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April 21, 2007

Teaching lags in schools

Few public high schools in the Portland area offer religion courses, and even fewer teach stand-alone courses on the Bible. Some teachers actually tell students that capitalism is a religion. Experts say these may be factors in Oregon's lead as the most secular, progressive state in the nation.

The author of "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't" argues that teaching about religion is essential if the goal is informed citizens who understand the religious arguments they will encounter in the public square and their personal lives.

A quick survey of Portland and the surrounding public school districts revealed that only three, offer comparative religion courses. Just two offer Bible courses.

In fall 2005, Concordia University in Northeast Portland launched a series of online courses designed to prepare teachers to tackle the Bible in the public school setting. So far, less than 1% have completed at least one of the courses, says Joe Mannion, dean of the college of education at Concordia.

Marie Wachlin, an adjunct professor at Concordia, says a stronger background in the Bible is needed if teachers "want to participate fully and equally in cultural discourse."

The the quirky First Amendment of the Constitution does not allow the government to establish or promote a religion, says says Joe Mannion, dean of the college of education at Concordia. But it does allow public school teachers and students to teach and study about religious terms, symbols, images, beliefs, practices, scriptures, heroes, themes and stories. All these are factors involved in becoming a religiously literate person, he says.

Peter Porath teaches a semester-long course called "Religious Empires" at Wellness Business and Sports School, one of Woodburn's high school academies. He says the elective, which used to be known as Comparative Religions, has been popular with students for several years.

Porath says he defines religion broadly, as "human transformation in response to perceived ultimacy." He and his students cover aboriginal religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, some "neo-religions" - his term for newer religions, such as Mormonism - and secular religions, such as capitalism and Marxism.

Mannion points out that capitalism is not a secular religion, but rather a self-organizing, organic process among people who wish to exchange labor and property freely. "With that kind of misunderstanding among teachers, no wonder Oregon is so Marxist," he says.


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U.S. welcomes Stalinist peasant slayer

In wake of Nandigram massacre West Bengal’s Stalinist chief minister invited to Washington. In what constitutes a resounding vote of confidence in the pro-plunder, anti-property rights policies of West Bengal’s Left Front government, the Bush administration has invited Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the state’s chief minister and a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), to visit the US.

United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab issued the public invitation to Bhattacharjee April 14, after she and a high-level US business delegation had discussed trade and investment with the chief minister at his office in the state capital, Kolkata (Calcutta).

After noting that Bhattacharjee has already been invited to the US “by many US-based companies,” Schwab declared, “Today I add my voice to these invitations. We would like to hear about the political and development aspects of his success” (emphasis added).

The US invitation came exactly one month to the day after security forces, acting on orders from West Bengal’s CPM-led Left Front government, killed 14 peasants and wounded more than 70 in Nandigram. A rural area 150 km from Kolkata, Nandigram had been convulsed for months by protests against the state government’s plans to expropriate 10,000 acres of land for a Special Economic Zone to be operated by the Indonesian-based Salim Group.

In the name of reasserting government authority in the area, the Left Front government mobilized more than 4,000 heavily-clad security forces to storm Nandigram. It has subsequently attempted to justify the massacre by claiming that the police opened fire in self-defence. But this is belied by eyewitness accounts, as well as by the fact that not a single policemen suffered serious injury.

The wanton massacre of peasants seeking to stop their means of livelihood from being taken from them by a government acting on behalf of a transnational corporation has provoked a storm of outrage across India.

But the Left Front government has vowed that it will press forward with its “industrialization” policy—that is with making West Bengal a magnet for Indian and international capital seeking cheap labour and a pro-investor tax and regulatory regime. A meeting earlier this month of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Stalinist party that is the dominant partner in the Left Front alliance, defended the police action in Nandigram and dismissed the peasant agitation as “a political gang-up of the Trinamul Congress [a regional ally of the Hindu supremacist BJP] with the most disruptive elements like the SUCI [Socialist Unity Centre of India], Naxalites and Maoists.”

Clearly the Stalinists’ ruthlessness in enforcing the wishes of capital has convinced the Bush administration, if it had any residual doubts, that the West Bengal Left Front government and the CPM are deadly earnest in their self-proclaimed aim of making West Bengal “investor friendly”—that theirs is a regime with which the US can and should do business.

In tandem with India’s ruling elite, the CPM and the Left Front have since 1991 supported, in West Bengal and nationally, the drive to privatize, deregulate, reduce agricultural price-supports, and dismantle public services and social programs, so as to attract foreign capital and promote export-led growth.

