on the table would cost $121 million to $122 million, Wilson said.

That will allow the state to expand its offer, spend all the money it can, and seal a final deal with the union.

Whatever SEIU negotiates in basic pay and benefits likely will be the template for settling other labor union contracts, Wilson said. Meanwhile, Oregon's economy continues to sputter and major corporations have pulled out of the state.


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Paid leave for Oregon AFSCME union member

A Clackamas County parole and probation officer was charged today with assaulting his wife and was placed on administrative leave, authorities said. Perry Marshall, 43, has worked as a county parole officer for five years, said Mark Rasmussen, director of Clackamas County Community Corrections. Fairview police arrested Marshall Monday night on accusations of attacking his wife. He was charged with coercion, strangulation, fourth-degree assault and first-degree attempted kidnapping, Rasmussen said. Marshall will be on leave while Clackamas County officials investigate whether further disciplinary action is warranted, Rasmussen said.


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Anatomy of Portland's free wi-fi fiasco

Remember all the buzz about citywide free wi-fi (wireless Internet) in Portland? How could anyone help but be excited by the prospect? Or at least intrigued. Portland was going to not only bridge the digital divide - we were going to fill the damn divide and put a public park in its place. With a bioswale surrounding the bus stop and bicycle parking shelter. Well, it was a nice thought. Instead of free wi-fi, we got a dial-up speed advertising channel. And for many (most?) of us, those ads come crawling onto our screens at the price of a $119 Wireless Access Gateway.

MetroFi launched its network in Portland in December 2006 following a November 14, 2006 press release that begins:

Microsoft Corp. and MetroFi Inc. today announced a strategic alliance to bring locally relevant MSN® content and services to MetroFi’s advertising-supported, free Wi-Fi network throughout Portland, Ore. The two companies also plan to use the Microsoft® adCenter platform to help advertisers reach local Wi-Fi users...

Clearly a network by the people for the people. Oh wait, that would be the Personal Telco Project. (Let me make it clear that I am in no way affiliated with Personal Telco and have no ax to grind on their behalf.) But I'll get to that. MetroFi Inc. has been, from its inception, a for-profit corporate entity in the business of making money. It does this by persuading cities to give it the wireless key to the city so that they can keep up with "nearly a dozen, forward-looking cities across the U.S." The only forward-looking Portland residents are doing relative to MetroFi is looking forward to MetroFi either getting its act together or getting out so we can get back to doing it right: locally and organically.

Wait... Isn't MetroFi local? Nope. They're happily nestled on Clyde Avenue in Mountain View, California. But hey, at least they're in it for the right reasons... Right? Well of course they are! Three very big reasons:

August Capital
...our partners have financed technology companies with an aggregate market capitalization of over $400 billion. These companies generate $75 billion in annual revenue and employ 240,000 people around the world.

Sevin Rosen Funds
Over the past twenty-one years, SRF has employed a unique blend of technical vision and operational expertise to identify, at a very early stage, the potential of such companies as Compaq, Lotus Development, Cypress Semiconductor, Citrix, CIENA, and Capstone Turbine.

Western Technology
Western Technology's investment team has originated over $1.5 billion dollars in transactions with more than 500 companies.

These aren't charitable non-profits. So why is MetroFi a company that investment bigwigs like this see value in? It's called advertising — to an audience that is literally captive. MetroFi was to be Internet access for everyone. Instead, it's Internet access for everyone that has the patience to wait for Web pages to crawl onto their screen, sandwiched between and surrounded by lucrative advertisements.

From a June 6, 2007 press release:

“This is an exciting time for our Portland network,” says MetroFi Vice President of Marketing, Adrian van Haaften. “We’re growing and hitting milestones faster than anticipated, and are looking forward to what the months ahead will bring: more users, more advertisers, and more applications of municipal Wi-Fi.”

Ah, more users. And more advertisers! Wooohooo!

The Benefits of Advertising With MetroFi

So I guess that's you and me: an affluent and influential online consumer demographic. Feels good, doesn't it? To be both affluent and influential. I'm sure that's exactly who all the good souls with great intentions had in mind when they thought of free, citywide wireless Internet access for Portland. They must really be feeling the warm fuzzies now.

So just what does this ad-supported wi-fi look like? If you've been fortunate enough to not need MetroFi, allow me to give you a brief overview -- in MetroFi's own words.

