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April 28, 2007

SEIU's ugly card-check abuse in Portland

My name is Karen M. Mayhew and I work for one of the nation’s largest Health Maintenance Organizations, Kaiser Permanente, in Portland, Oregon. I write today to express my concern over the ironically named “Employee Free Choice Act.” This legislation, if passed, will strip from American workers the right to say whether or not they want to have their working lives forever altered. I would like to share my personal experience under “card check” and explain why it is a terrible idea.

Back in the spring of 2005, a local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) descended upon my small office of approximately 65 professional employees and launched into an organizing campaign. This union had already signed what they called a “neutrality agreement” with my employer which silenced my employer and made it impossible for my employer to speak truthfully to us about the meaning of the union’s activities.

One of the first meetings with the union after the launch of the “card check” campaign was a Q & A session with a local organizer and SEIU organizing director at a large reception hall at one of our Portland campuses. At that meeting, union authorization cards were placed purposely in front of each chair. Some of us, myself included, spoke to our colleagues before the meeting about those cards, and questioned their meaning and purpose. At the meeting, employees asked the union agents questions about the purpose of the cards. The union agents responded by telling us that signing the card only meant that the employee was expressing an interest in receiving more information about the union, or to have an election to decide whether or not to bring the union in.

It was made clear to all of us there in attendance that those authorization cards did NOT constitute a vote right there and then for exclusive representation by SEIU. We were told by the union agents that if 30% of us signed those cards, we would be allowed an election to vote on exclusive representation by the SEIU. Indeed, a collective bargaining agreement between Kaiser and the SEIU specifically provided that there would be a secret ballot election.

For the next 7 months, a union organizer had open and free access to us and our facility in her quest to secure what we thought were cards to get an election. She would incessantly approach us on our breaks, our lunch hours, even in the hall on our way to the restroom. Due to our employer’s “neutrality agreement,” this union agent was free to do this on our work time.

On October 17, 2005, my department was brought to a meeting with our senior management and told that as of that date, we were officially represented by SEIU. There was never an election and no further information was available to us. About a week later, we had a joint meeting with the regional director of Human Resources and the union organizer. The first questions at that meeting were not about what it meant to be in the union. Instead, many incensed employees complained that we were not given our promised election.

When we were told that 50% + 1 had signed the union’s authorization cards, and that no election would be held, it did not take long for many employees to announce that they would not have signed the cards if they had known that there would be no election. Knowing that the union had just a one-person majority in our department at the time of Kaiser’s recognition, I filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against Kaiser and the SEIU union with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), based in part on the realization that some in our department had signed cards solely due to the union’s misrepresentations. Those unfair labor practice charges were
docketed as NLRB Case No. 36-CA-9844 and 36-CB-2607.

My charges were filed with assistance from the National Right to Work Foundation,
without whom I would have been at a loss as to how to proceed to protect my legal rights. My charges specifically addressed the union’s misrepresentations, and the violation of the employer and union’s “collective bargaining agreement” to hold an election when the union provided a 30% showing of interest.

In addition, I filed for decertification of the union when I submitted to the NLRB a
petition with signatures constituting more than 30% of the bargaining unit. That decertification Petition was docketed as NLRB Case No. 36-RD-1673. Along with three other Kaiser employees from my department, I gave a sworn statement to an agent of the NLRB detailing the events leading up to the “card check” and the unlawful recognition of the SEIU based upon that “card check.” In February of 2006, the local office of the NLRB sent my case to the NLRB’s Division of Advice in Washington D.C.

The charges remained at the NLRB’s Division of Advice until July, 2006. It is my
understanding that the Division of Advice found merit to our charges of unfair labor practices, and authorized the issuance of a formal complaint. That is when the union and Kaiser decided to settle the charges. The terms of the settlement included revoking the voluntary recognition of SEIU by Kaiser, and the promise that if SEIU ever desired to represent my department for the next several years, it would have to obtain such status through a National Labor Relations Board-supervised secret ballot election. I accepted this settlement offer because the unlawful recognition was rescinded, and my story made headlines in the local newspaper, The Oregonian.

Within two months of the settlement, the same SEIU union, at the same employer, gained exclusive recognition rights over employees in another department without any election. The employees in that department also filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the NLRB. The end result of that charge was another settlement in which Kaiser and SEIU terminated their voluntary recognition, and agreed to only use NLRB-supervised secret ballot elections if the union wishes to return before December 31, 2008.

Throughout this whole ordeal, my colleagues and I were subjected to badgering and immense peer pressure. Some of us even received phone calls at home. While I let my feelings toward this union be known early on, I still was attacked verbally and in e-mail by my pro-union colleagues. I believe this abuse directed towards me was at the request of the union in an effort to intimidate me and have me back down. Union supporters upset with me and my actions were talking about me in language that could only have come from the union. You could easily assume they were reading from union talking points. Different people all expressing the same sentiment. I exercised my free choice not to be in the union and my work life became miserable because of it.

In sum, I respectfully submit that “card checks” are not the preferred method of union recognition, and that the cases outlined above, filled with union abuses of a wide variety, are the rule in “card check” campaigns, not the exception.

To deny workers the right to choose union representation in secret, without coercion,
intimidation, social ostracizing, and misrepresentations, is to deny a fundamental American right. As a worker who was abused under a “card check” process, and had to wage a costly battle to protect my rights, I urge you to reject this ill-conceived special-interest legislation.

Testimony of Karen M. Mayhew, employee of Kaiser Permanente, February 8, 2007

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Cultural socialists seek taxpayer funding

Lawmakers will hear a familiar message Monday: Give us more money. Only this time it will be from a new group of labor-backed subsidy-suckers: The Cultural Advocacy Coalition. The coalition, representing five government agencies, wants the full $10.6 million Gov. Ted Kulongoski recommended, not the $3.4 million recommended by the co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committee.

That will mean a day of lobbying, an 11:30 a.m. rally on the Capitol steps, presentations and exhibits in the Capitol Galleria and a private evening program and reception for legislators at the Historic Elsinore Theatre, complete with dancers and jazz, gospel and Latin music. "It's a real chance for the cultural community to come together," said Christine D'Arcy, the executive director of the Oregon Arts Commission and co-coordinator of the day.

Union organizers are looking to get the public and arts advocates to join in the rally and the lobbying. "Everybody except Janice Thompson has experienced some deep belt tightening," said Steve Oster, co-coordinator and executive director of the Oregon Film & Video Office. "This doesn't even return things to the point where they were at," he said of the governor's budget. Lobbying is an appropriate response, he said.

