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May 12, 2007

State cracks down on failing businesses

The Oregon Senate approved a bill this week that would bring an end to the last-chance sales that never seem to stop. "There are endless sales that go on for months or years," said Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, who spearheaded the bill, which he said 25 other states already have.

He said the advertising amounts to deceptive pricing and the discounts undercut other merchants. Metsger championed the bill after he was approached by Portland rug merchant David Atiyeh, who noticed a competitor was having a "going out of business" sale that had been going on in one form or another for years. Atiyeh, nephew of Oregon's former governor and owner of Atiyeh Brothers, said such sales undercut more legitimate dealers.

"Oregon has been the dumping ground for this activity," Atiyeh said. If Senate Bill 684 becomes law, stores would be required to buy a state permit to hold a going-out-of-business sale, which would be limited to 90 days. Stores would be restricted to one such sale a year.

The bill, loosely modeled after a Washington state law, also would prohibit the practice of moving inventory from another store or warehouse to a store that supposedly is shutting down. Further, it defines a "sham" sale as a going-out-of-business event in which the intent of the owner is to remain open or to reopen at another location in the same area.

The bill has support from the state attorney general's office, which has received dozens of complaints over the years about misleading "going out of business" advertising. Rug and furniture stores dominate the list, although a handful of other types of businesses, such as home decor shops, are on there as well.

"Oregon consumers expect these sales to offer discounts far below those in normal sales and don't mind standing in long lines to pay for these so-called bargains before the store officially closes its doors for good," said Jan Margosian, who oversees consumer complaints for the state. "Because of the strength of the 'going out of business' and 'store closing' labels, many states specifically regulate these sales."

The bill passed 19-http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif8, with most Republicans in the Senate voting against it. It now goes to the House. Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, called the bill "evil."

"To me, this sends a message to consumers that they are stupid," Ferrioli said.

But Sen. Margaret Carter, D-Portland, suggested many consumers get taken in by sham sales, and counted herself among them. She said she bought a bedroom set at a furniture store's "going out of business" sale, only to find the same set at a lower price at a different store. And the store where she bought the furniture didn't close.

"I was stupid; I was an idiot," she said, before voting for the bill.


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Labor-Democrats outlaw The People

At the urging of Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and others, the Oregon House recently approved a bill adding new regulations to better police the initiative system and prevent election law violations.

A key GOP lawmaker, Rep. Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, said Republicans opposed the bill on grounds that it would unfairly hinder the people's initiative process.

He said the Oregon initiative has produced some major policy changes for the state that voters wanted but lawmakers refused to deal with. He cited as a key example the Measure 37 property rights law, reviled by some as opening the door to unbridled sprawl, but supported by many who say property owners should be compensated when land use laws reduce property value.

"If you set the bar so high and make it so expensive or so onerous to put things on the ballot, people are going to become discouraged and feel left out of the process," the Roseburg lawmaker said.

Under the bill, paid signature-gatherers would have to register and complete training before they could collect signatures on initiatives. Further, the bill would require chief petitioners to maintain payroll records for state review to make sure they are not violating the state's ban on the "bounty" system of paying petition carriers by the signature.

Bradbury, in an interview, said Oregon's initiative system was designed to give average citizens the chance to band together to enact laws directly when the Legislature, acting at the behest of special interests, refuses to act.

That has changed in recent years, and the bill's provisions are needed to prevent problems with fraud and forgery that have occurred in past initiative campaigns, the Democratic secretary of state said.

"What really rubs me the wrong way is that there are people with a lot of money who basically see the initiative process as a way to promote their ideas in the states," he said. "It's become incredibly money driven with incentive for fraud, not a grass roots process."

The House bill is contentious, however. It passed on a straight party-line vote in the House, with Democrats endorsing the idea and Republicans opposed. It's now awaiting a Senate vote.

Under the bill, paid petition circulators would have to register with the secretary of state, who must issue them photo-badges within two days. They would have to undergo training, which would be provided in the form of a video.

People convicted of forgery, fraud or identity theft within the past five years could not become petition circulators.

In addition, prospective petitioners would have to gather 1,000 signatures, up from 25, to request an official measure summary known as a ballot title. Sponsors often submit measures with numerous ballot titles, because some voters read only those before deciding on a measure.

Patty Wentz, a political activist with the labor-backed Our Oregon coalition, which is backing the legislation, said Oregonians value their ability to enact laws directly by the initiative. At the same time, she said, they don't want the system to be dominated by well-heeled groups who can buy their way onto the ballot.

"It was impossible when the system was created in 1902 to anticipate the myriad and creative ways the professional petitioners, the mercenaries, would use to manipulate the process for political gain," Wentz said.

Mannix said, however, that it is only the "political elites" who are supporting restrictions on the initiative process because they resent having common citizens forcing them to adopt policies such as tougher penalties against criminals.

"If they were responsive to the kinds of laws that people want, then people like me would not have to do initiative petitions," the Salem Republican said.


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Elderly citizens worried, intimidated, forced out

As a resident of O'Connor Woods, I'm worried. Over the past year, union representatives have acted in an intimidating manner and have deeply offended many elderly residents. They have offended many of the good workers who have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking for a new election to determine if the union should continue to represent them.

O'Connor Woods is a different business. It's not part of a chain. It's a nonprofit, with no stockholders asking for dividends. It doesn't get its income from government (Medi-Cal or Medicare) or big insurance companies.

Almost all of its income is rent from the few hundred people who live here. Whatever employees make comes out of our savings and often meager pensions. So we care deeply. Via our rents, we pay the wages of people who sit on both sides of the bargaining table. Yet we aren't allowed to participate in the procedure.

What the union is demanding, most of us simply can't afford or won't pay. We'll be forced to move out. Some of the elderly presented their story during a union demonstration on Thursday.

It's a pitiful, tiny thing compared to the professional show by the union and was without the support of management who, though they work for us, are forbidden by federal action to conduct anti-union activity.

Donald Gerber


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Ex-Rep. Kelly Wirth weighs another run for office

With her career in the legislature over, Kelly Wirth now has an opportunity to relax a bit. Others, however, including the Oregon AFL-CIO, want her to go back to her old job. Kelly said yesterday she’s been approached about running as a Democrat in the 24th state House District, a seat now held by a Republican.

"I told them I’d think seriously about that," Wirth said. "I’m thinking about it, but as I say, I have to weigh the good I thought I could do versus the disruption to my own life. And I told the people that called that those would be the considerations I’d have to give it."

Kelly was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives for 12 years in the 1980s and ’90s. He later became chairman of the Labor and Industrial Relations Board for five years before he was appointed as a judge in Boone County. He was later elected twice to the same position.