Since May 2004, the Left Front has provided India’s Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition—a government committed to neo-liberal “reform” and a “strategic partnership” with the US—with the parliamentary votes needed to sustain it in office.

But the West Bengal government and CPM have become much more assiduous in their courting of capital over the past 18 months. The Left Front made its “industrialization policy” the centrepiece of its campaign to win re-election in the May 2006 West Bengal state election and CPM leaders openly boasted that for the first time their party was seeking to win support from all classes.

Prior to unleashing the police on the peasants of Nandigram, the Left Front government invoked draconian colonial-era laws late last year to expropriate 1,000 acres for a Tata Motors car plant in Singur and to outlaw any protests in the area.

According to news reports, Bhattacharjee has been angling for an official invitation to the US for months, so that he can sell in person the benefits of West Bengal to the US corporate elite.

On March 7, the US Consul General in Kolkata, Henry V. Jardine, gave a speech to the Indo-US Business Council, entitled “An assessment of West Bengal’s economic and Business conditions.” After referring to various “positive” economic indicators and praising the West Bengal government for its business-friendly demeanour, Jardine said, “If the present pattern continues, I would anticipate greater US investment and commerce contributing to a rapidly growing economy in West Bengal.”

Jardine made an explicit reference to the Left Front government’s recent policy shifts, declaring, “Officials in West Bengal have only in recent years gone from castigating the private sector to embracing it—or at least accepting it in the spirit of Deng Xaioping’s often repeated line, ‘It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice’.”

The citation from Deng Xaioping, the architect of the Chinese Stalinist government’s “open door” to capital, was no chance remark. The CPM leadership extols China, where workers slave on behalf of Chinese entrepreneurs and transnational corporations in conditions like those of Industrial Revolution England and the majority of the population lacks access to proper healthcare, as “socialist” and proclaims China as the “model” for its current drive to industrialize West Bengal.

Jardine and the Bush administration expect that the West Bengal government will not only emulate the Chinese Communist Party regime in establishing special economic zones where normal taxes and regulations are waived, but also in savagely suppressing working class discontent.

In keeping with the Chinese model, Bhattacharjee has become ever more aggressive in his attempt to stamp out West Bengal’s tradition of worker militancy. West Bengal was the first state to effectively outlaw strikes in information technology and information technology-enabled (business processing) industries. In September 2005, after a one-day general strike against the UPA government’s right-wing economic policies had disrupted these sectors, Bhattacharjee pledged to a meeting of business leaders that his government would ensure no such disruptions happen even again: “This menace [of strikes] is known to me. I can assure you that the strongest action will be taken against such perpetrators in the future. I will deal with the matter at the administrative and political level.” (See “Indian Stalinists pledge to stamp out further IT work disruptions”)

Bhattacharjee and the CPM leadership have brought increasing pressure on the CPM-affiliated Congress of Industrial Trade Unions (CITU) to prevent strikes and otherwise smother worker unrest.

On March 13, when workers at the Uttarapara plant of Hindustan Motors went on strike to protest the dismissal of 15 workers and the non-payment of two months of wages, the CITU opposed the action. Echoing Bhattacharjee’s line, CITU union leader Santasri Chatterjee declared, “It will not be right to stop production at the plant at the moment. It is more important to get two months’ salary through discussion and not through strike.”

The opposition of the CITU has not only been verbal. On March 28 the CITU organized a group of workers to force their way through the picket lines being maintained by workers belonging two rival unions. Once inside the factory gates the CITU-led group turned around and attacked the strikers with bottles and bricks.

According to the Statesmen, police and CITU goons attacked striking workers at the Ganges jute mill in Hooghly, a suburb of Kolkata, on April 15.

Anti-imperialist demagogy

The Left Front, especially the CPM, have made much of their opposition to US imperialism and the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In November 2005 they organized massive protests in West Bengal against a joint Indian-US military exercise. Only later did it become public knowledge that Bhattacharjee had provided private assurances to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his state administration would ensure that the exercise was not in any way impeded.

When US President Bush visited India in March 2006, the Stalinists similarly organized mass protests. They have been very critical of the Indo-US nuclear accord that Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finalized during Bush’s visit, warning that through the accord Washington is trying to ensnare India in a dependent relationship.