The affected agencies - including Oregon Cultural Trust, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregon Historical Society and the Main Street Program - will have presentations and displays in the Capitol Galleria, including artifacts from the Historical Society, costumes from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and trained animals for the film and video office.

The rally on the Capitol steps is expected to draw hundreds, with supporters bused in from Bend and Portland, joined by Salem's Artists in Action. It doesn't matter how many people actually show up, because the MSM will lap it up like every other Tim Nesbitt photo-op anyway. Oregon first lady Mary Oberst will be among the speakers, along with legislators and Oregon mayors.

She and the governor are expected at the Elsinore event, with a program including live performances and clips of films made in Oregon.

Invitations have gone out to 1,200 people. Oster said Monday's effort is collaborative, and the film and video office is concerned about the budgets of the other agencies.

This year offers the first time in three legislative sessions that the state has the potential to fund these programs, Oster said. Monday is being called CHAMP Day, using an acronym for culture, heritage, art, movies and preservation.


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April 27, 2007

Oregon shredder lobby scores big win

If you want to protect your privacy in Oregon, it's best not to dump any clues in the garbage. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police are welcome to sift through the garbage after it has been collected to hunt for evidence against suspects in an investigation.

In a brief opinion by Justice Rives Kistler, the court said garbage carries no right to privacy under the Oregon Constitution because it is essentially abandoned property.

Police had looked through garbage to find evidence that Sharon Howard and Gary Dawson were manufacturing methamphetamine at Howard's residence in Sweet Home.

Dawson and Howard appealed their drug convictions by challenging the search, claiming the Oregon Constitution protected their garbage under Article I, Section 9, which says: "No law shall violate the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses papers and effects, against unreasonable search, or seizure."

But the court said garbage is garbage, and once it's dumped, whoever put it out for a sanitation company to collect gave up all ownership and privacy rights. "As this court consistently has recognized, a person retains no constitutionally protected privacy interest in abandoned property," Kistler wrote.

The court also noted that Dawson and Howard based their argument solely on the Oregon Constitution because the U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the police from searching garbage after it has been collected.

Kistler suggested the law on garbage dates to at least 1871 and a Connecticut case involving horse manure. He said the 19th century ruling implied that if anybody has an ownership claim to garbage after it's collected, it's the garbage man.


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SEIU Local 503 bullying casts light on Congress

A bill that's halfway through Congress would give unions uncontested recognition campaigns - or, as with Oregon's SEIU Local 503, more ways to bully workers. The cynically-named "Employee Free Choice Act" would allow unions to represent workers without a secret-ballot election. Recognition would result from a majority of workers signing so-called "cards."

The bill was approved 241-185 by the House in March and awaits Senate action, but a recent NLRB ruling against Oregon's largest government union for card-check abuses has now brought the issue into greater focus.

The proposal homes in on the latest sticking point between Smithfield Foods and the United Food and Commercial Workers union in the long-running battle to unionize the company's largest plant, in Tar Heel, N.C.

After two failed elections, in which a federal appeals court found that Smithfield intimidated and harassed workers to vote against the union, the UFCW wants to try again, this time using cards. Smithfield said no.

If the bill were enacted, Smithfield would have to accede to the union's request.

The arguments on both sides in Tar Heel mirror the national debate on the bill, with each side predicting mischief from the other.

Gene Bruskin, who is leading the organizing campaign for the food workers union, said the card-signing process, which can occur on or off the work site, would avoid the excesses of the previous Smithfield elections.

"While you were going in to vote, the company was standing out there with sheriffs and shotguns," he said. "They had spied on people and threatened to discharge them ... Absent the company attacks, people would sign up in droves if they knew they could sign up without being punished and threatened."

Dennis Pittman, a spokesman at Smithfield's Tar Heel plant, echoed other business leaders in warning that the card process could open the way to abusive tactics from unions.

"The card check has absolutely no regulation, no oversight and no anonymity," Pittman said. "It just begs for fraudulent actions to take place. It begs for intimidation. It begs for discontent in the workplace after the process is over."

Timothy McConville, an employment lawyer in Norfolk for Willcox & Savage who opposes the bill, said it would reach far beyond Smithfield Foods.

"Everybody ought to be concerned about this," said McConville, who plans a seminar Wednesday warning employers about the bill. "It is going to dramatically increase union organizing activity and union organizers' success."

Both sides agree, however, that the bill doesn't have much of a shot this year.

The House vote broke mostly along party lines. Because Democrats have a slim hold on the Senate, they'd be unlikely to gather 60 votes to overcome any filibuster by Republicans.

Even if the Senate passed the bill, the Bush administration has vowed to veto it, and Democrats have little chance of mustering two-thirds support in either the House or Senate to overturn the veto.

"What the unions are really doing here is paving the way for 2009," said Richard Hurd, a professor of labor relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. If they keep the issue alive and a Democrat is elected president in 2008, Hurd said, the bill can be a contender.

It's already gotten the backing of at least one presidential candidate, Democrat John Edwards.

"We need to make it easier for workers to organize themselves into unions," Edwards said in a statement last month after the House passed the bill. "If a Republican can join the Republican Party by signing their name to a card, any worker in America ought to be able to join a union by doing exactly the same thing."

Critics, including McConville and Pittman, say the bill is a desperate grab for more union members after sharp declines. "They have got to do something to turn around this loss of income," Pittman said.

Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4 percent of Virginia's workers were unionized in 2006, down from 4.8 percent in 2005. Nationally, the figure went from 12.5 percent to 12 percent.

Unions counter that the bill would help workers and lift the nation's economy.

"The single best opportunity for working women and men to get ahead economically is by coming together with co-workers to bargain with their employers to get a better way of life," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a conference call with reporters.

Chris Kimmons, the president of the United Auto Workers' Local 919 in Norfolk, said the card-signing process has proceeded smoothly at local Ford Motor Co. suppliers such as Visteon Corp. and Johnson Controls Inc.

Partly, he said, that's because the card method, also known as "card checks," takes less time than the required steps leading up to an election. In that time, "the company can harass people, intimidate them or turn their mind against the union."

Critics say that works both ways. Smithfield's Pittman noted that the National Labor Relations Board recently suspended organizing activities of an Oregon local of the Service Employees International Union over rampant abuse in a card-signing drive.