MetroFi's Persistent Ad Banner

First, there is the "Persistent Ad Banner." This "launches when a user logs on to the Internet within a MetroFi network coverage zone. The banner remains in the top 90 pixels of a network user’s browser screen as they traverse the Internet, and advertisements rotate within it. MetroFi banner ads do not get lost ‘below the fold,’ and do not alter or rely upon the websites a user visits." Translation: It shows up as soon as you get on the network and never goes away.

Then there are the wonderful "Interstitials." This is a relatively innocuous sounding word which translates into normal English as "obnoxious, intrusive commercial." But let's let MetroFi speak for themselves about interstitials (emphasis added):

MetroFi also offers advertisers a highly effective full page ad placement, served as an interstitial several times per hour, per user, as they transition from one website to another. These ads can be in rich media format and generally display for at least 15 seconds, before redirecting to the user’s intended web page. A great way for the advertiser to connect to its target audience!
- Rotated into network user’s screen 1-4 times per hour
- Focuses consumer’s attention to your advertising message

That last line has to be one of the best I've heard. Focuses consumer’s attention to your advertising message. That's like saying that waterboarding focuses subject's attention to your question. Interstials were a very bad idea that every other major website abandoned a long time ago as it is indefensibly obnoxious and a sure way to drive customers away. But MetroFi doesn't have to worry about that. They're offering a free service.

MetroFi User Demographics

So what exactly do we affluent and influential types look like? Well, according to the demographics data for advertisers on the MetroFi website, those of us using MetroFi in Portland break down as shown in the chart here.

- 7 out of 10 users are male
- over half are hitched
- we all have at least some college
- 90% of us have jobs
- almost half of us make more than $70,000 a year, with 10% making more than $150,000 a year
- the other 54% makes less than $70,000 a year

I just love that. The lowest income number they're willing to show is $70,000. Those poor folks. They definitely need the free wi-fi.

So what am I on about here? I want truly free wi-fi for everyone. Including those who make less than less than $70,000 per year. Including those who have less than some college education.

And I want wi-fi that works. I don't want people who make less than less than $70,000 per year to have to pay $119 for a booster so they can get free wi-fi so they can watch a page full of ads paint slowly onto their computer screen. I don't want the driver for free wi-fi to be the affluent and influential consumers who are worth showing ads to.

In short, I want Portland to get back to supporting the people who were doing exactly that: the Personal Telco Project. Never heard of them? Please change that now by visiting their website:

We are a volunteer group of Portlanders who believe that 802.11 (wireless networking, or "Wi-Fi") technology is both cool and empowering. We started out by turning our own houses and apartments into wireless hot spots (also referred to as "nodes"), and then set about building these nodes in public locations such as parks and coffee shops. Currently we have over 100 active nodes, and we eventually would like to cover the entire city of Portland, Oregon with even more.

Personal Telco Project

Portland deserves free wireless Internet access for everyone. MetroFi is the johnny-come-lately illusion of free wi-fi. Personal Telco Project is the genuine article. They've been doing it -- with no fanfare -- for years. Let's give them the attention and support that they richly deserve.


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July 11, 2007

SEIU Local 503 demands, state negotiators yield

The state increased its pay offer to state and university employees Tuesday, in collective bargaining negotiations with Service Employees International Union Local 503. The state offered a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, to take effect retroactively on July 1, plus a 2 percent COLA on Jan. 1, 2009, said Catherine Stearns, a Department of Human Services hearings representative who sits on the bargaining team.

"It's not a breakthrough," Stearns said. However, she added, "it's progress. They're going in the right direction."

Bargaining is continuing Tuesday evening and is set to resume Wednesday and Thursday. The current contracts with state workers were set to expire June 30, but have been extended while negotiations continue on a new two-year deal.

The contract applies to 18,400 SEIU members working for the state and 3,600 working for the Oregon University System. Terms also are likely to become the template for other contracts with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75, and other state-worker unions.


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Big shipper exits Portland to "protect interests"

Fourteen months ago, the same week the first Zim container vessel tied up in Portland, a company executive called opportunities in the River City "pretty much endless." On Tuesday, Port of Portland managers found out that the end had come a lot sooner than Zim, and they, had expected. Israel-based Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. formally notified the Port that its container ships would no longer call in Portland, effective Sept. 2.

Port executives had hoped Zim's entry into Oregon in May 2006 would lead to a resurgence in container volumes. Import and export of the metal boxes - vital to overseas movement of consumer goods, from electronics to furniture to sporting goods - spur job growth for longshoremen, truck drivers and others. Shipping in and out of Portland also provides cost efficiency for retailers, manufacturers and farmers here.