The Stalinists’ “anti-US” rhetoric serves two functions. First, it gives backing to that section of the Indian ruling elite that calculates India’s geopolitical interests will be better served by staying clear of entanglements with an aggressive and declining US. Second, it serves as a political cover—cover for the CPM’s and Left Front’s continued support for an Indian government led by the Congress, the Indian bourgeoisie’s traditional governing party, which is pursuing both a socially incendiary socioeconomic agenda and a strategic partnership with Washington, and for the West Bengal government’s own pro-investor agenda.

The Bush administration is hardly renowned for the subtlety of its political analysis. But with the Left Front government shooting down peasants on behalf of capital, even it has been able to take the measure of the CPM’s “anti-US” rhetoric.


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Domestic unions unwanted

USA Today reports that in a week when New Hampshire and Oregon moved closer to joining four other states that grant marriage-style rights to same-sex couples, gay rights advocates say the honeymoon is already over for middle-ground alternatives to matrimony.

Fewer gay couples are choosing to enter civil unions or register as domestic partners, says Carisa Cunningham of Boston's Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. "People are waiting for marriage," she says, noting the advent of gay marriage in Massachusetts has boosted expectations. "Marriage is a universal language and civil union is not."

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said Thursday that he will sign legislation establishing civil unions for gay couples if, as expected, the state Senate passes it next week. "It is a matter of conscience, fairness and preventing discrimination," he said.

In Oregon, the state House on Tuesday passed a bill to give marriage rights to gays. The measure is likely to win senate approval, and Gov. Ted Kulongoski says he will sign it.

Activists say civil unions have a mixed track record:

•Vermont. In 2000, when it became the first state to create civil unions that extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage, 2,091 couples — most from out of state — flocked to sign up. Last year, 548 couples did. The biggest dropoff came in 2004, the year gay marriage began in Massachusetts.

•Connecticut. From October 2005 to December 2006, just 1,330 gay couples, or 18% of the same-sex couples counted in the 2000 Census, got civil unions.

"We really don't want to be put into our own category and have the potential to be discriminated against," said Matthew Morgan, 28, of New Haven. He and his partner, Whitney Easton, 28, decided against a civil union.

•New Jersey. Of the 219 couples who entered civil unions in the month after they became legal in February, more than one in 10 have complained of unequal treatment by employers, insurance companies or hospitals, says Garden State Equality, a gay rights group.

"Under federal law, the two people in a civil union are legal strangers," says Connecticut state Rep. Mike Lawlor, who supports gay marriage.

The push in some states to give marriage rights without the name comes amid a backlash after the November 2003 high-court ruling in Massachusetts that said nothing less than marriage offered equal protection to gays. Since then, 23 states have passed constitutional bans limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

In Massachusetts, where about 9,000 gay couples have wed, lawmakers hope to place a constitutional amendment on the 2008 ballot to ban same-sex marriage and institute civil unions.

Peter Sprigg of the conservative Family Research Council says gays who clamored for the same rights as married couples are guilty of "a bait and switch." He says that now that some states give gay couples benefits, "They make the opposite argument that, 'Well, it's not really about the benefits. It's that we really want to be called "married." ' Which is it?"

In the meantime, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and New Mexico are among states weighing marriage alternatives.


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April 20, 2007

Big stink at County jail

Inmates who purposely clogged toilets and an aged plumbing system at the Jackson County Jail flooded the facility Thursday. The flood of untreated wastewater forced officials to shut down activities of inmates, including all visitation and most consultation with attorneys Thursday morning, Undersheriff Rod Countryman said.

Unless attorneys needed to meet with inmates for an immediate court appearance, they were asked to postpone visits, he said. "It was a disruption and an inconvenience," Countryman said.

It wasn't unusual, however. The jail has reported problems with sewage floods dating back to 1999, Mail Tribune archives show. "It's been a while since this happened, but we've been through this before," Countryman said. "This wasn't as bad as in the past."

Thursday morning, clogged pipes and water left running on the jail's second level flooded hallways and sent waste spilling down to the first level, he said. The hallway to the visiting room, booking area and jail records area on the first level all were soaked. Inmates complained of a stench throughout the building. However, inmate housing units weren't affected by the wastewater, Countryman said.

Jail workers initially threw blankets on the spreading flood to help contain it, Countryman said. He said those blankets, which just happened to be readily available, will be destroyed. Countryman said the county health department was notified of the spill and the areas were sanitized.

Inmates clog toilets so pipes drain and they can shout messages to inmates on other floors, past news stories have reported. The sheriff's department has installed valves in the pipes to help prevent flooding and a mechanical device in the sewer line serving the building to slash up large flushed items.