"In the card-check process," said Greg Mourad, the legislation director at the National Right to Work Committee in Springfield, "unions send teams of people to your door and sometimes they don't leave until you sign the card. In no way does it provide a free choice to workers."

The bill contains other provisions that similarly divide business and labor.

Employers could face fines of up to $20,000 if they are found to have violated employees' rights during a union campaign. Also, if a union and company are stalemated in bargaining over the first contract, either party could seek mediation and, if that fails, binding arbitration.

As Hurd, the Cornell professor, sees it, the bill reflects the desire of unions to "change the rules of the game, so that it's more likely that they win organizing campaigns.

"I think they can make a pretty good case that the current situation is not a level playing field," he said. "No one can really argue that employers don't have the upper hand."

But Hurd thinks both sides are overestimating the bill's impact.

"It does not limit employers' right to say something during the campaign," he said. "Unions will still have a difficult time organizing. They still have to persuade workers to join a union.

"They're going to win more campaigns," Hurd said, "but it isn't going to double union membership overnight."


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Environmental welfare's unintended consequences

Oregon's political leaders are embracing a new economic regulation regime based on CO2 reduction. But Europeans, who got there first, are now up against the new climate change dilemma: finding alternatives for oil and gas without doing more harm than good.

The rush to develop biofuels is contributing to environmental degradation. Forests are burned in Asia to clear land for palm oil, and swaths of the Amazon are stripped of diverse vegetation for soya and sugar plantations for ethanol.

On Friday, a Dutch committee will unveil stringent criteria for growing biofuels in ways that don't damage the environment or release more greenhouse gases than they save.

Other European countries are working along similar lines and closely watching the Dutch initiative - the first to reach the level of government consideration.

More than a year in the making, the report reflects a heightened awareness of the risks and complexity in efforts to reduce emissions of the gases blamed for global warming.

Among the criteria in a draft obtained by The Associated Press: Production of biomass cannot contribute to deforestation, deplete reservoirs of carbon captured in the earth, compete with food crops, degrade soil or water supplies, upset biodiversity, or displace local populations,

The report is by the Cramer Commission, named for its former chairwoman, Jacqueline Cramer, who in February became environment minister.

Without going into specifics, it suggests developing a track-and-trace system to follow a product from plantation to power plant, like an express delivery package.

"It should be implemented on a European scale because it will be difficult for Holland to do it on its own," said Kees Koede, of the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group.

"Everyone is aware that it's crazy to pour money into a system that is not sustainable," he said.

But the European Commission, executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, is only beginning to look at the problem.

"We are working on a system of green certificates to make sure no unsustainable biofuel makes its way into the European market. But this is very embryonic at the moment," said Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, an EU energy official.

An organization of palm oil planters, processors, financiers and environmentalists in Malaysia and Indonesia has been working for more than two years to devise criteria and verification schemes.

The campaign is driven by evidence that developers in the two Asian countries have burned vast tracks of rain forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleash millions of tons of carbon dioxide and smoke that shroud entire areas of Southeast Asia in eye-watering smog for weeks at a time.

The Netherlands is Europe's biggest importer of palm oil, used in a wide range of supermarket products as well as a fuel oil supplement. One Dutch company has plans to build three 50 megawatt power stations exclusively running on palm oil.

The Cramer Commission envisions imported biomass from sustainable sources by 2020, but calls for a transition period.

"Sustainability in the long term can only be achieved if a start is made with it now," the draft says.

It calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 70 percent for generating electricity, and 30 percent for transportation fuels.

The draft criteria say new plantations must not be built in protected areas, plantations should leave 10 percent of their area in "its original state" to preserve diversity, and soil and water quality of the soil and water should be improved.

The Europeans have set high targets for cutting carbon emissions. In February, EU leaders approved a plan to trim them by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. At least 10 percent of transport fuels will come from biomass, they decided.

With that goal in mind, a huge emphasis will shift toward biofuel production, risking even greater environmental damage.

"You need to be very quick with implementing criteria," said Sander van Bennekom of the Oxfam charity, one of the report's 14 contributors, in an interview. "Maybe we are already too late."


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PERS benefits to resume meteoric increases

The stock market has been very good to the Oregon Public Employee Retirement System. Financial experts say that after years of GOP neglect, workers in the nation's most generous government pension system can once again look forward to huge benefit increases.

The Oregon Investment Council, the six-member board that oversees pension investments for the state, met this week with PERS board members to review the system's first formal asset-liability study since 1999.

The fund had a $1.7 billion surplus on a projected liability of $49.8 billion as of Dec. 31, 2005. And the fund earned returns of 15 percent in 2006 and 3.4 percent in the first quarter of this year, meaning the surplus has likely increased.

The study forecasts likely investment returns on the fund against projected liabilities for retirees. Results guide decisions about what the investment managers and plan administrators need to change to meet projected pension obligations.

The surplus marked an impressive turnaround from four years ago, when the fund faced a projected actuarial shortfall of $17 billion.

"Bull markets have a way of doing that: They solve a lot of problems," said Richard Solomon, a Portland accountant who chairs the OIC.

The big returns in the public pension portfolio were driven in part by decisions made years ago to invest aggressively in the private equity and real estate sectors. Both plays have delivered in the past five years.

As for what need to be done now, the consultant that performed the asset-liability study, Strategic Investment Solutions Inc., recommended five ways the OIC could allocate its investments among stocks, bonds and other assets. It concluded that even the most conservative approach could deliver the funds' needed return of 8 percent annually.

Solomon said the sheer size of the public employee retirement fund makes it difficult to tweak asset allocations in the short run. Moreover, just as the fund has ridden the bull market to its current surplus, a bear market could send the fund back into a shortfall.


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Gresham bows to police union on discipline

The Gresham Police Department won't rule out the use of hidden cameras in future internal investigations, but a settlement reached Wednesday with the police union puts limits on the practice. The terms reached over a union grievance say the police chief must approve electronic surveillance in writing.

If it's possible the accused is a union member, the department must also notify the president of the Gresham Police Officers' Association in writing before the surveillance starts. The union will keep the surveillance a secret and will help identify unknown suspects in harassment cases, the settlement said.

The city also acknowledged that Gresham's Human Resources Department should have been involved in a harassment investigation two months ago, under provisions of the union contract.

The dispute arose earlier this year when Gresham police spokeswoman Sgt. Teddi Anderson complained that on Jan. 24 someone left a sexist slur in her desk and on her computer. Investigators hid a camera in a ceiling tile above her desk in the office she shared with several other sergeants.