The Port had languished with only two container carriers, Hanjin Shipping and Hapag Lloyd Container Line, for all of 2005. Two carriers had pulled out late in 2004, and container volumes plummeted. But Zim and Taiwan's Yang Ming Transport Corp. began calling in Portland in 2006. Container volumes have risen more than 40 percent since.

Sam Ruda, the Port's marine director, said Zim was unable to capture as much of the growth as had been expected. Earlier this year, after Yang Ming more than doubled the size of ships on its Portland calls, Zim slipped from second, behind Hanjin, to third in container volume through Portland.

Port officials had earlier projected that Zim would carry about 20 percent of all of Portland's container volume in 2007-2008.

Zim officials in the United States could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon at their Virginia offices. But in a cordial letter sent Tuesday to Ruda, Zim Senior Vice President Chaim Shacham wrote "the current situation for ocean carriers is very harsh ... this is the best course of action at this time to protect Zim interests."

Unlike a year ago, when Zim left Seattle to add the Portland stop, Ruda said the line is not adding another U.S. call. He said he had been told that Zim, which transports goods from the Mediterranean and Asia, plans to make Vancouver, B.C., its only North American call.

Ruda said the Port was disappointed by the decision, particularly after wooing Zim for months. But he said container shipping is always volatile.

"I am confident we will recover from this," Ruda said.

Portland is particularly susceptible to the vagaries of container ship deployment because carrier lines do not have dedicated terminals here and hold short-term contracts with the Port. At huge West Coast ports such as Long Beach, Calif., and Tacoma, ports have built multimillion-dollar terminals for lines in exchange for long-term leases.


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WWeekly Rogue: Sen. Peter Courtney (D-Salem)

Unlike much of the public, Rogue Central respects and admires Oregon's legislators. So we groaned in the 11th hour of the 2007 session when lawmakers, led by Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), passed a bill including a $34 million no-bid contract to spruce up the Capitol. The contract went to Fortis Construction of Portland. Yes, the building's water may be brown; in fact, all 90 legislators got samples maild to their homes to show constituents. And yes, members' offices look like the Soviet Politburo's circa 1970.

But if lawmakers are going to spend money on themselves - and there's $4.3 million in the project for new furniture, according to legislative administrator Dave Henderson—they should have debated the expenditures sooner than the final week of the recently concluded session. And they ought to put the project out for competitive bids.

Henderson says legislative leadership driven by Courtney discussed seeking such bids but decided the timeline was too short—the work must be done before Jan. 1, 2009. And they doubted firms would make serious bids before money was appropriated.

Rep. Scott Bruun (R-West Linn) prepares and submits bids for Lorentz Bruun Construction as the Portland company's chief financial officer. He doesn't buy Henderson's explanation.

"There was plenty time to get bids," Bruun says, "and contractors are regularly asked to bid jobs for which funding is not in place." (Bruun was one of 15 House members who voted against the bill funding the project.)

Courtney, the Legislature's longest-serving member and biggest booster, pushed for the creation of the Public Commission on the Legislature, which last year proposed ways to improve the Legislature's image, including fixing up the Capitol.

That commission never recommended exempting the Legislature from competitive-bidding requirements that apply to all other government projects.

Courtney's spokesman declined to comment.


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How Portland downgrades liberties, livability

Portland, Oregon, long touted as the paradigm of modern urban planning, is awash in corruption, government waste and public discontent. In "Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn't Work," Cato Institute scholar Randal O'Toole catalogues Portland's failures in city planning and offers suggestions to other cities on how not to repeat its mistakes. O'Toole concludes: "People who want to see their cities remain affordable, uncongested, and livable should look at Portland only as an example of how not to plan."


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State demonstrates re-election wastefulness

Twenty-one months after former Salem lawmaker Dan Doyle told a judge he'd take responsibility for his campaign finance crimes "in any way I can," he has failed to pay a dime toward his $127,185 in civil penalties. As a result, the state moved Tuesday to step up collection efforts against Doyle. Doyle never responded to a proposed payment plan sent April 1, specifying that he pay $500 per month, said Nancy Ferry, an Elections Division compliance specialist. So Ferry referred the case Tuesday to the Business Services Division of the Secretary of State's office.