Because Kelly left the House before term limits were implemented, he can return to the House again.

One of the things Kelly said could bring him back into the legislative fold is the "way the University of Missouri has been used as a political pawn." Most recently, a higher education bill included a tuition cap, something critics charge is unconstitutional.

"What has happened to the University of Missouri over the last two years is absolutely reprehensible," Kelly said. "The fact of the matter is the majority party in the legislature has evidenced an affirmative contempt for the role of the major research institution in this state. And that troubles me more than anything else."

Ed Robb said yesterday it would be "fine" if Kelly decided to run against him next year.

"I like him," Robb said. "I think he’s smart."

But Robb said even if Kelly decided to run in the 24th District, he might not be his opponent next year. Robb said a few people have asked him to run for the state Senate next year against Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia.

"Several people have approached me to run," Robb said, adding he would make a final decision by the summer. "It’s going to be a function of maybe who the opponent is."

Last year, Robb said he had no interest in running against Graham because he wanted to become chairman of the House Budget Committee. But he noted that the Senate Appropriations Committee’s chairmanship would essentially be vacant in 2008.

The 24th District was the scene of the most expensive state legislative race in recent history when Robb squeaked by former Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Jim Ritter. In a race that occurred before campaign finance limits were lifted, both candidates raised a combined total of about a half-million dollars.

Kelly noted that he never spent $15,000 in a campaign, adding that he didn’t think a person could "buy" an election in Boone County. He said he would hope that his opponent and he would meet beforehand and promise not to spend that much money.

"I think it’s just despicable about how much money was spent," Kelly said, adding that a $10,000 campaign would not make people "one whit less informed. I think it’s incumbent upon the candidate to voluntarily reject that abuse of the system."

Robb said he planned to raise $250,000 by next year’s August primary.

Kelly, who is a columnist for the Tribune, said there’s "plenty of time" to make a decision to enter the race. The Democratic primary isn’t until next August, and the election isn’t until next November.

"I’ve got a nice peaceful life, and I’m very flattered that an old has-been like me might serve some use," Kelly said. "But you know, there are some real advantages in being a has-been. Nobody calls you at night with legislative problems. … You’re not tied up in all that."


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May 11, 2007

Sten reappears in public with no-brainer

Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten has re-emerged after a months-long absence from the headlines with a new tax idea. To a cheering group of union members, Sten announced a plan to increase the amount of affordable housing in Portland. The vehicle: a first-in-the-nation statewide real estate tax and a fee on all documents used in real estate deals.

Sten is proposing that the state place a 0.5 percent tax on real estate sales and is endorsing a bill that would include a $15 document transfer fee on all real estate deals. Oregon does not currently have any real estate taxes in place, one of the few states in the nation lacking such taxes.

Sten said that the city of Portland is currently spending $60 million on affordable housing. He said that a real estate tax on housing sales in Portland could double the amount of available funds.

Sten said he hopes that the city of Portland will be able to increase the number of affordable housing units in Portland by about 20,000 units in the coming years. Sten said the city currently has around 30,000 units, and that he hopes to see that number increase to about 50,000 units. He said that Portland is currently adding about 2,000 affordable housing units per year.

"We'd love to see some federal funding for this issue, but it'll mostly be a local effort that will make the necessary changes," Sten said.

Affordable housing is housing space that is dedicated to low-income residents and homeless people trying to transition into permanent housing units.

Sten discussed his ideas for affordable housing at Portland State's Urban Center Building Thursday in an event put on by the Planning Includes Equity (PIE) group. The group served pie to a crowd of about 35 people who attended the hour-long conference.

Without a sales tax, Oregon residents are forced to pay a high income tax each year, Sten said. Because of the income tax, some people even live in Vancouver, Wash., to avoid paying Oregon's high income taxes and save money on housing, he said.

"Even the middle class is having a hard time finding apartments downtown," Sten said. "If we had had a real estate tax in place during our recent housing boom, we'd have plenty of funding for affordable housing for everyone who lives in the city."

The bill that would implement the $15 document fee would require 36 legislative votes to pass during this year's legislative session. According to Sten, the vote is heavily supported by Democrats, who hold 31 positions in the House of Representatives. He urged attendees of the conference to ask for Republican support of the transfer fee.

"We just need the five extra votes, so write letters to your representatives and help out the affordable housing market," Sten said.

Sten said that affordable housing is vital to the infrastructure of Portland's growing population. He said that the cost of housing in Portland is increasing faster than working wages and that he is working to address the low rate of affordable housing in the city.

"The housing industry has failed people seeking homes in Portland," Sten said, "and we need to do something about it."

The city of Portland recently passed a bill that requires the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to spend at least 30 percent of its budget on affordable housing, according to Sten. The PDC is currently developing the housing market in the South Waterfront District, an area in Southwest Portland that is focused on increasing the number of affordable housing units in the downtown area.

The key demographic for affordable housing is recovering drug addicts and poor families with no money for a place to live, according to Sten. He said that there is an 80 percent success rate for addicts to rehabilitate when they move into affordable housing units. Sten said the addition of low-income housing buildings, such as the structure at 8 N.W. Eighth Ave. in the Pearl District, is beneficial to the housing market.

The number of homeless people in the downtown area has decreased from 2,500 in 2005 to 1,500 this year, Sten said.

"There's a real psychological difference for recovering addicts when they move into a place to call their own," Sten said. "Even if it's just a room and a toilet down the hall, having a place of your own makes a big difference for the chronically homeless."

The hundreds of millions of dollars required to fund the Portland Police Bureau would be better placed in developing affordable housing that would offer people a place to live and avoid crime, Sten said. Sten said large cuts in city planning for the housing industry are to blame for rising housing costs, adding that more funding ought to have been dedicated to housing over the last decade.

Sten said that the current homeownership rate in Portland is 60 percent, and that he expects that figure to decrease dramatically over the next 10 years. He said he thinks that careful planning and the inclusion of affordable housing could increase homeownership to 80 percent within 10 or 15 years.

"It's time to start thinking about ways to solve a dumb problem," Sten said. "People need places to live, so let's give them a place to live."


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Labor rolls GOP, Bush on trade pacts

After months of standstill, the White House and congressional Democrats agreed to strengthen labor and environmental standards in free-trade pacts, signaling a new bipartisan consensus aimed at shoring up crumbling U.S. public support for economic globalization.

The agreement -- announced last night by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and other top officials and lawmakers -- clears a hurdle to the passage of some small bilateral trade deals. And it could ultimately smooth the way for broader trade measures such as renewing President Bush's soon-to-expire authority to negotiate trade deals without threat of congressional amendments, as well as a new global trade agreement now being negotiated in the Doha Round of world trade talks.