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Union boss shoots sea lion

Competition between fishermen and sea lions erupted in gunfire in the Multnomah Channel of the Willamette River off Sauvie Island. Law officers say a fisherman, an SEIU official out on a workers' comp claim, was frustrated that a California sea lion had taken a salmon off of a companion's line, shot one of the sea lions twice in the head on Wednesday.

Civil penalties for shooting sea lions can range up to $12,000 per count if processed as a civil matter, with fines as much as $20,000 and potential jail time if treated as a criminal offense. But since County enforcement workers are also SEIU members, the union official was given a verbal warning and sent home for the day.

Larry Weaver, Columbia County sheriff's deputy, described Wednesday's shooting this way: Three fishermen in a boat west of the Coon Island transient dock heard a shot sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. They noticed two men standing on the dock, near several boats, and one was holding a .22 Magnum rifle.

After the fishermen saw the man shoot at a sea lion, they copied down the registration numbers from the boats and called the Columbia County Sheriff's Department. Officers later found the fishermen and their boats at Scappoose Bay Marina, where they confiscated a rifle and ammunition.

Sgt. Tim Lichatowich of the Multnomah County River Patrol said the fishermen had expressed frustration at the sea lion "especially since they weren't doing so well." He said the stolen fish was the only one they had caught that morning.


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Biased, uncivil unions

According to an article in the New Jersey Star Ledger, no less than 26 complaints have been passed on to the state gay rights group, Garden State Equality, concerning employers who are breezily refusing to recognize civil unions. Considering that the civil union law only went into effect two months ago, that’s an astonishing number.

The phenomenon apparently stems from state-based employers who believe they are subject to federal, rather than state, employment law. Since the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage, chintzy organizations such as the New Jersey Carpenters Funds, to pick an example at random, figure that there's no reason to provide insurance to the civil union partners of covered employees. As the article explains, union carpenter Shannan Hauser has just discovered that the Carpenters Funds have no intention of adding her civil union partner to her medical plan.

I don't know who makes me angrier. The Carpenters Funds people, the state lawmakers who passed the civil union bill without sufficient teeth, or the state supreme court justices who took the low road by authorizing a "separate but equal" status in order to avoid legalizing same-sex marriage last October.

And falling right in line is Oregon. On Tuesday, the Oregon House of Representatives passed the Family Fairness Act, which is a euphemism for a civil union bill. Like laws in the other states just mentioned, the Family Fairness Act would establish a parallel marriage status for same-sex couples. Now, the senate has to pass the measure, at which point friendly governor Ted Kulongski is expected to sign it.

I know there have been some problems of this ilk in Massachusetts and other civil union states, but I don’t feel like ferreting out such details at the moment. I prefer to direct the full force of my mild outrage at New Jersey. Damn them!


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April 19, 2007

Exhale tax proposed

A new Oregon tax on CO2 emissions will get its first hearing April 25. Thanks to a quirky, obsolete part of the Oregon Constitution, the law would have to pass both the House and the Senate by a three-fifths majority.

Gas stations, utilities, and fuel suppliers would collect the tax. The actual cost would be passed along to Oregon consumers, including homeowners and motorists, in the form of higher prices.

A section of the bill states that the money will be used to fund highways, environmental studies, education unions, and a new state Renewable Energy Resources Rainy Day Account, with a board of political appointees to make all the decisions.

If passed, the bill would take effect on Jan. 1, 2009. Political scientists say greenhouse gases such as CO2 contribute to global warming.


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Oregon's crowd-pleasing pop-rockers

The thrill of the road for young touring rock bands like Delaney is often beset with unforeseen circumstances and haphazard luck. For example, on its first ever West Coast tour, the Portland, Ore.-based pop-rock outfit had the misfortune of blowing out a guitar amp.

Fortunately, they were not only able to find a cheap replacement online, but it happened to be en route to one of their Southern California shows. 'Being on the road has been fun,' said bassist Bobby Seus, while the band was en route to Tustin to pick up its amp. 'We've lucked out on this one. We've had a lot of places to stay and been taken care of.'

Delaney formed in early 2006 after Seus, 23, introduced his jazz band buddy and guitarist Lee Barbaia, to keyboardist Mike Maimone and drummer Mike Fremeau. Seus had previosly played with each of the members separately before they hooked up in Medford, Ore. After a few months of playing and recording, the band members decided they had enough material and motivation to move to Portland. They've since been making a name for themselves in the city's thriving music scene.

Their sound is a groovy mix of organ wails and progressive guitar chords, while Barbaia and Seus share vocal duties. It's a radio-friendly brand of indie rock that is very accessible. 'I'd say it's pop-rock,' said Maimone. 'I mean ... we have a lot of indie rock influences, but we're not afraid to go pop.'