If that unit can't get quick results, it would refer the case to the Department of Revenue. Ultimately, the case could go to a private collection agency. Doyle could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Salem Republican was elected to the House in 2000, 2002 and 2004. He was a practicing attorney at that time. He rose to briefly become co-chairman of the powerful joint budget committee before his political career was eclipsed by a campaign-finance scandal that came to light in early 2005.

Doyle skimmed more than $146,000 in campaign contributions to his 2002 and 2004 House races and diverted the money to his family and law firm. He then covered it up with dozens of false entries in 11 campaign finance reports.

Doyle pleaded guilty to 11 felonies and was sentenced to 10 months in jail in October 2005. He served five months of the term and was released in March 2006.

State prosecutors had sought a 15-month prison term. But a contrite Doyle appeared before Marion Circuit Judge Pro Tem Robert Cannon on Oct. 3, 2005, and sought leniency.

"What it boils down to is I lied to the public, and I'm taking responsibility for that in any way I can," Doyle told the judge.

Doyle later filed for personal bankruptcy and appealed the $127,185 in civil penalties levied by the Elections Division.

He dropped that appeal in October 2006, Ferry said. In January 2007, the Elections Division sent Doyle a letter about commencing payments on his penalties. He responded by asking to delay payments until September, Ferry said.

The division declined to delay payments that long and issued a payment plan to Doyle on April 1, Ferry said. That called for him to make $500 monthly payments in a plan that would last for two years. At that rate, it would take him 21 years to pay the civil penalties in full, though the payment amount could rise after two years. The Elections Division doesn't charge interest on unpaid civil penalties.

However, Doyle never signed the payment plan or responded, Ferry said.

Doyle's ability to pay the civil penalties is unclear.

After his release from jail, Doyle took a job at Ames Research Laboratories, a Turner-based company owned by his friend W. Ames Curtright.

Curtright said Tuesday that Doyle hasn't worked for the company for some time and he hasn't heard from Doyle.

In contrast, Doyle's wife, Victoria, is making good on her debt, stemming from a related case.

Victoria Doyle pleaded guilty in 2005 to a single count of falsifying a campaign finance report during her unsuccessful 2004 race for Marion County clerk. She served 10 days in a work-release program and was fined $1,604.

Victoria Doyle has been paying $25 a month for the past year, under a signed payment agreement, Ferry said. Victoria Doyle's debt now is down to $1,279. She agreed to extend the agreement another two years.

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Business climate costs Portland another HQ

American Steel LLC is one step closer to leaving Portland. The Canby Planning Commission unanimously approved a design application Monday night for the company to build a 190,000-square-foot facility in the Canby Pioneer Industrial Park. American Steel President Craig Schwartz expressed frustration at the business climate in Portland in a September article in The Oregonian. He did not immediately return a call for comment. The company employs more than 100 and has sales of $62 million, according to New Jersey-based Dun & Bradstreet Inc.

"From our understanding, they would like to be hitting our building permit counter at the end of the moth and be ready to [start building] at the end of the year," said Canby Mayor Melody Thompson. "We're just delighted and pleased they're coming to Canby. We couldn't be prouder."


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An Oregon prog export: Teaching Social Reality

While I was in California the Oregonian had a news story about a former Portland schoolteacher who won some award for teaching about social justice. His name is Bill Bigelow, and I could be more specific about the award he won if the Oregonian search utility was not so horrendous. (It was a feature story just a few days ago, and entering "bigelow" in the search engine doesn't cough it up.)

Anyway, I've known about this guy for a long time. In the proud tradition of "progressive education," he used his position as a "global studies" teacher in Portland School District to indoctrinate the little schoolchildren in his anti-capitalist viewpoint.

The interesting thing is that these people think they are doing nothing wrong, and so they openly discuss what and how they teach kids to be budding socialist/activists.

I first heard of this guy when I bought a book from Powells titled "Teaching for Social Justice." which was a collection of essays from public school teachers about how they go about promoting social justice in their classrooms.

The title of this book is offensive in and of itself - and it also reveals how little its authors understand the appropriate role of our public schools. They actually believe it is their privilege to use the schools to re-shape society according to their values. And so they find nothing particulary remarkable about openly proclaiming that they "teach for social justice."

How about teaching math and science?

Anyway, Bill Bigelow has a chapter in this book in which he describes one of his favorite lesson plans in his Global Studies classes.

He plops a Nike soccer ball on the table and tells the class to write a paragraph or two describing the ball. Of course, the students write physical descriptions of the ball, and he reads a couple of them outloud.

