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March 31, 2007

Newest judge knows wrong side of law

As a troubled youth in Compton, Calif., Kenneth R. Walker acquired a criminal record, including several felony arrests. But as an adult in Portland, Walker fulfilled a dream to be a criminal defense lawyer, practiced for 25 years and reached another goal Friday: He was sworn in as Multnomah County's newest judge. Walker, 55, took the oath in an intimate ceremony at the Multnomah County Courthouse, and he shed tears in memory of his mother. Walker and Gov. Ted Kulongoski talked about Walker's background before Kulongoski appointed him last month. Jake Weigler, the governor's spokesman, said Friday that Walker brings "a diversity of life experience and skills that the court desperately needs."


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M37 property owners: political pawns

When it comes to the Legislature's latest plan to fix flaws in Oregon's land-use compensation law, both sides in the controversy over a proposed subdivision in the hills south of Salem are agreed. They don't like it. "My opinion is they're like a bunch of chess players using us as pawns," said LeRoy Laack of Salem, who has proposed the development of 217 acres south of Salem. "They are trying to appeal to a certain element and divide and conquer us." Tim Nesbitt, a deputy chief of staff to the governor, said about 40 percent of Measure 37 claims request permission to build up to three houses, and 31 percent request four to nine houses.


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The Simpsons Movie tested in Portland

"A reliable informant sends the following: 'I, too, attended the first public test screening last Tueday night at the Lloyd. Matt Groening sat four seats away from us, James L. Brooks and a plethora of writers sat behind us in two rows. It was good but very rough. Lots of animatics, both pencil drawings, and CG match moves and storyboards. Pretty enjoyable all around though and a pretty amazing screening experience, perhaps one of the best of my life thus far. It's in the top five at least. Here are a few more details:


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March 30, 2007

Oregon & Portland catch a breather

It's off to New Orleans for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Portland Mayor Tom Potter and an all-star cast of civic do-gooders who plan to spend three days, April 1 - 4, rubbing elbows with their counterparts and lending a hand with the post-Katrina cleanup. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin will welcome the group at a reception.


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Kulongoski thinking differently

In his speech to open the 2007 session of the Oregon Legislature, Gov. Ted Kulongoski spoke eloquently about green things such as sustainability and dollars. Unfortunately, he didn't discuss something else "green" that could be the answer to many, if not all, the fiscal problems in this state.

Marijuana. Legalize marijuana and tax it. Shouldn’t everything be on the table this session, including raising taxes on a vastly more powerful recreational drug, say alcohol?

Thinking differently about marijuana is hardly new to Oregon. In 1971 Oregon Gov. Tom McCall read an incredible 4,500-word statement before the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse urging nothing short of a revolution in the way the country handled the so-called marijuana problem. An excerpt: "In my ... rapping with thousands of young people at the Oregon State Capitol, I encountered many delegations urging reduction or elimination of legal controls of marijuana ..."


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Oregon farms decline to 10-year low

After holding steady at an estimated 40,000 farms each year since 1999, the number of farms in Oregon dropped to 39,300 in 2006, according to new figures released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). While not a huge decrease, the latest statistic breaks a trend going back 16 years of either an increasing number or the same number of farms in Oregon.


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Lane County Commission opposes voters

The Lane County Board of Commissioners has again thwarted the will of the people; voting to place their newly enacted income tax ordinance on the May ballot. Although it may seem they are bowing to public pressure by taking this step, they are in fact pre-empting the normal process. By acting now, they force the election to occur in May rather than in the fall.

The only long-term solution to Lane county's financial problems is to control costs. If the outrageous PERS debacle cannot be ended, the only options are to minimize public employment and eliminate all but essential services. But the Board's inclination is to eliminate essential services, causing the most damage to the infrastructure and quality of life while protecting as many employees and their obscene fringe benefits as long as possible.


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March 29, 2007

Lake O. asked to involve citizens in plan

Recent petition efforts for an initiative requiring voter approval of city real estate purchases is just one example of a citizens' swell against plans by city leaders. The spate of recent Citizen's View articles and letters to the editor against the community center is part of this swell. Another example is the Oct. 4, 2006, protest march against the proposed shutdown of the current library for inclusion in the proposed Safeco site. A repeated theme is frustration over the city's continued course despite lack of support.