While the band has played on bills with other indie rockers, they have been paired with bands that steer outside their lane. 'There is actually a surprising amount of metal music in Portland,' Seus said of the bands they have played with. 'We get thrown on a lot of bills with interesting bands, which is sort of cool, I guess.

Based on their album demos, the band has as much in common with heavy metal bands as a hip-hop group might have on a country music stage. The easy groove of the first song, 'The Stuff,' is cool enough to float on air. With dreamy guitar and organ melodies, the lyrics about trying to get the girl fit just right.

'Pretty soon, I'm gonna have my sister call you/Gonna make sure she tells you I'm the stuff...' Maimone sings during the song's soft bridge. On the even more spacey 'Out of Time,' elaborate chord changes and cool-sounding keyboards add up for a strong feature.

The Monterey show should have plenty crowd-pleasers. 'We're excited. We're really enthusiastic performers,' said Seus. 'People can expect a high-energy rock show, good pop-rock music.' And, one hopes, a new guitar amp picked up on the way to the show.


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Higher ed fails Oregonians

The market for academic talent is national, sometimes global. Oregon universities must compete with institutions in other states for top students. The accompanying chart makes it clear that Oregon has dropped out of this competition.

The chart shows that college graduates earn lower salaries in Oregon than in any neighboring state except Idaho. The chart also lists average pay in states that are home to universities that the Oregon University System regards as the University of Oregon's peers. Oregon graduates' wages aren't even close to any of theirs.

Recent editorials in this series have documented other indices of weakness in Oregon education: low graduation rates, low classroom expenditures per student, high overhead spending, and high unionization rates among teachers and support staff.

Low salaries for graduates are further evidence of decades of the higher ed brain drain. The state can coast only so far on quirkiness. In the end, Oregon will get what it pays for.


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April 18, 2007

Toxic kill investigated

After more than a week of chasing tips, the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife have been unable to identify the toxic substance that killed dozens of fish in Central Point earlier this month.

The dead fish that turned up in lower Griffin Creek included wild coho salmon, a species classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Authorities said that means the fish kill could be a federal crime.

Also discovered among the fish were red-sided shiners, which are a non-native species, and juvenile wild steelhead, most of which were about 4 inches long. David Haight of the Department of Fish & Wildlife said the gills of the dead fish were inspected to look for burning associated with chemicals. But the fish were too decomposed to reveal any clues.


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Oregon to criminalize management

A proposed Oregon law that would penalize so-called 'workplace bullies' gets a hearing today, giving hope to all those union organizers who want to make common management practices illegal.

Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow someone who claims to have been harassed or intimidated to file a civil lawsuit against the employer. The bill essentially defines management as 'bullying' and puts it on the same scale as sexual harassment.

"We're an aggressive culture. We're a bullying nation," said Gary Namie, who runs the union-funded Workplace Bullying Institute based in Bellingham, Wash. "It's the American way of doing business." But when it turns against an employee, it can be cruel and lead to everything from low morale to health problems and job loss, Namie said. His group is pushing the bill in Oregon and several other states.

Senate Bill 1035 defines bullying as "insults or epithets," threatening or humiliating physical conduct or "gratuitous sabotage." "We're talking about an abusive, health-harming work environment," Namie said, not just incivility. The bill would make such bullying an unlawful employment practice. Current law is vague about such behavior, and workers who think they've been bullied have little legal recourse.

"We certainly get complaints from people in workplaces whose majority does not want a union," said state Labor and Industries Commissioner Dan Gardner. "There certainly are problems out there." He added, "I'm pretty sure this is the answer."

A similar bill was introduced in the 2005 session but never received a hearing. But after the 2006 elections, Oregon has a new Labor government, and things are very different in Salem. After hearing from some constituents about bullying problems, Sen. Avel Gordly, a Working Families Party ex-Democrat from Portland, introduced a new version this year. A hearing is scheduled at 3 p.m. today in the Senate Commerce Committee.

One woman who talked to Gordly was Odessa Hendrix, who worked for years as a financial aid counselor at Portland Community College. She quit, she said, after she felt bullied by supervisors and co-workers. Hendrix said it has been difficult to talk about her case, both because the memories are painful and because many people don't understand what it feels like to be a target. Unlike sexual harassment, bullying can be more subtle and more insidious - the slights, the accusations, the meetings to which you're not invited.