Then, he tells the class about a "deeper social reality associated with the ball." He explains all about sweatshops and 6 year old children stitching soccer balls in Pakistan and the evils of global capitalism that exploits third world laborers....

and then asks the students to "resee the ball," and again write a "description" of it. He tells them they can write a poem, or write from the ball's perspective, or anything else they want.

Magically, the students, thus "enlightened" by Bigelow, give him what he is looking for. Such as:

"Number one in moneymaking.
Number one in sweatshop, overworked, and underpaid labor.

Increasing prices of products.
Increasing the number of factories.

Killing new styles promoted on TV.
Killing Pakistani kids' lives producing those products.

Eager to be paid milions of dollars.
Eager to be paid to survive winters and summers."

Bigelow, thankfully, no longer works at Portland Public Schools. He took early retirement, enjoys his PERS pension, and works for an outfit called "Rethinking Schools," which tries to teach educators all over the United States how to do what he has been doing.



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July 10, 2007

Deck chairs shuffled on Titanic

Portland School Board members elected new leaders today, selecting Dan Ryan and Dilafruz Williams as co-chairs by a 6-0 vote. This will be Ryan's second term and Williams' first. Williams replaces Bobbie Regan. By law, Oregon school boards must elect a new chairman and vice chairman every six months. The Portland board calls those positions co-chairs, and the board members in them share leadership duties. Seven members serve on Portland's board. They represent regions but serve at-large. Regan was absent today.


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Book: Know-nothings should not vote

William F. Buckley Jr. once said that he would rather be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone directory than by the entire faculty of Harvard University. Bryan Caplan must think that Mr. Buckley is a boob. "The Myth of the Rational Voter" brazenly argues, in essence, that the American public is made up of morons whose misjudgments about economic policy will have parlous effects on the state of the nation and its future prosperity.

At a time when "American Idol" draws more voters than most local elections, or when Larry King's questions seem dumber than Paris Hilton's answers, one is reluctant to dismiss Mr. Caplan as just another ivory-tower elitist. At the very least, he relies on a proven formula.

Like a few recent best sellers - "Freakonomics," "The Tipping Point," "The Wisdom of Crowds"--"The Myth of the Rational Voter" unwraps economic theories and applies them to everyday life. Mr. Caplan's thesis, though, lacks any semblance of a compliment: The "unwisdom of crowds" is closer to his point. He believes that the American public is biased against sensible, empirically proved economic policies about which nearly all economists agree. Voters, he says, are not just ignorant in the sense of having insufficient information. They actually hold wrong-headed and damaging beliefs about how the economy works.

The know-nothing voter is hardly a new character. He is a staple of H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis. He is also a central player in the modern public-choice theory. Economists such as Anthony Downs and Gordon Tullock have argued that, because one particular vote is unlikely to sway an election, there is little incentive for any individual to invest his time in learning about the issues under discussion during a campaign. Fortunately, they say, because voting is scattered and random, such "rational ignorance" is harmless. This view has become a shibboleth of most economic and political-science departments.

Mr. Caplan thinks the rational-ignorance theorists are not only wrong but in deep denial about the deficiencies of democracy. Citing reams of survey data, he shows that unschooled voters have consistent opinions about free trade (they don't like it), foreigners (they don't like them), wage and price controls (helpful), and the economic condition of the world (things are getting worse). The majority of economists, according to Mr. Caplan, maintain that these opinions have no factual foundation. They are simply a form of bias or ideology.

If Mr. Caplan is right, many popular nostrums about the majesty of American democracy need to be thrown out the window. "Trust the people," for instance, ends up as a disastrous mandate for tariffs, government interference and declining prosperity. Democracy, in Ms. Caplan's view, is not merely the least bad choice; it is a flawed system that delivers socially suboptimal results to its deluded citizens.

As an analysis of how far voters are out of step with settled economic thinking, Mr. Caplan's argument seems irrefutable. Yet as a work of political theory it is pretty dismal. Survey data do indeed show that Americans hold some irrational views. But nowhere in "The Myth of the Rational Voter" does Mr. Caplan demonstrate that dumb voter bias triggers bad public policy.

Take free trade. Mr. Caplan reports that support for free trade hit bottom in 1977, when only 18% of Americans favored eliminating tariffs. Yet three years later, Ronald Reagan campaigned on a platform of free trade and proceeded to sign historic free-trade agreements with Canada and laid the groundwork for free trade with Mexico. Later administrations have fought to grant China most-favored nation trading status. True, there has been a lot of populist noise against free trade, but for decades not a single presidential nominee from either party has run for office while waving the protectionist flag.