Lawmakers said the agreement would help provide broad bipartisan support in Congress for pending agreements with Peru and Panama. But, they said other trade measures, including pacts with Colombia and South Korea, involve other issues that haven't been worked out.

In addition to including new labor and environmental principles, the deal calls for expanded access for developing countries to generic drugs, a priority for Democrats, who say efforts by brand-name drug makers to protect their markets have put many medicines out of reach in poor countries.

"This is a major breakthrough in what we've been fighting for ... to be sure that globalization opens up for many more people, including workers," said Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), one of the negotiators. Before Democrats were in a position to influence the debate, he said, "I think Republicans were resisting a necessary trend to spread the benefits of trade."

The deal also shows that, for all the squabbling between the White House and Capitol Hill on Iraq, the two sides have continued to find ways to work together on other issues. Beyond trade, administration and congressional leaders are feverishly negotiating to try and reach an agreement this month on immigration overhaul.

While the trade pact has the solid backing of congressional leaders, any specific trade legislation could still face strong opposition among rank-and-file lawmakers and labor groups.

The drug industry trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, declined to comment until it has reviewed the final agreement. But objections from the powerful lobby -- which succeeded this week in killing a proposal to ease rules for pharmaceutical imports -- would complicate prospects for passage.
[Growth Spurt]

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said, even with the changes related to generic drugs, pending trade agreements would improve protections for intellectual property abroad, including brand-name pharmaceuticals. "This is a compromise," she said. The drug provisions apply to the pacts with Panama, Peru and Colombia, but not Korea, she said.

The push for free trade has been complicated by the rising U.S. trade deficit. Yesterday, the Commerce Department said the country's overall deficit surged to a six-month high of $63.9 billion in March, party because of a jump in oil imports. The report is causing economists to scale back estimates of first-quarter growth -- and is fueling new criticism from Democratic lawmakers of the Bush administration's trade policies.

The deal would require that core international labor standards be incorporated into trade pacts and would enforce those commitments with the same sanctions used to back up business-backed priorities. In the case of Peru, the changes will be accomplished through amendments that won't require already agreed-to texts to be reopened, a congressional official said. The Panama deal, though largely completed, was left open to accommodate any compromise that might be struck by the White House and Democratic leaders.

The agreement isn't meant to open U.S. laws to challenge under the strengthened labor commitments. But it doesn't include a specific assurance against that, according to the congressional official.


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Election perception Down Under

The latest AC Nielsen poll has the Labor Opposition leading the Government, 58 to 42 per cent, on a two-party-preferred basis. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd leads Mr. Howard as preferred prime minister, 51 to 42 per cent. Dr. Clement Macintyre, lecturer in politics at the University of Adelaide, said Labor had been leading in the polls six to twelve months before the last two elections, "so they won't be taking anything for granted".

But Mr. Howard said the Government had begun to claw back ground on the Opposition in recent weeks, particularly on the industrial relations debate. "In the last two weeks, the perception has taken hold in the community that it is a Labor Party run by the unions ... it's been a good few weeks," Mr. Howard was said to have told the meeting.


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May 10, 2007

Barone: Portland, Seattle are "Static Cities"

The fourth category is what I call the Static Cities. These are 18 metropolitan areas with immigrant inflow between zero and 4%, with domestic inflow up to 3% and domestic outflow no higher than 1%. They seem to be holding their own economically, but are not surging ahead and some are in danger of falling back. Some Western cities that boomed in the 1990s are in the Static Cities category too: Seattle (the tech bust again), Denver, Portland. Politically, they're a mixed bag, a bit more Democratic than the nation as a whole: 52% for Kerry, 47% for Bush.

(read full article below)

The Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2007

The Realignment of America
The native-born are leaving "hip" cities for the heartland.

By Michael Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report and author of "Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers," published this month by Crown.

In 1950, when I was in kindergarten in Detroit, the city had a population of (rounded off) 1,850,000. Today the latest census estimate for Detroit is 886,000, less than half as many. In 1950, the population of the U.S. was 150 million. Today the latest census estimate for the nation is 301 million, more than twice as many. People in America move around. But not just randomly.

It has become a commonplace to say that population has been flowing from the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt, from an industrially ailing East and Midwest to an economically vibrant West and South. But the actual picture of recent growth, as measured by the 2000 Census and the census estimates for 2006, is more complicated. Recently I looked at the census estimates for 50 metropolitan areas with more than one million people in 2006, where 54% of Americans live. (I cheated a bit on definitions, adding Durham to Raleigh and combining San Francisco and San Jose.) What I found is that you can separate them into four different categories, with different degrees and different sources of population growth or decline. And I found some interesting surprises.

Start with the Coastal Megalopolises: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago (on the coast of Lake Michigan), Miami, Washington and Boston. Here is a pattern you don't find in other big cities: Americans moving out and immigrants moving in, in very large numbers, with low overall population growth. Los Angeles, defined by the Census Bureau as Los Angeles and Orange Counties, had a domestic outflow of 6% of 2000 population in six years--balanced by an immigrant inflow of 6%. The numbers are the same for these eight metro areas as a whole.

There are some variations. New York had a domestic outflow of 8% and an immigrant inflow of 6%; San Francisco a whopping domestic outflow of 10% (the bursting of the tech bubble hurt) and an immigrant inflow of 7%. Miami and Washington had domestic outflows of only 2%, overshadowed by immigrant inflows of 8% and 5%, respectively.

This is something few would have predicted 20 years ago. Americans are now moving out of, not into, coastal California and South Florida, and in very large numbers they're moving out of our largest metro areas. They're fleeing hip Boston and San Francisco, and after eight decades of moving to Washington they're moving out. The domestic outflow from these metro areas is 3.9 million people, 650,000 a year. High housing costs, high taxes, a distaste in some cases for the burgeoning immigrant populations--these are driving many Americans elsewhere.

The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo.

Democratic politicians like to decry what they describe as a widening economic gap in the nation. But the part of the nation where it is widening most visibly is their home turf, the place where they win their biggest margins (these metro areas voted 61% for John Kerry) and where, in exquisitely decorated Park Avenue apartments and Beverly Hills mansions with immigrant servants passing the hors d'oeuvres, they raise most of their money.

The bad news for them is that the Coastal Megalopolises grew only 4% in 2000-06, while the nation grew 6%. Coastal Megalopolitan states--New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois--are projected to lose five House seats in the 2010 Census, while California, which has gained seats in every census since it was admitted to the Union in 1850, is projected to pick up none.