A year earlier, Anderson said, her tires had been slashed in the city parking lot. A few days after the camera was installed, she found the same insult scrawled on the driver's side mirror of her car.

The videotapes didn't reveal a suspect, and the tape recording ended after two weeks. But when other officers discovered the camera in the ceiling, the union filed a formal grievance.

"I think that in the future, this city, or anybody who watched the fallout of this, probably is going to say, 'Are there other ways to achieve what we want to achieve?'" said Mark Makler, a lawyer for the union. "Because there are just a host of people going, 'That's a very, very good way to destroy the morale and the fabric of the work society that you are a part of.'"

Gresham police Chief Carla Piluso said she is happy to have a resolution that helps restore a historically good relationship between managers and the union. "This situation, there was a lot of emotion behind it," Piluso said. "There was a perception ... that the camera was put up because we didn't trust employees. That was not our intent." The agreement will not apply to investigations that are "singularly and solely" criminal, the settlement said.


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April 26, 2007

Consumers caught in carbon ‘smokescreen’

Companies and individuals rushing to go green have been spending millions on “carbon credit” projects that yield few if any environmental benefits. A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place.

Others are meanwhile making big profits from carbon trading for very small expenditure and in some cases for clean-ups that they would have made anyway.

The growing political salience of environmental politics has sparked a “green gold rush”, which has seen a dramatic expansion in the number of businesses offering both companies and individuals the chance to go “carbon neutral”, offsetting their own energy use by buying carbon credits that cancel out their contribution to global warming.

The burgeoning regulated market for carbon credits is expected to more than double in size to about $68.2bn by 2010, with the unregulated voluntary sector rising to $4bn in the same period.

The FT investigation found:

■ Widespread instances of people and organisations buying worthless credits that do not yield any reductions in carbon emissions.

■ Industrial companies profiting from doing very little – or from gaining carbon credits on the basis of efficiency gains from which they have already benefited substantially.

■ Brokers providing services of questionable or no value.

■ A shortage of verification, making it difficult for buyers to assess the true value of carbon credits.

■ Companies and individuals being charged over the odds for the private purchase of European Union carbon permits that have plummeted in value because they do not result in emissions cuts.

Francis Sullivan, environment adviser at HSBC, the UK’s biggest bank that went carbon-neutral in 2005, said he found “serious credibility concerns” in the offsetting market after evaluating it for several months.

“The police, the fraud squad and trading standards need to be looking into this. Otherwise people will lose faith in it,” he said.

These concerns led the bank to ignore the market and fund its own carbon reduction projects directly.

Some companies are benefiting by asking “green” consumers to pay them for cleaning up their own pollution. For instance, DuPont, the chemicals company, invites consumers to pay $4 to eliminate a tonne of carbon dioxide from its plant in Kentucky that produces a potent greenhouse gas called HFC-23. But the equipment required to reduce such gases is relatively cheap. DuPont refused to comment and declined to specify its earnings from the project, saying it was at too early a stage to discuss.

The FT has also found examples of companies setting up as carbon offsetters without appearing to have a clear idea of how the markets operate. In response to FT inquiries about its sourcing of carbon credits, one company, carbonvoucher.com, said it had not taken payments for offsets.

Blue Source, a US offsetting company, invites consumers to offset carbon emissions by investing in enhanced oil recovery, which pumps carbon dioxide into depleted oil wells to bring up the remaining oil. However, Blue Source said that because of the high price of oil, this process was often profitable in itself, meaning operators were making extra revenues from selling “carbon credits” for burying the carbon.

There is nothing illegal in these practices. However, some companies that are offsetting their emissions have avoided such projects because customers may find them controversial.

BP said it would not buy credits resulting from improvements in industrial efficiency or from most renewable energy projects in developed countries.


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Trouble In Lake Oswego

There has been a little tempest brewing in Lake Oswego, Oregon and it seems that it is about to become a full fledged storm. The small, upscale Portland suburb seems to want to get involved in land speculation. You know, because there are a bunch of city councilors who want to feel like big shots.

Lake Oswego is about to hamstring its citizens with a $100,053,662 (yes that's MILLION) purchase of the SAFECO building and construction of a community center. This is AFTER an initial estimate of $27 million.

Well folks in Lake O are not going to take this lying down. They are running a signature drive that will force the city council to go to the voters if the city wants to make a purchase of more than $2 million dollars. And they only need a few thousand signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

Great thing about this citizen initiative is that it is retroactive and would force the politicians in Lake O to turn around to the people who elected them and say... "Uh ... OK ... may we please spend $80,000 per month on INTEREST ALONE to purchase our new play toy?"

I am betting that these folks will get their signatures and the Lake Oswego City Council will end up with some serious egg on their faces.


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Fooling Oregonians into higher prices

A sales tax for corporations “sounds” great. But do corporations really pay taxes? I think not. They simply pass them on as part of the purchase price of a product or service. So who really pays? You and me, that’s who.

But a corporate sales tax is even more far reaching because it doesn’t exempt food, rent or utilities like most sales taxes. Everything we purchase usually passes through a corporation at some point. Most items pass through several, so the tax will be doubled and tripled before we purchase the item. Just imagine another tax on our gasoline!

Don’t be fooled - corporations will not absorb a sales tax. They will raise the price to cover the expense and you won’t even be able to deduct it on your federal return because, like many of Oregon’s taxes, it will be hidden. Although the corporations will be able to deduct it on their federal return and get a bigger refund.

Please let your legislator know that you are not fooled. Say no again to a sales tax in Oregon.

Donna Schafer, Jefferson


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April 25, 2007

The Oregonian increasingly ignored

A new report states that of 2.36 million potential adult readers, The Oregonian's weekly print audience is 1.211 million. That means that 46 percent disregard the monopoly statewide daily. The newspaper's weekly Web sites are ignored by 90 percent, with a weekly audience of 214,000.

Scarborough Research released the report measuring the total audience of 135 papers in 74 markets, including The Oregonian. New York City-based Scarborough reports The Oregonian ranks 23rd in the 74 markets.

By comparison, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the 14th largest market reach a print audience of 1.485 million out of a potential 3.465 million, or 43 percent and the newspapers' various Web sites reach 446,000, or 13 percent. Combined print and Web audience is 1.645 million, or 48 percent.