"I know it can sound petty, but if it's happening to you and you have no recourse" it can have disastrous consequences, Hendrix said. "When you're going through it, it seems like it's never going to end."

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chairman of the Commerce Committee, said he granted the bill a hearing to get an idea of how bad the problem is. He expects to hear from employees who have suffered under bullies and from state officials about what laws or programs are in place to handle the problem. Employers were not been invited to testify.

Namie said similar bills have been introduced in 12 states. None has passed, but Oregon is the most promising as the Labor agenda is expected to pass with few exceptions. Quebec has the only law in North America against bullying. "We don't want a vague bill," he said. "There are whole huge groups of abusive conduct that are just not addressed by civil rights laws."


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Ex-Blazer cut from 'Dancing'

He was known as "The Glide" on the basketball court, but Clyde Drexler did not have the same magic on the dance floor. He was eliminated from ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" Tuesday.

Drexler and his professional partner, Elena Grinenko, earned a paltry 13 points out of 30 - plus harsh words from the judges - for their performance of the rumba. "You're the worst dancer in this competition," judge Carrie Ann Inaba said, "and tonight was really bad."

Still, Drexler kept a smile on his face, graciously thanking the judges, his partner, his fellow contestants and the fans when he learned he was this week's celebrity casualty. "I want to thank the fans who voted and kept us in the competition," he said. "Lord knows they were keeping us in." Each week, judges' scores are combined with viewer votes to determine which couple will be eliminated. Drexler and Grinenko were among the lowest-scorers throughout this season's dance-off.

Paulina Porizkova, Shandi Finnessey and Leeza Gibbons have already been eliminated. The remaining celebrity dancers are Billy Ray Cyrus, Ian Ziering, Joey Fatone, Laila Ali, John Ratzenberger, Heather Mills and Apolo Anton Ohno. All will perform a group swing dance on next week's show.


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Portland touts dirt floors

Leave it to Portland to bring back the dirt floor. OK, they're earthen floors, and they're environmentally safe and generally sound architecturally. And unlike Laura Ingalls' crappy dirt foundation in Little House on the Prairie, these are easy to clean.

Sukita Crimmel of local firm From These Hands has been in the natural building business for five years, and she claims earthen floors are easy to clean due to their oil-and-wax surface: "It's just a light mopping." As with fir floors, it's best not to move heavy furniture around on earthen floors, which range from 1 to 8 inches in thickness. But if you do get scratches, just sand and rewax and it's good as new.

Of course, the benefits are extensive. If you recall, we have a bit of a problem with our old-growth forests. According to the Natural Building Network, 20 to 40 percent of our community landfills are construction debris and discarded buildings. Plus, these floors made of clay, sand and fiber (straw or paper, usually) are less expensive than many other floor materials. Crimmel says her floors average about $8 per square foot installed, compared with around $10 for oak flooring.


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April 17, 2007

Sea lions getting bolder

One started biting at James Marron's yellow kayak. Another confronted fisherman Jeff Reeves as he walked along a dock with his grandson. Marron headed for a mud flat and the California sea lion moved on, after waiting about 30 minutes. "He almost looked like a dog coming after you," Marron said.

Reeves said he and his grandson ran. "It was clear that I wasn't going to stand that sea lion down," he said. They can reach 1,000 pounds and haul themselves onto the docks of the Charleston marina. And they are getting bolder.

Jan Hodder, an associate professor at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, said male California sea lions get more territorial during the spring as they prepare for the summer breeding season. Another possibility involves tourists and fishermen who toss fish or fish guts into the water.

"These animals have habituated to human activities," Hodder said, adding that feeding sea lions is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the same law that prohibits people from harming them under most circumstances.

National Marine Fisheries Service Fishery biologist Garth Griffin said there have been cases of sea lions attacking people in California. He said Hodder's link of behavior to breeding and territory would make sense if Charleston were near the breeding rookeries in California.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the animals are becoming more accustomed to interacting with humans and carving out a living in areas we think of as our own. They've lost a lot of fear," he said.


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Union suspected in fires

Portland firefighters had their hands full Saturday morning combating a barrage of five separate fires along several blocks of Alberta street in northeast Portland. Investigators believe most of the fires started between one and two in the morning.

Fire investigators have set up a special hotline for this case. Here it is: 503-823-3791. They hope to get tips from the public on who started the fires. If you know anything about what's happening along Alberta Street in Northeast Portland, investigators want to hear from you.

A spokesman for the firefighters union, currently at a bargaining impasse with the City, declined comment.