You see an entirely different picture in the 16 metro areas I call the Interior Boomtowns (none touches the Atlantic or Pacific coasts). Their population has grown 18% in six years. They've had considerable immigrant inflow, 4%, but with the exceptions of Dallas and Houston, this immigrant inflow has been dwarfed by a much larger domestic inflow--three million to 1.5 million overall.

Domestic inflow has been a whopping 19% in Las Vegas, 15% in the Inland Empire (California's Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, where much of the outflow from Los Angeles has gone), 13% in Orlando and Charlotte, 12% in Phoenix, 10% in Tampa, 9% in Jacksonville. Domestic inflow was over 200,000 in the Inland Empire, Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Orlando. These are economic dynamos that are driving much of America's growth. There's much less economic polarization here than in the Coastal Megalopolises, and a higher percentage of traditional families: Natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) in the Interior Boomtowns is 6%, well above the 4% in the Coastal Megalopolises.

The nation's center of gravity is shifting: Dallas is now larger than San Francisco, Houston is now larger than Detroit, Atlanta is now larger than Boston, Charlotte is now larger than Milwaukee. State capitals that were just medium-sized cities dominated by government employees in the 1950s--Sacramento, Austin, Raleigh, Nashville, Richmond--are now booming centers of high-tech and other growing private-sector businesses. San Antonio has more domestic than immigrant inflow even though the border is only three hours' drive away. The Interior Boomtowns generated 38% of the nation's population growth in 2000-06.

This is another political world from the Coastal Megalopolises: the Interior Boomtowns voted 56% for George W. Bush in 2004. Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Nevada--states dominated by Interior Boomtowns--are projected to pick up 10 House seats in the 2010 Census.

What about the old Rust Belt, which suffered so in the 1980s? The six metro areas here--Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Rochester--have lost population since 2000. Their domestic outflow of 4% has been only partially offset by an immigrant inflow of 1%. If the outflow seems smaller than in the 1980s, it's because so many young people have already left. Natural increase is only 2%, lower than in Orlando or Jacksonville in supposedly elderly Florida. Their economies are ailing, more of a drag on, than an engine for, the nation. They're not the source of dynamism they were 80 or 100 years ago. They continue to vote Democratic, but their 54% for John Kerry was much lower than the Coastal Megalopolis's 61%. Their states are projected to lose six House seats in the 2010 Census.

The fourth category is what I call the Static Cities. These are 18 metropolitan areas with immigrant inflow between zero and 4%, with domestic inflow up to 3% and domestic outflow no higher than 1%. They seem to be holding their own economically, but are not surging ahead and some are in danger of falling back. Philadelphia makes the list, and so do Baltimore, Hartford and Providence in the East.

Surprisingly, some Western cities that boomed in the 1990s are in this category too: Seattle (the tech bust again), Denver, Portland. In the Midwest, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Columbus and Indianapolis are doing better than their Rust Belt neighbors and make the list. In the South, Norfolk, Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma City and Birmingham are lagging enough behind the Interior Boomtowns to do so. Overall the Static Cities had a domestic inflow of just 18,000 people (.048%) and an immigrant inflow of 2%. Politically, they're a mixed bag, a bit more Democratic than the nation as a whole: 52% for Kerry, 47% for Bush.

I have left two atypical metro areas out, because they stand alone. One is New Orleans, with a 25% domestic outflow; it was already losing population and attracting almost no immigrants before Katrina. The other is Salt Lake City, which demographically looks a lot like the America of the 1950s. In 2000-2006 its population grew a robust 10%. But it had a domestic outflow of 4% (young Mormons going off on their missions?), balanced by an immigrant inflow of 4%. The chief driver of population growth there is kids: Salt Lake City's natural increase was 9%, the largest of any of our metro areas, hugely greater than San Francisco's 3% or Pittsburgh's minus 1%. Politically, New Orleans was split down the middle in 2004, with Bush leading 50% to 49%, while Salt Lake City, the least Republican part of Utah, was still 60% for Bush.

What of the rest of the nation? You can find a few smaller metro areas that look like the Coastal Megalopolises (Santa Barbara, university towns like Iowa City), many that resemble the Interior Boomtowns (Fort Myers, Tucson) and the Rust Belt (Canton, Muncie). You can find rural counties that are losing population (as are most counties in North Dakota) and, even amid them, towns that have solid growth (Fargo, Bismarck).

But overall the nation beyond these 49 metro areas looks like the Static Cities: 1% domestic inflow, 1% immigrant inflow, 4% population growth. But politically it is more Republican, taking in as it does large swathes of the South, Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, and in line with the historical record of non-metropolitan areas being less Democratic than metro areas: 56% for Bush, 42% for Kerry.

Twenty years ago political analysts grasped the implications of the vast movement from Rust Belt to Sun Belt, a tilting of the table on balance toward Republicans; but with California leaning heavily to Democrats, that paradigm seems obsolete. What's now in store is a shifting of political weight from a small Rust Belt which leans Democratic and from the much larger Coastal Megalopolises, where both secular top earners and immigrant low earners vote heavily Democratic, toward the Interior Megalopolises, where most voters are private-sector religious Republicans but where significant immigrant populations lean to the Democrats. House seats and electoral votes will shift from New York, New Jersey and Illinois to Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada; within California, House seats will shift from the Democratic coast to the Republican Inland Empire and Central Valley.

Demography is destiny. When I was in kindergarten in 1950, Detroit was the nation's fifth largest metro area, with 3,170,000 people. Now it ranks 11th and is soon to be overtaken by Phoenix, which had 331,000 people in 1950. In the close 1960 election, in which electoral votes were based on the 1950 Census, Michigan cast 20 votes for John Kennedy and Arizona cast four votes for Richard Nixon; New York cast 45 votes for Kennedy and Florida cast 10 votes for Nixon. In 2012, Michigan will likely have 16 electoral votes and Arizona 12; New York will have 29 votes and Florida 29. That's the kind of political change demographics makes over the years.


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Sweden in labor socialism reversal

As Oregon struggles to catch up with Venezuela's anti-capitalist totalitarianism, the Swedes are discovering that a state-run social welfare system isn't all it's cracked up to be. Lotta Landström is allergic to electricity - so says her doctor. Along with hundreds of other Swedes diagnosed with the condition in recent years, she came to rely on state-funded sick pay.

But last year, Sweden's famously generous welfare system cut off Ms. Landström, a 35-year-old former teacher. Electro-hypersensitivity isn't widely recognized elsewhere in the world as a medical diagnosis. The decision to end her two years of benefits was part of a broad effort to crack down on sickness and disability benefits, according to Swedish welfare officials.

Swedes are among the healthiest people in the world according to the World Health Organization. And yet 13% of working-age Swedes live on some type of disability benefit - the highest proportion on the globe. To explain this, many Swedish policy makers, doctors and economists blame a welfare system that is too lax and does little to verify individual claims.