Mr. Caplan also claims that voters revile a corporation that downsizes at home and sends jobs abroad, a business decision that most economists view as socially productive. Yet to the chagrin of Lou Dobbs, CNN's ultra-populist, there has been no serious proposal to stop such downsizing or to punish the companies who outsource their labor. Voter bias has fueled some foolish national debate in recent years but imposed very little foolish national policy.

The deeper problem with Mr. Caplan's thesis, however, is its lack of any reference to the special character of American democracy. For him, democracy fails because it doesn't produce the most economically efficient results. He would prefer to see independent experts shape policy or to put more power into the hands of the unelected solons on the Supreme Court.

Such a strategy might be more efficient, but then again, American democracy has never been about efficiency. Hamilton and Madison (conspicuously absent in "The Myth of the Rational Voter") consciously set out to create an inefficient system that let one faction counter the other. And factions are naturally - and rightly - driven by a complex mix of interests and passions, not just the syllogisms of an economics textbook. Tocqueville (mentioned only in passing) observed that one of the strengths of American democracy was its citizens' greater interest in community and local associations than in national governance. The Founders cared about letting everyone put in his two cents, even if it meant for messier politics.

That sort of democracy disappoints Mr. Caplan because it doesn't rise to the standards of Ludwig von Mises or other libertarian thinkers. Economists may well agree with his thesis, in part because it makes them feel better about themselves. But it should not make ordinary Americans feel any worse about their democracy.


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Salem police misconduct matter dropped

A former Salem police officer will not be re-tried on rape and sex-abuse charges over which a jury deadlocked in June. The decision to drop the remaining charges against Sterling Alexander, 39, was announced in court Monday morning by Marion County Deputy District Attorney Jodie Bureta. "We put on the best case we could have possibly put on, the jury was a good jury, and they couldn't render a verdict on those charges," Bureta said after the court session. "There's no reason to believe another jury could come to a verdict."

The jury did find Alexander guilty of second-degree sex abuse and official misconduct, convictions for which he will be sentenced Oct. 1 by Circuit Judge Albin Norblad. Alexander had been scheduled to receive his sentence Monday, but it was delayed so a psychologist can perform a psychosexual evaluation for use in sentencing.

Such evaluations often are ordered prior to sentencing, especially in crafting sentences for sex offense cases, Bureta said. The evaluation will include a full-disclosure polygraph in which Alexander could be asked about other victims or criminal behavior.

The jury found Alexander guilty in June of sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl he met on duty in 2003, while he was a Salem policeman. Sex abuse involves intercourse without the victim's consent.

Jurors also found him guilty of official misconduct in an incident in which he received oral sex from a Salem city employee during a ride-along in 2004.

But they deadlocked about whether Alexander had raped the 17-year-old girl or sexually abused the city employee. Those were the charges dropped Monday.

Alexander was found not guilty of kidnapping or strangling the 17-year-old girl, and not guilty of sexually abusing a third alleged victim from Stayton.

His attorney, Kevin Lafky, said he was pleased the district attorney decided not to re-try the charges, and to drop two charges of official misconduct that were set to be tried separately.

"At least now we have an end in sight," Lafky said. "We obviously think it's an appropriate decision. We always believed that Mr. Alexander was not guilty of the charges the jury hung over."

The decision to drop the charges also spares the victims a years-long wait for a retrial, Bureta said. "It's too important for the victims and the community to have some closure," she said.

Alexander declined to comment Monday outside the Marion County Courthouse.

He joined the Salem police force in March 2003, but resigned in July 2004 after superiors found that he had used a city-owned digital camera to take sexually explicit pictures. At the time of his resignation, he was the city's only African-American officer.

Oregon State Police troopers arrested Alexander before Christmas in December 2005, charging him with rape of the teenage girl.


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July 9, 2007

Convicts in Corrections: Suicide trip

Oregon State Penitentiary's Intensive Management Unit, designed to tame the state's toughest convicts, has been rocked by a rash of suicidal acts by inmates in the past 2 1/2 years. Aaron Munoz, 21, hanged himself in his cell in January 2005. Jeremy Ayala attempted to hang himself in October. He survived, only to hang himself at a different Salem prison in May. He was 24. And Randall James, 46, died in November after he was found bleeding in his cell from self-inflicted wounds. An Oregon State Police investigation into James' death uncovered lax supervision of inmates and falsified cell check logs by officers.