In the No. 1 market, New York City, whose 15.79 million population is served by 10 newspapers, the New York Daily News reaches 4.54 million weekly print readers, or 29 percent, and its Web site reaches 421,000, or 3 percent. Combined print and Web audience is 4.662 million, or 30 percent.


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SEIU card-check smacked down by NLRB

In a symbolic victory for employee free choice, a group of Portland-area workers aided by National Right to Work Foundation attorneys have forced SEIU Local 49 to abandon the coercive “card check” union organizing process in Oregon and Washington for six months because of repeated and widespread abuses by SEIU officials. The 6,500-member SEIU Local 49 must now freeze the use of its coercive union organizing tool in midst of its national campaign to make “card check” the law of the land.

Card check union organizing strips workers of the limited protections of a government-supervised secret ballot election, and substitutes a process in which union agents can browbeat workers one-on-one into signing cards that are then counted as “votes” favoring unionization.

(This 30-second video demonstrates how the system works.)

The settlement stems from federal unfair labor practice charges filed by Ryan Canney, a Portland-area Siltronics employee, and removes the unwanted union from his workplace Somers Building Maintenance–Siltronic (SBM). It also requires SEIU union officials to inform workers that the company will not bargain with union officials unless the employees so choose through a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) secret ballot election. The settlement also forbids Siltronics from recognizing a union based on a card check count for at least one year.

In October 2006, SEIU Local 49 union officials allegedly tricked Canney and his coworkers into signing “information flyers” that were later counted as votes favoring unionization. Soon after, SBM recognized the SEIU union as the monopoly bargaining agent despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of SBM employees signed two separate petitions to the NLRB – one prior to the SEIU union’s recognition and one after – stating their wish to remain nonunion. Canney also charged that Siltronics overlooked out of date cards, promised benefits, and otherwise deceived and coerced employees into supporting unionization.

“The NLRB has now recognized that SEIU union officials can’t be trusted with card check. Local 49 officials have become notorious for abusing workers’ rights during organizing drives,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “However, if abusive card check organizing becomes the law of the land, workers will suffer abuse at the hands of union organizers on a massive scale.”

Currently, Congress is considering legislation that would mandate card check as the only legal method by which unions could be recognized as representatives of all employees in bargaining units.

Canney’s settlement follows a similar settlement by Karen Mayhew, a Foundation-assisted employee of Kaiser Permanente. Although Mayhew’s settlement successfully removed the unwanted Local 49 union from her workplace, SEIU officials continued abusing employee rights using the card check scheme at other employers in Oregon and Washington State.

Read the NLRB Settlement

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, is assisting over 250,000 employees in over 200 cases nationwide.


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Fifth-graders training for strike arrested

Five young boys in Hillsboro are accused of attacking an elementary school student with sticks and although the injuries were minor, police say they could face assault charges. Police say on Monday, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Eastwood Elementary School was attacked at a nearby park by some of his fellow classmates, along with others who do not attend the school.

According to police, the boys called him names and used sticks to hit the 11-year-old in the back and head. The attackers, citing their unionized school teacher, claimed their act constituted pursuit of a legitimate collective bargaining objective. The sticks were about 30 inches long and between one and two inches in diameter. The boy suffered minor injuries, but his mother took him to the hospital after calling the police. The boy was later released.

The results of the investigation are being sent to the Juvenile Department, which will decide whether to pursue charges.


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Salem dumps gov't standards and practices

Without debate and by 58-0, the Oregon House approved HB 2636 to rename the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission as the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. The act fulfills one of Democrats' top priorities after winning control of the House and Senate - to restore ethics to the Oregon Legislature.

"This makes it much more clear to the public what this commission is all about," House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, said in the only floor comment on the measure. HB 2636 now goes to the Senate and appears likely to be approved.


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April 24, 2007

House bans secret ballot unionizing elections

The House voted along party lines today to approve House Bill 2891, a labor-backed bill that would enable public-sector unions to use a no-election, card-check system to bypass union-recognition elections. “We believe that this will lead to fewer strikes,” said Rep. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland. The bill now moves to the Senate.

The House earlier passed two other bills that were part of the same package proposed by the Oregon AFL-CIO to strengthen union organizing.

House Bill 2892 bars the use of state money to deter union organizing campaigns. Republicans said it would unfairly hamper private companies that get state money, such as road contractors and hospitals. Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said the bill will lead to an “unbalanced playing field” in labor’s contests with management.

House Bill 2893 would bar employers in the public and private sectors from holding mandatory meetings with employees to discuss union drives.


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The Oregonian faces job cuts

The Denver Post on Monday detailed buyout offers to older employees in an effort to cut 37 positions and costs as the industry deals with falling advertising revenue. The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times also disclosed plans Monday to reduce their staffs by as many as a combined 250 jobs through a mix of leaving vacant positions open, attrition, buyouts and layoffs.

In Denver, the offers were made to full-time employees age 50 or older as of June 15, and the newspaper was accepting applications from 12 nonunion employees and 25 union-covered employees, Editor Greg Moore said.

Those with 20 or more years with the company would receive a year's pay, while everyone else would receive two weeks per year of service. Those with at least 10 years with the company would receive two years of medical insurance, while those with less experience would receive one year of subsidized medical insurance, Moore said.

Staffers were told there could be layoffs if the targeted savings aren't met.

"It's impossible to say whether we'll reach the target number," Moore said. "We've tried to be as honest as we can about the state of the industry that requires expense reductions and the fact that there are other steps to help us get there if people don't take the buyout."

The Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles business operations of The Denver Post and the rival Rocky Mountain News, saw net income drop sharply in 2006 along with a dip in advertising revenue.

Net income was $18.5 million in 2006, down from $47.2 million in 2005 and $71.1 million reported in 2004, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This is the second time within two years that The Post has offered buyouts. The first round was offered to all employees regardless of age or tenure.

In March, the Rocky Mountain News offered voluntary separation plans in an effort to trim 20 employees and cut costs.

Though online advertising at U.S. newspapers rose 31.5 percent to $2.7 billion last year, overall print advertising fell 1.7 percent to $46.6 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America.


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SEIU Local 503 makes the rules in Salem

A lawmaker who invited a government-union lobbyist to sit at her desk during the House debate over a pair of gay-rights bills was the subject of a complaint Monday that the move broke House rules.

Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said when she invited Aimee Wilson to sit with her during the April 17 floor session, she considered her strictly as a family member. Relatives are commonly found sitting with legislators when the Senate or House convene.