(For the entire article see the Wall Street Journal - wsj.com.)

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Local media rapped for Big Story boycott

Federal authorities said Wednesday that six Muslim men accused of plotting to massacre U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey were on the verge of carrying out the attack when they were arrested. "I think they were in the last stage of planning," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said. "They had training, they had maps, and I think they were very close to moving on this.

"Our view was they had pretty much gotten to concluding the planning phase of this and were looking to obtain heavy weaponry."

Members of the group were arrested Monday night as they tried to buy AK-47 assault weapons, M-16s and other weapons from an FBI informant, authorities said.

The men — four born in the former Yugoslavia, one from Jordan and one from Turkey — lived in Philadelphia and its suburbs with their immediate and extended families.

The six — Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22; Dritan "Anthony" or "Tony" Duka, 28; Shain Duka, 26; Eljvir "Elvis" Duka, 23; Serdar Tatar, 23; and Agron Abdullahu, 24 — were ordered held without bail. Three were in the United States illegally; two had green cards allowing them to stay in this country permanently; and one is a U.S. citizen.

A senior FBI counterterrorism official who requested anonymity said the men were a homegrown cell — with no ties to international terrorist groups or to any kind of criminal element in the former Yugoslavia or among ethnic Albanians here or overseas.

"We don't have any sense, and we did lots of [intelligence] collection, to show that there is anything whatsoever to do with Albania or Yugoslavia," the FBI official said, refuting rumors that surfaced on the Internet and among some terrorism experts.

One of the suspects, Abdullahu, was familiar with Fort Dix because it was the first place he landed when arriving in the United States as a refugee from Kosovo, according to a law-enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The United States allowed thousands of refugees into the United States after it intervened in the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

Another defendant, Tatar, worked at his father's pizzeria and made deliveries to Fort Dix, authorities said. Tatar's father, Muslim Tatar, 54, denied his son had made deliveries to the post, but Christie said the younger Tatar spoke of the deliveries on a tape obtained by authorities.

The investigation began more than a year ago after a clerk at a Circuit City store in Mount Laurel, N.J., was asked to transfer a videotape onto a DVD. The tape showed 10 men shooting weapons at a firing range and calling for jihad, prosecutors said. The 10 included the six men under arrest, authorities said.

The unidentified clerk was hunted by more than a dozen reporters Wednesday. The store manager, aided by police, kept the media at bay.

Circuit City corporate spokesman Jim Babb said it was routine for store employees to watch customer videos when dubbing a videotape onto a DVD.

"We do cooperate with law-enforcement authorities who are investigating possible illegal activities," he said. "You know, when you're making a dub — and I understand that this was dub — you have to look at it for quality purposes."


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May 9, 2007

State's costly mistakes swept under the rug

Under twenty-plus years of Democrat leadership, big government is getting bigger and more expensive. That would be acceptable if we could establish that it was getting better while it got bigger. But we can’t because it isn’t. There are a whole series of small decisions that big government routinely gets wrong and that carry over into some huge, expensive and wrong-headed ones too.

I spent twenty years in the telecommunications business and so that is one of the places that I was able to observe government’s propensity to make really stupid and really expensive decisions. Let me give you an example before we move on to the really big ones that Oregon state government seems to insist on making time after time after time.

When the telecommunications telephone numbering system began to fill up, new area codes were required in order to add banks of new telephones. Rather than cooperate in the orderly implementation of the new area codes, state government insisted that the introduction of new area codes be delayed because people simply could not accommodate dialing ten numbers rather than just seven. What that means is the government determined that you were either not smart enough or energetic enough to dial an extra three digits in order to reach a called party. Did they have any empirical data that supported such a conclusion? No, there was simply the opinion of the government regulators and, more importantly, their opinion could not be challenged. In other words they did it simply because they could. In the meantime, the telecommunications world watched the unprecedented growth of wireless (cellular) communications that relies solely on ten digit dialing. The net result was delay in implementing a common sense decision to expand the number system, a significant cost to the wireline telecommunications company and a “convenience” that people neither wanted nor needed.

Yes, that example may seem petit, but I didn’t have a column in which to vent back then. But more importantly, it is simply illustrative of the arrogance of a government that thinks it knows what is best for its citizens without any evidence that it is.

So let’s look at some bigger examples. There is Oregon’s CIM/CAM fiasco. Like most such boondoggles, it began without knowing where it was going, without any direction on how to get there, and with no clue as to the costs that would be incurred along the way. Never mind that it consumed about ten percent of the planning, administrative and classroom teachers’ time. Never mind that after a staggering delay in implementation, it was so out of touch with school curriculum that less than one third of the students taking the exam could pass it. Never mind that it was so pointless that neither universities nor employers gave it any credence.

Never mind that it was so bad that not one other state has adopted it or a similar program. It existed because government could impose it. It lasted because government hates to admit a mistake. It has cost taxpayers approximately half a billion dollars per biennium and is still pointless, worthless, and out of touch with educational needs.

Oregon introduced its vaunted centralized land use planning system in the seventies. It was hailed as the model for planning and its acolytes promised Oregonians that they would lead the way for the rest of the United States. Over thirty years later not one other state has adopted similar centralized land use planning. The people in Oregon have twice voted to eliminate the most abusive provisions of the system that allowed government to take the use of people’s property without compensating them a dime. And yet government persists in ignoring its citizens, ignoring reality and ignoring the economic displacement caused by its centralized planning system. In fact, the legislature has decided to gut the people’s initiative (Measure 37) and return Oregon to a system that even it recognizes as having cost its citizen over $32 billion in lost property rights.

Not because they are right, but because government can do it.


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Labor-Democrats to hike corporate taxes

Oregon House Democrats are quietly floating a proposal to raise as much as $210 million in corporate taxes over the next two years, providing more money for PERS, generous government union wage and non-pension benefit increases, and other programs.

The three-part proposal is billed as the "Oregon Investment Plan."

Rep. David Edwards, D-Hillsboro, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that portions of the plan still are in flux, but estimates suggest it could raise between $80 million and $210 million. He outlined three distinct components, including:

# A new "corporate minimum activity tax," modeled after New Hampshire's business enterprise tax. The Oregon version would tax pre-deduction wages, dividends and interest earnings of all of the state's corporations required to pay taxes on their income, at a rate of 0.25 percent. The average minimum would be $138, Edwards said.

# A limited liability protection fee, which would apply to limited liability corporations, partnerships and companies where the shareholders' income is taxed.

# A tax credit for investments in plant or equipment made in companies with an Oregon presence. That tax credit will likely be capped at some level, yet to be determined.