Prison officials said recent changes in the IMU - known as a "super max" to denote conditions beyond maximum security - are designed to bolster inmate supervision and safety in the top-security unit.

But critics adamantly say the IMU isn't safe, especially for depressed or mentally ill inmates who can't cope with extreme isolation. "If you didn't have psychiatric problems, it'll probably cause psychiatric problems," said Steve Gorham, a Salem defense lawyer who has represented inmates in the IMU. "And if you do have psychiatric problems, it exacerbates them."

Gorham said inmates are subjected to sensory deprivation while they are kept in their cells for more than 23 hours per day. Amplified noise that seems to bounce off concrete and steel poses a double whammy for inmates, he said.

"It's all metal cells, with metal doors," he said. "There's no insulation to suck up the noise, so the overload in IMU is just horrendous. The sensory deprivation comes in not having a lot of contact with people, being locked in that room for 23 1/2 hours a day and not being able to get outside."

Munoz brooded in his cell, said his aunt, Kelly Ann Mills of Portland. Isolation fueled his anger, she said, along with shame and depression caused by sexual abuse inflicted on him as a teenager by a juvenile parole officer.

Munoz, 21, was discovered hanging in the back corner of his "D" unit cell shortly before 9 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2005.

"When I approached cell D-12 I saw inmate Munoz standing in the back of his cell," reads a corrections officer's report. "At first I thought he was just standing there with a sheet around his neck pretending that he was hanging. I said, 'Munoz, knock it off.' When I realized that he wasn't faking, I called on the radio that we had a 'man down' and that we needed a nurse in the unit."

Emergency life-saving efforts failed.

As Mills tells it, Oregon's top-security prison unit let down its guard.

"I would think that the Intensive Management Unit is just that, intensive management, where you know what your inmates are doing," she said. "I just don't see how he could have committed suicide in a place where you're supposed to be watched 24 hours a day."

The state police, as with all prison suicides, investigated Munoz' case. The agency denied a Statesman Journal public-records request for release of the report, citing pending litigation.

Early this year, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the state in connection with Munoz' suicide. A mediation process aimed at producing an out-of-court settlement is close to being resolved, according to a state lawyer.

Mental health officials now have a say in determining which inmates get placed in the IMU, prison officials say. They described it as a measure designed to avert long stints of isolation for severely depressed or mentally ill inmates.

'Super max' developed

The IMU opened in 1991 as one of the nation's first so-called "super-max" prison units.

Costing about $10 million, the 192-bed facility was designed to take the steam out of rebellious inmates who "compromised the safety of the prison system."

Tucked away in a two-story building near the pen's northeast wall, the self-contained facility houses its own clinic, laundry, law library and exercise area.

Security protocols go to extraordinary lengths in the IMU. When an inmate leaves his cell, usually to shower or exercise, he is handcuffed, tethered with a leash and escorted by two officers.

Prison officials say the IMU has paid safety dividends by removing assaultive and disruptive convicts from the general prison population, thereby helping to keep the peace behind prison walls.

Concurring with that view is Frank Colistro, a psychologist who has worked for the prison system for almost 30 years as a private contractor and consultant.

"It took those people who are responsible for a disproportionately high level of threat to other inmates out of circulation and put them in an area where they can be controlled effectively," he said.

Gorham takes a dissenting view. "It certainly doesn't make it safer for the people who are in it, or those who for whatever reasons want to kill themselves," he said.

Like the IMU, another mini-prison within the penitentiary, the 90-bed Disciplinary Segregation Unit, also has been rocked by multiple suicides. Four inmates have hanged themselves in the DSU in the past four years.

Inmates get sent to the DSU, known to them as "the hole" or "the bucket," for violating prison rules, incidents such as fighting, dealing drugs or mouthing off to a corrections officer. They, too, can spend months in extreme isolation, locked into their cells for more than 23 hours a day.

Historically, prison officials said, monitoring of inmates in the DSU was hampered by its old-fashioned design. Corrections officers checked cells every half hour. Otherwise, direct observation into cells was limited along long tiers.

Late last month, DSU inmates moved into the IMU's high-tech cellblocks. The old segregation unit they left behind was refurbished and occupied by other inmates as part of a sweeping overhaul of the prison's segregation housing units.