But Wilson is a government-relations representative for the Service Employees International Union Local 503, and her presence in the House chamber may have violated a House rule forbidding lobbyists from the floor when the House is in session.

House GOP leader Wayne Scott of Canby distributed a letter Monday raising the issue. House rules state "no person who is a lobbyist ... shall be permitted on the floor or side aisles of the House during its daily session." In his letter, Scott requested an investigation by the chief clerk of the House into the apparent violation, as well as an explanation for why those rules weren't enforced by House Speaker Jeff Merkley and the clerk, Ramona Kenady.

Kotek said the fact that it would violate the House rules for Wilson to appear on the floor "never occurred to us." Kotek is the only openly gay legislator this session. Scott said Kotek's mea culpa wouldn't cut it. He said he would press for full censure from the House. "It was a clear violation," he said.


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Board awards union $14.5 million

The Portland Public Schools board unanimously agreed Monday to pay $14.5 million, believed to be the district's largest legal settlement, to 280 SEIU union-member custodians laid off improperly in 2002. If a federal court signs off, the money will end a class-action lawsuit filed after the district contracted out custodial work to save money amid financial turmoil.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in 2005 that the district violated state labor law when it hired Portland Habilitation Center workers to replace its union custodians despite union protests. The civil service law in question applied only to Portland Public, Oregon's largest school district.

The tentative settlement was hashed out during a recent mediation led by Edward Leavy, a senior judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It will pay roughly $37,000 per custodian for back pay and other damages. To date, the district has hired back 124 of the custodians who were laid off.

"We are giving some closure to a really difficult time for Portland Public Schools," said Bobbie Regan, the board's co-chairwoman. "I hope that this settlement also allows the custodians to feel good about coming back and to have some pride in working for (the district) again."

Mark Griffin, the custodians' attorney, said the case could have dragged out three to five more years while the two sides haggled over damages. If the settlement is approved, Griffin said, the custodians should be paid by Sept. 1.

Other costs associated with the settlement: $500,000 in federal employment taxes and $200,000 paid to outside attorneys if the federal court approves the deal.

The district plans to borrow money to spread the settlement cost over years but has not worked out the details yet. Board member David Wynde said the annual costs will not have "a material impact" on the district's finances. The district's general operations budget for next school year is $408 million, with $32 million in reserves.

District officials noted that neither Superintendent Vicki Phillips nor the current seven board members were with the district when the custodial contracting decision was made.

Wynde and school district counsel Jollee Faber Patterson declined to discuss details of mediation, leaving it unclear how the board and district concluded that paying $14.5 million was reasonable. Estimated damages ranged as high as $64 million when the court ruled against the district.

"Really for us it was just time to close this chapter and move on," Wynde said. He added that attorneys on both sides and Leavy, the federal judge, believe the settlement is fair.

A draft notice to custodians says their attorneys will seek fees of 25 percent of the settlement fund plus out-of-pocket costs not to exceed $140,000. Custodians with health care costs totaling more than $15,000 from their lay-off through October 2006 also will be able to tap a $370,000 fund set up with the settlement money. The remaining money will be split equally among the custodians, at roughly $37,000 each before taxes.

Any custodian can opt out of the settlement; the district's settlement amount will be reduced by $50,000 for each one who does. The district has the right to back out of the settlement agreement if more than 20 custodians opt out, but Patterson said that's unlikely to happen.


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The Oregonian owner's new 'CEO porn'

Bamity, bam, bam! That's the sound of massed media missiles firing away at Portfolio, the new Condé Nast business magazine that after a nearly two-year gestation landed on desks last Monday with a 332-page, high-gloss thud.

"Expensive and vapid," wrote Michael Thomas in The New York Observer. Could be "the Paris Hilton of business magazines," proclaimed Elizabeth Spiers on Dealbreaker.com. "CEO porn," declared LA Weekly's Nikki Finke on her Deadline Hollywood blog.

Hardly an auspicious beginning for a magazine that is supposed to redefine business journalism - albeit by featuring a piece on hedge funds (the longest in the magazine) from the oldest practitioner of New Journalism around, Tom Wolfe. Bamity bam!

Seriously, it couldn't have been much fun to be a Portfolio staffer last week, despite being feted at a downtown New York hotspot, where temporary tattoos with slogans like "Show Me the Money" were on offer and where kind words by Condé Nast chief S.I. Newhouse - the out-of-state billionaire owner of The Oregonian - were reportedly read aloud. True, there was a cheery piece in The New York Times to coincide with the launch, but it was clearly put together with Portfolio's help, since it featured orchestrated interviews with Newhouse as well as editor Joanne Lipman and publisher David Carey. ("A big wet kiss," is what one staffer called it, according to the Observer's Media Mob blog.)

But for the most part, the reviews — especially in the blogosphere — were not positive. It was a strange phenomenon, very much of its time. In the old days, say the '90s, a magazine would launch (Brill's Content, Tina Brown's Talk), and readers, advertisers, media mavens and hangers-on would read it, gossip about it, decide on the spin. Word would spread and mass opinion would form, but it would take awhile. And, with the exception of a few mediacentric news outlets, say, The New York Observer, it would be pretty difficult to find a bona fide review of the new magazine.

Fast-forward to today, and that's all changed. By the time most of the media's chattering classes picked up copies of Portfolio and stirred some Equal into their lattes, they could log on to Web sites and read what others thought. Everyone from The New York Times' Dealbook to Gawker.com to Mediabistro.com's FishbowlNY to the Huffington Post's Eat The Press offered up Portfolio tidbits on Monday, then engaged in a frenzy of mutual linking. Others simply summarized. Dealbreaker.com provided a handy-dandy "Round-Up of First Reactors" to Portfolio, enabling it to join the conversation before actually reading the magazine.

There were a few positive reviews. "We really think this plucky little magazine has a shot!" cheered Eat The Press. But most were lukewarm, at best, especially as the week wore on and commentators had a chance to actually read the tome — and, perhaps more importantly, absorb what everyone else was saying. Gawker was the first to produce a lengthy, almost page-by-page review, including its plentiful, lavish ads. "We don't really follow finance all that closely and we still feel like we knew everything in this piece," it noted about Portfolio's women-in-private-equity spread. Not to be outdone, Dealbreaker followed the next day with its own page-by-page tour, weighing in at an unbloggy 2,900 words and upping the criticism substantially — "it's painfully bad for a magazine that has poured $125 million and 18 months of work into development," Spiers proclaimed. By Wednesday — a mere 48 hours after birth — it felt as if a consensus was forming, culminating in Thomas' scathing, if sensibly argued, review in The Observer (linked to by a bevy of blogs, of course).