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Gov't union wins put tax pressure on counties

Union officials representing police officers, firefighters and corrections officers would be allowed management control of safety issues under a bill the Oregon House approved Tuesday 44-14. The proposal was salvaged after a previous version ignited a party-line floor fight, sending the bill to a bipartisan group of legislators to find a compromise. The bill now allows staffing issues to be negotiated when "significant impact" on job safety can be documented.

The AFL-CIO agreed to modify a previous, more labor-friendly version that would have allowed bargaining over such issues when unions could show a "direct and substantial" impact on worker safety. But Republicans and a few rural Democrats had balked at that proposal, worried that small cities and remote counties couldn't pay for increased staffing levels.

Firefighters on Tuesday called the compromise a win, if a qualified one, and said it was welcome after 10 years of pushing for legislation. "Public employers will be required to at least have the conversation," said Scott Olmos, a Eugene firefighter. "That's all we wanted to begin with." Olmos said the industry standard is four firefighters on a truck responding to a fire, but in some cities and counties, it's usually just three. "We put ourselves in harm's way," he said.

Rep. John Dallum, R-The Dalles, said he wavered, but eventually decided to vote no, out of concern for local governments. "My counties are so stressed right now, I'm worried about bankruptcy," he said. "We can't afford another officer, or a new vehicle."

Public safety officers are prohibited from striking in Oregon, so bargaining conditions are important to them. If negotiations come to an impasse, each side presents what's known as its "last, best offer" to an arbitrator, who weighs both plans, balances the cost with public welfare, and chooses one.

Because the bill has been modified, it goes back to the Senate, which is expected to approve it.


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May 8, 2007

Legislature considers bosses, evil unions

The AFL-CIO has decided to agree to a revision that assures enactment of HB2893, which passed the House last month on a party-line vote. The law will make sure employees won't have to attend meetings where their bosses talk about the evils of unions or other political issues.

But all references to "religious matters" will be deleted, said Duke Shepard, the union's political director.

Shepard said on Tuesday they couldn't cite specific examples of workers being subjected to proselytizing, and there was enough pushback from legislators that the union decided it wasn't worth risking the bill. They were surprised by members' concern that the bill could have a chilling effect on the convocations that start each floor session.

"Issues that were not contemplated at all when drafting the bill made it harder for people to look at the bill for what it's meant to be," he said. And that's to stop employers from scaring workers out of organizing, he said.

Russ Evans, a 56-year-old bus driver, testified that after employees at Paratransit Services started exploring the idea of joining a union, managers called small groups into mandatory, closed-door meetings to give their take on organized labor.

Evans was given a note giving the time and location of the mandatory meetings. But it also informed him that he was not invited. (Randy Grove, Paratransit's operations and human resources chief, said the company followed the process set out by the National Labor Relations Board.)

No question the bill still faces opposition, where it's scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Employers argue that employees want to know how particular legislation or ballot measure could affect their business. This bill would prohibit all such communications, either through mandatory meetings or letters stuffed with payroll checks.

Besides HB 2893, the Senate committee will also hear fellow labor-friendly house bills 2891 and 2892. HB 2891 would make it easier for unions to organize by striking a second round of ballots; HB 2892 would prohibit state contractors from using public money and public buildings to promote or deter organizing efforts.

All were introduced at the request of the AFL-CIO.


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French women, workers rejected labor socialism

Nicolas Sarkozy won the women's vote and fared well among blue-collar workers, even though his rival for the French presidency was a woman and a Socialist. It was one of the surprising subplots in Sarkozy's resounding election victory over Segolene Royal - and shows his vision of pro-market reforms appeals to a wide audience.

Perhaps most striking was the 52 percent of the women's vote he captured against 48 percent for Royal.

Official figures showed Sarkozy won France's one-time industrial heartland in the north, which French media said had not voted for a rightist presidential candidate since Charles de Gaulle in 1965.

Sarkozy even tallied nearly 44 percent of the vote in the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris, where a wave of rioting erupted in late 2005 while he was interior minister and he infuriated many there by calling troublemakers "scum."

Sarkozy's ability to attract votes from a broad spectrum of the public is an early indication he may be able to overcome his image as a polarizing force and achieve crucial popular support for pushing through his ambitious program of overhauling France's welfare system.

Congratulations poured in from around the world yesterday, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair sending one - in French - via YouTube. The president-elect, meanwhile, left a Paris hotel wearing jeans yesterday and headed off to reflect on his new job on a yacht off the coast of the Mediterranean archipelago of Malta.


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Bill would grant leave for labor victims

A bill that is one vote away from the governor's desk would allow union members who are survivors of picket-line violence, assault by scabs, and stalking by strike-breakers to take paid leave from their jobs to obtain services or treatment. The House Human Services and Women's Wellness Committee approved Senate Bill 946 without change Friday and sent it to a vote of the full House.

Leave could be granted for union members to secure their homes or move, and give them time to seek law-enforcement or legal help, medical attention, crisis-center services and counseling. It would apply to employers with six or more workers. Rules would be specified by the state Bureau of Labor and Industries.


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State cracking down on wealth creation

Oregon is poised to crack down on investors and corporations that use "tax strategies" to avoid state taxes. The House Revenue Committee aired a bill Monday that's projected to net the state $12 million in extra taxes in the upcoming biennium. Senate Bill 39-A already passed the Senate unanimously, and no one testified against it during its first House hearing Monday.

The new version will "deal with only the most egregious millionaires," said Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland. "I think there is some real low-hanging fruit that we can pick here," said Rep. Tom Butler, R-Ontario, who helped craft the bill.

A similar bill was blocked in 2005 through lobbying efforts by Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Banking Association. Now both groups support a compromise version entailed in SB 39-A, their lobbyists said Monday.

Under SB 39-A, individuals and businesses taking advantage of "tax shelters and transactions" identified by the IRS face stiffer penalties if they don't step forward and pay back taxes and interest payments by the end of this year. The bill applies to taxes owed back to 1999.

In tandem with SB 39-A, the Oregon Department of Revenue is working with about 30 states in a combined campaign against the abusive tax schemes.

In mid-2007, the state will launch a "voluntary compliance initiative," enabling those who used the questionable tax schemes to pay their back taxes and interest without penalties, if they pay by year's end.

Because California, other states and the IRS have been working to root out questionable practices, the state has started collecting back taxes and interest.

Between July 1, 2005, and Nov. 30, 2006, the state collected an additional $5 million from individuals and $1.4 million from corporations, said Debra Buchanan, legislative coordinator for the Oregon Department of Revenue.

The Legislative Revenue Office estimated the bill will raise an additional $11.8 million in 2007-09, in addition to money coming in from the voluntary effort.