As part of the makeover, 34 condemned killers on Oregon's Death Row exited the IMU building. They moved into the refurbished cellblocks in the old DSU.

Generally, Death Row inmates pose few headaches for prison managers because they rarely act up.

"Death Row actually is a pretty peaceful place," Colistro said. "Those guys rarely cause any problems because their cases are pending until the last moment of their lives. They know better than to make problems."

Corrections officials said the massive reshuffling of inmates was intended to provide better observation of the highest-risk prisoners, most notably in the IMU.

On a recent day, 114 prisoners were confined in the super-max facility. Four cellblocks make up its core. Each cellblock is controlled by an officer who sits in an elevated control station and operates the electronic switches for all the cell doors and the doors leading to each section.

Officially, it's known as a "programming" unit, where inmates can participate in anger management classes and behavior-modification programs. Inmates who conform with the program go back to the general population.

"It's known to everybody who goes in that the way to get out as quickly as possible is to keep busy, and most of them do," Colistro said.

But Gorham said some prisoners either refuse to participate or can't.

"Most of it's filling out forms, saying 'I'll be good. This (behavior) is what got me here,'" he said. "It's cognitive stuff. Some of it can be very good. But the mentally ill people there can't do it because they're mentally ill. And the people who may have done some really bad stuff can't do it because they'd be incriminating themselves."

Inmate's death retraced

Shortly after 11 p.m on Nov. 27, a corrections officer making cell checks in the IMU made a beeline to James' cell when he heard inmates yelling about "a man down," investigative reports show.

Peering into James' cell through holes in a mesh screen, the officer saw that the inmate was covered by a blanket. He observed a pool of blood on the floor and called for help on his radio.

For security reasons, five staff members entered the cell together, one brandishing a shield. They saw that James had cuts on his arms and legs. Blood was spurting out of his right arm. He was moaning and slipping in and out of consciousness.

James reportedly told a corrections officer that he cut himself because "he didn't want to live like this and that you wouldn't want to live like this."

After calling for emergency medical personnel, officers tried to stop the worst bleeding by tying a towel around James' right arm.

James shouted a profanity and raised his middle finger as he was carried out of the IMU on a gurney, a corrections officer reported. A search of his cell did not turn up any weapons.

Taken by ambulance to Salem Hospital, James died at 7:35 a.m. the next morning. Prison officials initially called it an apparent suicide.

However, an autopsy found that James' self-inflicted wounds were superficial and did not cause or contribute to his death, said Dr. Karen Gunson, the state medical examiner. Official cause of death: brady arrhythmia, a slow heart rate linked to a failure of the heart's normal electrical cycle.

"He came into the hospital with that slow heart rate and they never could get it up," Gunson said.

Had James lived, he would have faced a murder charge, according to a Marion County prosecutor.

Deputy district attorney Matt Kemmy told the Statesman Journal that strong evidence linked James to the slaying of his former cell mate, John L. Richards.

Richards, 63, was strangled to death in the general-population cell he shared with James in September 2006. James was moved to the IMU in the wake of the slaying.

Lax supervision exposed

State detectives turned up no foul play in connection with James' death.

However, they uncovered lax supervision of inmates, along with reports of corrections officers falsifying records of cell checks.

Corrections officers reportedly skipped two rounds of cell checks on the night James was found in a pool of blood.

They told detectives that they didn't have enough time to conduct the checks between 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. because they were busy with other duties, including moving inmates into cells. As they explained it, the missed checks happened several hours before James' attempted suicide.

Investigative reports released to the Statesman Journal through a public-records request indicate that corrections officers in that part of the IMU routinely skipped cell checks for dubious reasons.

One corrections officer told detectives that he and his coworkers relaxed in a training room, socializing and playing paper football games, when they were supposed to be monitoring inmates, reports show.

The same corrections officer told detectives that IMU staffers routinely falsified log reports to cover up tardy or skipped cell checks. By his account, "pretty much everyone" who worked in 'A' unit, one of four cell blocks in the IMU, falsified log records.

Two other corrections officers provided similar information about logs being altered.

No criminal charges were brought against any officers. However, an internal Corrections Department investigation delved into the officers accounts of shirked cell checks and altered logs. Administrative action is pending in the case, said Perrin Damon, a Corrections Department spokeswoman.

To iron out problems with cell checks and record keeping, prison officials said the IMU now has a card-activated system. Officers insert cards into a device to electronically record their cell checks.


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