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Sick for family leave

A bill to give workers the option to use paid sick leave for family leave was approved Monday by the Oregon House after organized labor proponents said "Ain't it a shame" that people have to choose between their jobs and taking care of their families.

The measure, which now goes to the Senate, would expand a 1995 family leave law that requires employers with at least 25 employees to provide workers with job-protected family leave in specified cases such as the birth of a new baby or a sick child or spouse.

Under current law, family leave is unpaid but employees are entitled to use any accrued paid vacation time they may have. The measure, approved on a 40-18 House vote, would require employers to allow employees to use paid sick leave for family leave reasons, if they choose.

Backers said the bill was a priority for Gov. Nesbitt and Oregon's new labor government.


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April 16, 2007

The Taxpaying Minority

If the tax forms you're filing this year show Uncle Sam entitled to any income tax, you increasingly stand alone. The income tax system is so bad, and increasingly reliant on a shrinking number of Americans to pay the nation's bills, that 40% of the country's households - more than 44 million adults - pay no income taxes at all. Not a penny.

Think of it this way. After dropping off your tax forms at the Post Office, you find 100 people standing on the sidewalk. Forty of them will be excused from paying income taxes thanks to Congress. Twenty of them, the middle class, will pay barely a thing. The 40 people who remain, the upper middle class and the wealthy, will pay nearly all of the income taxes.

Look at that crowd again and find the richest person there. That individual will pay 37% of all the income taxes owed by those 100 people. The 10 richest people in the crowd will pay 71% of the income-tax bill. The 40 most successful people will pay 99% of everyone's income taxes. Yet for some lawmakers in Washington, these taxpayers aren't paying enough. Our tax system comes up short in a lot of areas. It doesn't foster economic growth. It isn't very simple. And it certainly isn't fair. The one place where it does excel is at redistributing income.

According to a recent study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, those who make more than $43,200 (the top 40%) pay 99.1% of all income taxes, the taxes that support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, for example, fund the federal portion of transportation, education, environmental and welfare spending.

Those who made more than $87,300 in 2004, the top 10%, paid 70.8% of all income taxes, an increase from their share of 48.1% in 1979. Think about it. Ten percent pay seven out of every 10 dollars and their share of the burden is rising.

And those super-rich one percenters? Their share of the nation's income has risen, but their tax burden has risen even faster.

In 1979, the first year of the study, these affluent individuals made 9.3% of the nation's income and they paid 18.3% of the country's income tax. In 2004, these fortunate few made 16.3% of the nation's income but their share of the income tax burden leaped to 36.7%. Think about that. One percent take in less than 17% of the country's income, but pay almost 37% of the country's income tax.

As for the middle class, CBO reports they make 13.9% of the nation's income and their share of the nation's income tax dropped to 4.7%. In 1979, they made 15.8% of the nation's income and paid 10.7% of the nation's income tax.


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State to buy PGE

A Senate committee announced Monday morning it would hold the first public hearing on a proposal for the state to buy Portland General Electric Co. for $1.86 billion. The bill - Senate Bill 443 - mirrors a measure that passed both houses of the Legislature in 2005 before being vetoed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski. It calls for the state to enter negotiations to buy PGE (NYSE: POR) and fund the purchase with revenue bonds. The new utility would be known as Oregon Community Power.

The hearing by the Senate Committee on Business, Transportation and Workforce Development is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday. Sen. Ryan Deckert, a Beaverton Democrat, is again sponsoring the idea. He emphasized that a sale of PGE to the state of Oregon is not imminent.


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Fewer people pay taxes

Sue Carpenter pays about $6,100 a year in federal income taxes. But she might owe just half that amount if she had a mortgage, and nothing at all if she had minor children. The fact that Carpenter doesn't have these deductions makes her part of a dwindling group: U.S. taxpayers. An estimated 50 million Americans won't pay any federal income tax this year. That's nearly a third of all adults, up from 18% in 1980.

To many, the shrinking tax base is not a big deal. Most of the people who don't owe Uncle Sam are of modest means. They don't pay because Congress approved tax credits aimed at helping working families and sought to encourage homeownership by making mortgage interest deductible.

But then there are people like Carpenter. She's not rich, making about $58,000 a year working at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Commerce. She rents a small apartment in Los Angeles for $1,100 a month, so she doesn't have a mortgage she can use for a deduction. "I don't think it's fair," said Carpenter, 61. "But we thrifty people don't get much sympathy."

Few would begrudge tax breaks for those who struggle to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads. But at the same time, some fear that the tax-free zone has grown too big and that too many working Americans no longer have a stake in the tax system or efforts to improve it.