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Unions' statehouse power pyramid

"I never would have believed the depth to which the government could be co-opted into a labor government," said Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day. There's good reason for unions to have high expectations. They were among the triumphant Democrats' most deep-pocketed contributors, furnishing nearly $3 million - about 21 percent of the campaign money contributed - to successful Democratic legislative candidates and fellow Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Those dollars translated into direct-mail pieces, advertising and staff salaries. Unions aren't just big check-writers. They've also produced some members of the Legislature's ascendant Democrats.


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Oregon's skyrocketing benefits costs

In the late 1990s, once employees who worked for what is now Harry & David Holdings Inc. qualified for benefits, they were easy to keep. "We said just answer the call when we're ready and that worked pretty well," says Harry & David President and Chief Executive Bill Williams.

But in the intervening years the cost of benefits has risen dramatically, as it has in every industry. "Right now, the per employee cost for medical and pension/401(k), exceeds on average $10,000 per employee," Williams says. "And that doesn't include holiday pay." In some cases, the company was paying out more for benefits than in wages because some employees were working so few hours, Williams said.


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Liberty takes a back seat at Legislature

The rear-seat bill proposed by Rep. Greg Macpherson is not that onerous. Still, it’s another little slip down the slope of fading liberty. The bill, HB 2536, would require that in motor vehicles, passengers under the age of 13 sit in the back. Up to the age of 8 or a certain height, children would have to use child restraints as well, a requirement slightly stricter than current law. Drivers who fail to enforce these seating arrangements could get a $90 ticket for the offense of endangering child safety. This is what you get when the government comes to be in charge of governing personal habits on the grounds of health and safety. We crossed that bridge many years ago when we failed to rise up against previous laws along this line, from seat belts to cigarettes.


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March 28, 2007

Sec. State Bradbury organizes for SEIU

So why was Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury among 1,000 people outside Portland Providence Medical Center on March 21? To be part of a candlelight vigil supporting hospital workers trying to unionize at Providence Health System, which includes that hospital and St. Vincent Medical Center.

Bradbury chaired a commission last June that said Providence was engaging in "a coordinated union-avoidance strategy" with nonunionized employees, which includes everyone but docs and registered nurses. Providence says it won't meet with the Service Employees International Union because the union is trying to harm its reputation.


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Central Oregon economy faltered in Q4

Help-wanted advertising in the Bend Bulletin fell significantly to the lowest level since the third quarter of 2005. Nonfarm payrolls were effectively unchanged for the quarter, with the monthly average climbing by just 100 employees. The level of initial unemployment claims edged up for the second consecutive quarter.

New business filings fell again and are now down 19 percent from the high reached in the first quarter of last year. Tourism activity softened in the region, with a slide in Bend lodging revenues and a largely unchanged level of activity at the Redmond municipal airport.

Housing activity continued to deteriorate in the fourth quarter. While housing units sold in central Oregon largely stabilized, the median days on the market continued to climb, rising to a level last seen in the first quarter of 2004. Builders continued to cut back, with residential permits down 58 percent from the high reached in the third quarter of 2005.


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Elections Division ruling favors unions

The state Elections Division said Tuesday that the union-backed group Our Oregon did not violate state law in sending postcards announcing a town-hall meeting by Rep. David Edwards, D-Hillsboro, and sponsoring recorded calls for Rep. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene. The division responded to a request by Vance Day of Salem, the Oregon Republican Party chairman, who alleged violations of state election law by Our Oregon.


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March 27, 2007

Private sector union decertified

Federal labor officials confirmed that the majority of sales and warehouse workers at Frito-Lay in Oregon and Southwest Washington voted to leave the Teamsters union. The workers voted 141-to-97 against representation by the Teamsters. The Frito-Lay employee from Beaverton who petitioned to decertify the union, declined comment this afternoon, citing company policy.

A spokesman for the Dallas-based company did not immediately return calls seeking comment. The vote becomes final April 3 unless Teamsters officials file a protest by April 2.