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Labor unions subsume Portland politics

Former state Sen. Dick Springer and Randy Leonard served in the Legislature together and both are good Democrats and union guys — Springer once headed a union-founded nonprofit aimed at enforcing labor laws. Now the ex-lawmaker has surfaced working for the city of Portland, proving once again that knowing people is a good thing.

So, when Springer was looking for a job last year, he says he asked Leonard for advice. Not long thereafter, he heard from Leonard’s chief of staff, Ty Kovatch, about a job at the Bureau of Emergency Communications — which Leonard oversees. Springer now works on a variety of labor emergency plans for a $67,000 salary.

Because it is a limited-term, 12-month position, Springer did not have to compete with other applicants; rather, bureau Director Lisa Turley said Leonard called and asked her to look at Springer’s résumé, and she agreed he was qualified.

Kovatch said Leonard was not doing Springer a favor. Rather, the commissioner thought Springer would be a good hire. Kovatch said, “Randy has a lot of respect for Dick and the work he has done.”

Take a number, please

It’s getting ridiculous: A flock of serious people are gearing up to run for City Council in 2008, and we don’t even know if there will be an opening.

The latest to declare his “serious” interest? Rick Michaelson, a developer and affordable housing advocate who served on the Planning Commission for 15 years until being termed out in 2005.

In the last few weeks, two or three people have suggested he go for it, he said, and he wants to get more involved in helping the city plan its future. So add Michaelson’s name to an ever-growing list that includes past candidates Nick Fish, Amanda Fritz and Dave Lister, as well as developer Bob Ball and Chris Smith, the de facto capo of Portland’s streetcar mafia.

Everyone, it seems, is eyeing the City Hall office of Commissioner Sam Adams, who is considered likely to run for U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s seat or the mayor’s job if either one opens up.

Dialing for dollars

The big bucks finally are showing up in the City Charter ballot measure campaigns.

The labor-backed opponents of placing all bureaus under a professional manager are maintaining their massive fundraising lead over the supporters of the change, who include many members of the downtown business community.

Although the figures will change by the May 15 election, as of last Friday, Portlanders for Accountability had reported raising $212,500, most of it from labor unions.

In contrast, Citizens to Reform City Hall had raised only $107,521, despite the active involvement of Mayor Tom Potter, who has made reforming the charter his priority.

Another anti-change group, the Committee for Accountable City Government, reported raising $5,025, including cash and in-kind contributions from such City Hall insiders as consultant Roger Shiels and affordable housing advocate Ted Gilbert.

The No on 26-92 Committee that opposes giving the City Council more power over the Portland Development Commission raised $21,600, much of it from PDC-supported developers like Mark Edlen, James Winkler and Walsh Construction.


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They don't get along well with others

It's longstanding tradition at the Legislature not to get too personal. Rules require lawmakers to refer to each other as "my good friend," or "my colleague" rather than by name. But that kind of gentility has been hard to find lately in the House, where open partisan warfare has erupted and the two party leaders, Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, and Minority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, barely conceal their hostility.

Relations are so bad that one day last week a Republican member missed a vote because he had to go to the bathroom and Democrats refused to let him cast the vote when he came back.

Though friction at the Legislature is nothing new, its intensity and personal nature this session have been surprising. The rancor doesn't just threaten statehouse decorum; it poses big problems for resolving a host of high-profile issues that need cooperation between parties, from taxes to school funding to state police.

Hunt and Scott offer the best case study. They began the session by pledging a new era of cooperation; now they barely speak to each other. More than six weeks have gone by since they last attempted serious negotiations in the same room.

"Hunt is very political. Everything he does is for political purposes," Scott says with unusual candor. "I think it's safe to say we don't respect each other."

Hunt, in turn, accuses Scott of making a string of bad-faith agreements and resorting to delay tactics aimed at making Democrats look bad. Hunt insists he's always on the lookout for chances to parlay with Republicans, but hits a stone wall each time he tries.

"We offer an olive branch -- they return a spitball," Hunt says. "And by 'they,' I mean Republican leadership."

The conflict between the two leaders has become obvious to just about anyone who pays attention to the Legislature. Few talk about it publicly, however, for fear of making a bad situation worse.

"I don't think I need to pour gas on that fire," says Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, when asked how things were going between Hunt and Scott.

Frustrations old, new

Both have strong personalities. Scott is a successful businessman with a reputation as a tough negotiator used to getting his way. He spent the previous session as majority leader and, with then-Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, was able to kill bills his caucus disliked, such as civil unions for same-sex couples.

Hunt, a Baptist Sunday school teacher, toiled for two sessions in the minority party, watching helplessly while Republicans ruled the House agenda. When Democrats gained control of the House in last year's elections, Hunt let it be known that one of his top goals would be to increase his party's hold in 2008.

Now, with a single vote separating the Democratic majority from an increasingly cantankerous Republican minority, Hunt and Scott lock horns on a regular basis.

During an especially prickly floor session last week, Scott stood and asked for a brief caucus meeting -- a chance to hole up with his fellow Republicans and discuss strategy. It was a routine request, the type usually granted with no discussion.

But Hunt, whose desk sits a mere 6 feet across a carpeted aisle from Scott, walked over and asked whether Scott could keep the meeting to 10 minutes. Scott indicated he wanted a half-hour. Hunt returned to his microphone and objected, which forced the whole House to vote on Scott's caucus request. Scott won that one.

A retreat from progress

This kind of acrimony seemed implausible in January when the session began with promises of compromise. Within two months, joint negotiations produced a historic agreement to establish Oregon's first "rainy day" fund -- setting aside part of the state budget to use when the economy turns sour.

After that, things went south. Efforts to reach a similar compromise on raising corporate taxes while trimming estate taxes fell apart. Then talks between Hunt and Scott broke down over a proposal to raise cigarette taxes as a way to buy health coverage for tens of thousands of uninsured children.

Now, the Senate and the governor's office are looking for ways to rekindle talks on those issues. If they fail, plans to boost the number of state police patrols and pump more money into higher education could fall short of pre-session promises.

Although tempers appeared to have cooled in the House, there are no signs that Hunt and Scott are ready to reconcile. Scott remains annoyed by what he says are Hunt's tactics to force votes that can be used against Republicans in campaign ads.

"Either you come here to get re-elected, or you come here to do what's good for Oregon," Scott says. "I'm not going to play their games."

Hunt's distrust of Scott continues unabated. "It makes it very challenging," Hunt says. "But our only option is to forge ahead."

Rank-and-file lawmakers worry about the deteriorating tone of the session and how it may further damage the body's already battered image among the public.

Several times last week, House members stood to air concerns about the spate of meltdowns on the floor. Among them was Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, one of the elders of the Legislature and a 10-year veteran of the House.