"Perhaps I'm asking too much intellectually, but what troubles me most about Portfolio is how lightweight it is, despite its physical bulk," he noted, after calling it "glossy, superficial, stale and, above all, safe." Still, he argued, "it's not entirely fair to judge a magazine by its first issue; you've got to revisit the thing after four or five."

We agree. No magazine, not even the sainted New Yorker, was ever born fully formed. True, Portfolio did create some of its own undertow with its abundance of hype and self-regard. But given the cargo load of ads weighing the pub down, it's not going to disappear anytime soon. Besides, when it reappears, the blogosphere's instapundits will get to do it all over again.


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April 23, 2007

Oregon eats into pay-equity gap

At least five restaurants in Baker City say they will drop prices for women patrons by 23 percent Tuesday to reflect a conclusion that American women, on average, earn that much less than men. The event sponsor, the American Association of American Women, says 23 percent of the year will have passed, and that that's how many extra days women would have to work this year to make what similarly trained and educated men would make. The association has a Baker County chapter.

Brandi Ulrey, who with her husband Jake owns the Baker City Cafe,says "I understand how it is to earn a smaller paycheck than a man." The cafe will be joined by the Main Event, Little Pig, Chamealeon and L&J Deli. Jay Raffety, owner of The Main Event, says he is fully supportive. "This is a good thing the AAUW is doing," he said. "We're hoping quite a few women will come in that day."

The advocacy organization plans to release a study on pay equity Monday. Ulrey said the discount is more about creating awareness than making a difference in a life. "There are so many women who are in the same boat. It's our duty as business owners and leaders in the community to make people understand the disparity," she said.

Liz Estabrooks, the local event organizer, said many working women shy away from pushing the pay equity issue for fear of being fired. "Pay equity is protected by law, but it's like sexual harassment," she said. "Women tend not to fight it because they might lose their job."

An AAUW survey concludes that many employers are unwilling to promote young women because they may leave to have children and may prioritize family over work. "It's always been used as an excuse, that women are on a different career track," Estabrooks said. "It's also been used as an excuse not to hire women, because they'd just quit anyway or at least take time off to have their babies. It's a lot like the illegal alien issue," she added. "Bosses figure they'll pay you less because you'll take less. Then people get mad at them because they will work for less."


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Governor links military service, unionism

Gov. Ted Kulongoski will speak and others will read the names of Oregon workers who died on the job or in military service during a rally on Workers Memorial Day. The rally will start at noon Friday on the front steps of the Capitol. The event is sponsored by the Oregon AFL-CIO, and observes the 27th anniversary of congressional approval of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act.

According to the labor federation, 16 Americans are killed on the job each working day and 7,000 are seriously injured. Diseases linked to occupations cause another 137 deaths daily.


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Vermont progressives one-up Oregon

Vermont senators voted Friday to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, saying their actions have raised "serious questions of constitutionality." The non-binding resolution was approved 16-9 without debate.

The resolution says Bush and Cheney's actions in the U.S. and abroad, including in Iraq, "raise serious questions of constitutionality, statutory legality, and abuse of the public trust."

"I think it's going to have a tremendous political effect, a tremendous political effect on public discourse about what to do about this president," said James Leas, a vocal advocate of withdrawing troops from Iraq and impeaching Bush and Cheney.

Vermont lawmakers earlier voted to demand an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq in another non-binding resolution.

Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington has kept a similar resolution from reaching the floor in her chamber. She argued that an impeachment resolution would be partisan and divisive and that it would distract Washington from efforts to get the United States out of Iraq, which she says is more important.

In the Senate, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie had opposed the resolution, but he was absent Friday. That left Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin in charge, and he immediately took up the measure.

Forty towns voted in favor of similar non-binding impeachment resolutions at their annual town meetings in March. State lawmakers in Wisconsin and Washington have pushed for similar resolutions.


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April 22, 2007

Bush frees terrorist to slay Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says his country will lodge a protest in the United Nations over the release of Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles from a U.S. jail. Chavez also charges that Posada has been plotting to assassinate him for years, and accused Bush of complicity in failing to bring Posada to justice.

Venezuela has asked the U.S. to extradite the 79-year-old former CIA agent to be tried on charges that he plotted the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane in which 73 people were killed. Posada has denied involvement.

In an op-ed Apr. 21, The New York Times confirmed the story.

Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 and was detained in Florida in May 2005 for entering the United States illegally. He was indicted on charges of lying to U.S. immigration authorities, but an appeals court last week ruled he could post bail and return to his family in Miami while awaiting trial.


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Newhouse takes over Russian News Service

At their first meeting with journalists since taking over Russia’s largest independent radio news network, Si Newhouse's Advance Communications Inc. managers had startling news of their own: from now on, they said, at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive.”

In addition, opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy, journalists employed by the network, Russian News Service, say they were told by the new managers, who are allies of the Kremlin.

How would they know what constituted positive news? “When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”

In a darkening media landscape, radio news had been a rare bright spot. Now, the implementation of the “50 percent positive” rule at the Russian News Service leaves an increasingly small number of news outlets that are not managed by the Kremlin, directly or through the state national gas company, Gazprom, a major owner of media assets.

The three national television networks are already state controlled, though small-circulation newspapers generally remain independent.

This month alone, a bank loyal to President Vladimir V. Putin tightened its control of an independent television station, Parliament passed a measure banning “extremism” in politics and prosecutors have gone after individuals who post critical comments on Web chat rooms.

Parliament is also considering extending state control to Internet sites that report news, reflecting the growing importance of Web news as the country becomes more affluent and growing numbers of middle-class Russians acquire computers.

On Tuesday, the police raided the Educated Media Foundation, a nongovernmental group sponsored by United States and European donors that helps foster an independent news media. The police carried away documents and computers that were used as servers for the Web sites of similar groups. That brought down a Web site run by the Glasnost Defense Foundation, a media rights group, which published bulletins on violations of press freedoms.

“Russia is dropping off the list of countries that respect press freedoms,” said Boris Timoshenko, a spokesman for the foundation. “We have propaganda, not information.”

With this new campaign, seemingly aimed at tying up the loose ends before a parliamentary election in the fall that is being carefully stage-managed by the Kremlin, censorship rules in Russia have reached their most restrictive since the breakup of the Soviet Union, media watchdog groups say.