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Warren Buffett to remove Klamath hydro dams

On January 30, the federal government declared that four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River must undergo costly modifications to allow passage for salmon - a decision that could trigger the largest dam removal project in world history.

Since modifying the aging dams would cost an estimated $300 million, removing them has suddenly become a much more plausible - and considerably cheaper - option for their owner, PacifiCorp, a company owned by Warren E. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.


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City shuts out small businesses

Dick Osborne looks outside his Pearl District coffee company and waves to the dozens of condominium and apartment units subsidized by the Portland Development Commission. "I don’t get that in my house," he said. "What’s PDC doing for the small guy?"


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State pushes no-quorum tax elections

A parade of local officials, government and business lobbyists urged lawmakers Monday to modify Oregon's "double-majority" requirement for approval of property tax measures. Under the 1996 requirement, those measures require both a 50 percent return of ballots and approval by a majority of participating voters. General elections every other year are exempt from the requirement, which does not apply to state tax measures.


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Oregon's Economic Numbers: The Truth

Let's start with the facts. The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a raft of economic data each month. That information contains a breakdown by state of employment growth and unemployment claims for every state including Oregon. It is data. It is politically neutral and represents, in part, the state of the economy. The "spin" on these facts is left to the politicians and the newspapers both in what they say and what they don’t say. Facts don't lie.


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March 26, 2007

Sea lions feasting on protected salmon

They're back. Much to the dismay of federal officials and fishermen, California sea lions have returned to the Bonneville Dam to feast on spring chinook salmon as they swim up the Columbia River to spawn. Government employees dragged out the usual arsenal of large firecrackers, obnoxious noises and rubber bullets to fend off Steller sea lions, who prefer sturgeon, and reported some success.

But the same tactics have famously flopped in the past against the Californians, who, like the Stellers, are federally protected and seem to know it. They prey on salmon that school up at the base of the dam waiting to go up the fish ladders toward spawning grounds.


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Oregon lawmakers to marry

HB 2014, sponsored by Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene), is up for a hearing this week in the House Judiciary. The ballot title reads: - Allows member of Legislative Assembly to solemnize marriage. This would give them the same marital power as a federal judge, county clerk or local priest. Is there really a waiting list for people wanting to have politicians read their wedding vows at their wedding?


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Official state dirt?

Reddish earth found in the Willamette Valley foothills could become the next Oregon symbol, joining the ranks of the Chinook salmon and Oregon grape as an official state icon. It's more than just dirt. The fertile soil, known as Jory, is getting attention by the state Legislature. House Joint Resolution 48, which is scheduled to have a hearing Tuesday at the Capitol, would designate Jory as the state's official soil.


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Permits turn dream into nightmare

When it came time to leave the sheriff's department in Nevada, my wife and I looked in Oregon for a place to retire. The summer of 2001 found me riding my motorcycle up and down the back roads of Lane County looking for country property close to town. In August we found it: 46 acres in the Mohawk Valley, just eight miles northeast of Springfield. It was beautiful, with pasture for our horses and room to build the workshop of my dreams. I had a '68 Dodge Charger I planned to restore, and several vintage motorcycles. I figured Oregon would be really laid back. I probably wouldn't even need a building permit. Little did I know!


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March 25, 2007

Rep. Hooley to Taxpayers: Take a Hike

Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.) is on the record in support of tax increases that would hit nearly every taxpayer in Oregon. In a series of votes cast this week in the House Budget Committee, Rep. Hooley voted against the extension of the $1,000 per child tax credit, against the extension of marriage penalty relief, against the extension of the state and local tax deduction, and against the extension of the current 15 percent rate on capital gains and dividends. Ore. taxpayers face a $2,752 annual tax hike if the tax cuts are not extended.


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We Need More Roads!

The business community thinks we have a critical shortage of road capacity, which hurts the economy by restricting freight mobility. Anyone want to guess what was missing from the articles? That's right - any mention whatsoever of the $5 billion we have spent on light rail rather than road improvement, and whether maybe, just maybe, if all that money was spent on increasing road capacity we wouldn't have found ourselves in the situation we are in now.


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