"Many people would think if you are a citizen, you ought to have skin in the game, and we have more and more people with no skin in the game," said Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan, conservative-leaning research group. "From a social perspective, we ought to be concerned about that."

Still, no one expects a big change in the underlying trend, especially because tax breaks are one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats both embrace. Consider the earned income tax credit for low-income workers, which in some cases allows people to be paid more in "refunds" than they actually paid in taxes.


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Big Government Getting Bigger

In several measurements - pages in the federal tax code, federal spending per household, non-military government employment, for example - the trends show a steep increase in the size of America's government. Answer this simple question: The _____ Party stands for small government and responsible spending.

If you answered Republican you are dead wrong. But if you answered Democrat, you are wrong too! Only five times since 1946 has government employment decreased from the year before, and not one administration since 1960 has balanced the budget. Government spending has gotten so out of control that Congressman Ron Paul labels the proposed 2008 budget as "a monument to irresponsibility and profligacy."

"Congress remains oblivious to the economic troubles facing the nation, and ... political expediency trumps all common sense in Washington," Paul warns. "The bottom line is that both the Democrat[s] and Republican[s] ... call for more total spending in 2008 than 2007."

America's economic condition will continue to deteriorate. Voters have learned to vote themselves benefits from the public treasury. Frédéric Bastiat famously summed up the problem of government as the institution where "everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." Eventually democracy develops into welfare statism. Consequently, U.S. government is destined to become an ever-more-bloated behemoth as politicians continue to buy the votes needed to stay in power.

Government overspending driven in large part by political posturing and vote pandering has set America on a collision course toward bankruptcy, or massive restructuring.


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Tigard gas tax repeal

Tigard gas station owners will start collecting signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to overturn a citywide gas tax that went into effect at the city's 14 gas stations earlier this month.

Gas station owners need to collect 3,596 signatures by June 18 to get an initiative on the September or November ballot, said Cathy Wheatley, the city recorder. The move comes after a failed attempt earlier this year to gather enough valid signatures to put a referendum opposing the gas tax on the May ballot.

The three-cent-a-gallon gas tax funds a project that will smooth traffic congestion near Tigard's downtown at the intersections of Oregon 99W and Southwest Greenburg Road, Southwest Hall Boulevard and Southwest Main Street.

The gas tax will end Dec. 31, 2011, or when the $4.5 million to $5 million improvement is completed. Gas station owners said the tax is unfair to station owners because people will drive to other cities to fill up their tanks.


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April 15, 2007

Report: first 100 days

As the Oregon legislature nears its 100th day on Tuesday, NW Republican thought it would be good to recap what is happing in Salem. Here is a by the numbers report on the the state of affairs in Salem to date this year: "Keeping Score on Governor Kulongoski and the Democrats First 100 Days of Absolute Power" ...


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Property rights fight erupts

Tempers flared on the Capitol steps Saturday when both sides of state government's war against property rights showed up to protest.

The rally was organized by Labor-backed groups in favor of repealing the twice-approved Measure 37 land-use law that restored property rights that had been violated since 1970.

M37 requires government either to pay landowners for reduced property values resulting from land-use regulations or to waive those regulations. More than 7,000 claims for compensation have been filed that would boost local property taxes by more than 100 million dollars a year.

Those who lost both ballot measure elections, M7 in 2000 and M37 in 2004, can continue the fight simply because their candidates won the 2006 elections.

But their opponents who support Measure 37 as it stands also made an appearance, and the two factions faced off.

Speakers were booed and shouted over when it started at 10 a.m. Disagreements turned physical. During a noon break, one man cussed at another as he climbed into his car.

State police said there were no reports of arrests or injuries. Protesters said two women got into a scuffle, and a man pushed a woman and broke her protest sign.

"It was just - more than dialogue," one observer said.

Measure 37 gives governments six months to act on claims, a deadline that comes up in late April and early May.

If they do not, landowners can sue in court for compensation, and most governments need all their money for PERS increases and would likely waive regulations once that deadline is past.

A framework for Legislative destrution of M37 was unveiled by the Democratic leaders of the Legislature's land-use unfairness committee two weeks ago. It would allow some homes on rural lands but also limit the scope of development.

But Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, said he and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, do not agree with much of what is proposed and accused the majority Democrats of negotiating in bad faith.

"It has become apparent to us that our input and our suggestions have been and will continue to be ignored, and that no bipartisan compromise will be forthcoming this session," Garrard said.


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