“This is not the U.S.S.R., when every print or broadcasting outlet was preliminarily censored,” Masha Lipman, a researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said in a telephone interview.

Instead, the tactic has been to impose state ownership on media companies and replace editors with those who are supporters of Mr. Putin — or offer a generally more upbeat report on developments in Russia these days.

The new censorship rules are often passed in vaguely worded measures and decrees that are ostensibly intended to protect the public.

Late last year, for example, the prosecutor general and the interior minister appeared before Parliament to ask deputies to draft legislation banning the distribution on the Web of “extremist” content — a catch phrase, critics say, for information about opponents of Mr. Putin.

On Friday, the Federal Security Service, a successor agency to the K.G.B., questioned Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion and opposition politician, for four hours regarding an interview he had given on the Echo of Moscow radio station. Prosecutors have accused Mr. Kasparov of expressing extremist views.

Parliament on Wednesday passed a law allowing for prison sentences of as long as three years for “vandalism” motivated by politics or ideology. Once again, vandalism is interpreted broadly, human rights groups say, including acts of civil disobedience. In a test case, Moscow prosecutors are pursuing a criminal case against a political advocate accused of posting critical remarks about a member of Parliament on a Web site, the newspaper Kommersant reported Friday.

State television news, meanwhile, typically offers only bland fare of official meetings. Last weekend, the state channels mostly ignored the violent dispersal of opposition protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Rossiya TV, for example, led its newscast last Saturday with Mr. Putin attending a martial arts competition, with the Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme as his guest. On the streets of the capital that day, 54 people were beaten badly enough by the police that they sought medical care, Human Rights Watch said.

Rossiya and Channel One are owned by the state, while NTV was taken from a Kremlin critic in 2001 and now belongs to Gazprom. Last week, a St. Petersburg bank with ties to Mr. Putin increased its ownership stake in REN-TV, a channel that sometimes broadcasts critical reports, raising questions about that outlet’s continued independence.

The Russian News Service is owned by businesses loyal to the Kremlin, including Lukoil, though its exact ownership structure is not public. The owners had not meddled in editorial matters before, said Mikhail G. Baklanov, the former news editor, in a telephone interview.

The service provides news updates for a network of music-formatted radio stations, called Russian Radio, with seven million listeners, according to TNS Gallup, a ratings company.

Two weeks ago, the shareholders asked for the resignation of Mr. Baklanov. They appointed two new managers, Aleksandr Y. Shkolnik, director of children’s programming on state-owned Channel One, and Svevolod V. Neroznak, an announcer on Channel One. Both retained their positions at state television.

Mr. Shkolnik articulated the rule that 50 percent of the news must be positive, regardless of what cataclysm might befall Russia on any given day, according to the editor who was present at the April 10 meeting.

When in doubt about the positive or negative quality of a development, the editor said, “we should ask the new leadership.”

“We are having trouble with the positive part, believe me,” the editor said.

Mr. Shkolnik did not respond to a request for an interview. In an interview with Kommersant, he denied an on-air ban of opposition figures. He said Mr. Kasparov might be interviewed, but only if he agreed to refrain from extremist statements.

The editor at the news service said that the change had been explained as an effort to attract a larger, younger audience, but that many editorial employees had interpreted it as a tightening of political control ahead of the elections.

The station’s news report on Thursday noted the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Moscow metro. It closed with an upbeat item on how Russian trains are introducing a six-person sleeping compartment, instead of the usual four.

Already, listeners are grumbling about the “positive news” policy.

“I want fresh morning broadcasts and not to fall asleep,” one listener, who signed a posting on the station’s Web site as Sergei from Vladivostok, complained. “Maybe you’ve tortured RNS’s audience enough? There are just a few of us left. Down with the boring nonintellectual broadcasts!”

The change leaves Echo of Moscow, an irreverent and edgy news station that often provides a forum for opposition voices, as the only independent radio news outlet in Russia with a national reach.

And what does Aleksei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, think of the latest news from Russia?

“For Echo of Moscow, this is positive news,” Mr. Venediktov said. “We are a monopoly now. From the point of view of the country, it is negative news.”


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Early inmate release gone wild

Officials mistakenly released a prisoner from an Oregon facility after receiving a phony fax that ordered him freed, and it took them nearly two weeks to realize it. The fax contained grammatical errors, was not typed on letterhead and was sent from a local grocery store. The fax falsely claimed that the Oregon Supreme Court "demanded" Timothy Rouse be released.

Rouse, 19, is charged with beating an elderly man and was at the Correctional & Psychiatric Center in La Grande for a mental evaluation. He was released April 6 after officials received the fake court order.

Portland police arrested Rouse at his mother's home Thursday evening. "It's outrageous that it happened," Multnomah County Attorney Rick Major said. "I'm just glad nobody got hurt because he's dangerous." Police are still investigating who faxed the letter. Attorney Carlos Moran, who is representing Rouse, declined to comment.

Prison officials did not notice that the fax came from the grocery store because policies did not require checking the source of a faxed order, said the La Grande facility's director, Greg Taylor. "It's not part of a routine check, but certainly, in hindsight, that would perhaps have caused somebody to ask a question," he said. Misspellings on orders are common, he said.


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OLCC threatens wineries

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will consider a request by unionized Oregon wineries to relax what are considered the strictest labeling rules in the nation on the variety of grapes that go into wine. But 31 non-union wineries from the northern Willamette Valley, who produce mostly pinot noir and other pricier grapes, contend reducing varietal purity would harm the wider image of Oregon wines.

"Oregon has a reputation for quality because of these regulations," said Dick Ponzi, whose family has been at the higher end of the Oregon wine industry since the 1970s. "Now we're being asked to lower our standards to what everybody else is doing."

High-end grapes such as pinot noir and pinot gris, which put Oregon on the world's wine map, would still adhere to the 30-year-old 90 percent rule. For example, an Oregon wine calling itself pinot noir would have to be made from at least 90 percent pinot noir grapes.

Some who testified Friday said lower percentage requirements in neighboring states allowed winemakers there to produce more wine under a varietal label for less and undercut Oregon prices.

Earl Jones, who owns Abacela Winery, has 20 of his 60 acres of grapes south of Roseburg planted to tempranillo grapes, a popular Spanish variety, but to sell it as such it now needs to be 90 percent pure. But in Spain, he said, tempranillo is a 55 percent blend.


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