"We've taken a pretty terrible beating since I've been here, in the eyes of the press and in the eyes of a lot of people," Jenson said. "Maybe it's time for us to start acting like legislators."


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May 7, 2007

Jack Bog tags The Oregonian for 'cyberhash'

I see that the editorial board of the O has started up a blog. Of sorts. But apparently it's not just the editorial board's blog, because there are also letters and op-ed stuff from other people -- material that presumably didn't make the cut for the print edition of the newspaper and the "main" opinion section of OregonLive. What a painful way for prose to die.

Oh, and the editorial board's blog is not to be confused with the editors' blog, which is something totally different, you see. Is it just me, or does the hash that is OregonLive just get denser and denser by the week? You could try to figure it out, but in two weeks they'll dig some more mouse holes and rebury everything somewhere new. You'll never find anything.

One interesting aspect of the new blog is that if they publish your letter there, they'll apparently also be nice enough to run your home address and telephone number and e-mail address, so that your new friends out in cyberspace can have fun with you.

The URL address of the new blog is:

What, was hopeless.org already taken?

Don't get me wrong, most of the O reporters who are pounding their beats every day are doing a fine job. But the folks in the private offices? Dinosaurs staring at the death star.


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Oregon woman recalls resentment

Kimberly Jones, 43, of Portland, vividly remembers the bygone days when she took umbrage at being pursued by aggressive suitors, sources reported Monday. "I was quite the looker back in college - I couldn't even go out for a few drinks with my girlfriends without some guy macking on me," Jones said from the kitchen of her one-bedroom apartment. "That used to really piss me off for some reason I can no longer even begin to fathom. Maybe my memory is starting to go." Jones then gazed longingly into her cup of tea.


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School board swaps accountability for hype

The Salem-Keizer School Board will decide Tuesday whether to adopt a new "governance model" that would replace all of its existing policies. The board has focused all of its energy this year working on the new governance structure, which shifts its principal role to public relations.

The new system aims to give the superintendent more authority for operating decisions and hold her - instead of elected board members - responsible for results. "It very clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of the board, the superintendent and the staff, as well as the community," board chairwoman Krina Lemons said.

The new policies are backed by five of the seven school board members and are likely to win approval.

Board member Hanten Day has spoken against some provisions of the policies, including one that states the results the superintendent must achieve.

Day said the goals are too vague.

"I'm sincerely concerned that years down the road, this will cause dispute," Day said. "It's a shell game. There's no accountability at all."

Board member Ron Jones has expressed doubts but has said he will go along with the majority.

New Superintendent Sandy Husk used the new governance model in her previous districts and credits it with helping to raise student achievement.

The new system is supported by the district's employee unions, the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality, Friends of Music and other advocacy groups.

"We've been doing nearly a year's worth of planning, and I look forward to the coming year where we actually get to implement this," Lemons said.


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May 6, 2007

State raps County in tax election deceit

No decision has been made on whether Lane County government violated state election law by advocating for an income tax proposal, state Elections Division officials said Friday, but the county should make its public information on the tax more balanced.

The county Web site recently included information on the income tax proposal that was unclear, unbalanced, problematic and worded to persuade and create a sense of urgency, according to a letter the state elections division sent to the county.

No county officials returned calls Friday to comment. However, the county Web site had "updated" tax information Friday afternoon that appeared to be an effort to address the state's concerns.

With ballots mailed out for the May 15 election, voters are deciding whether to adopt a countywide income tax of 1.1 percent to replace a possible loss of federal aid and cover the cost of all county services for 10 years.

Opponents with the "We Said No" political action committee have filed a complaint with the state, arguing that the county's presentation of tax information violated a state law that prohibits public employees from performing political advocacy on work time, the state said.

It will take years to investigate and decide whether the county violated the law, the state said.

But state elections officials suggested that the county immediately make five changes to some information.

The state focused on a two-page document on the county Web site titled, "Ballot Measure 20-129," which refers to the income tax proposal. The state said:

• The document was unbalanced, with tax deductions and exemptions highlighted but the tax rate and cost to taxpayers less conspicuous or absent altogether.

• The opening paragraph referred to the "uncertainty" of future federal aid, setting a tone that strays from neutrality to create a sense of urgency.

• The county referred to the instability of federal funding without explaining the problem clearly.

• The county listed services and functions "at risk" without explaining in a neutral, informative way what the risk amounts to. The county should more clearly explain how reductions would limit the ability to provide services.

• The county used the words "cut" and "cuts," both words that the state routinely advises against using in impartial information. "This word has a raw and emotional tone to it and should be replaced by a more neutral word such as 'reduction,' " the state said.

By late Friday afternoon, the county had replaced the word "cut" with "reduction" and made other changes that appeared to be in response to the state's concerns.


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Dems seek repeal of twice-backed rights measure

In 2000 and 2004 Oregon voters approved restoration of property rights that had been taken away in 1970 and had long-suppressed local tax base growth. But politicians detest property rights, and have fought to repeal the will of the people for 7 years. Now, the Legislature - lacking the votes - is preparing to beg voters to continue prosecuting the legal 'war' against themselves.

With no help from Republicans, Democratic majorities in the Legislature are headed toward referring a "Measure 37 fix" measure to the ballot this fall.

Farmers, who often side with Republicans, say this time will be different because they will speak up for the package of changes in the property-compensation law that voters approved as Measure 37 in 2004.

"The bottom line is that Measure 37 is a threat to agriculture," said Bruce Chapin, whose family farm is north of Salem, and whose father, Jack Chapin, was one of the participants in a failed legal challenge to the measure in 2006.

"When you start putting up subdivisions in the middle of farmland, they will create conflicts that will put us out of business. This is going to accommodate most of the legitimate concerns that most people perceive need to be corrected, and at the same time, it is going to block large subdivisions."

Measure 37 requires government to pay landowners when regulations result in reduced property values or to waive the regulations and allow development. About 7,000 claims have been filed, many of them within weeks of a Dec. 4, 2006, deadline set in the measure.

The Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, which took no stand on Measure 37, supports the changes that the House proposed Friday to send to voters. Bureaus in eight Willamette Valley counties opposed Measure 37, but some county bureaus elsewhere in Oregon backed it.

Marion County is Oregon's leading agricultural producer, based on the value of production, but voters still approved Measure 37 by a 62-percent majority in 2004.

Chapin said none of his neighbors has filed a claim.

"But we now have stories of our own from neighbors of Measure 37 claimants whose livelihoods are threatened by subdivisions or commercial activity next to their farms and vineyards," said Eric Stachon, who spoke for the land-use watchdog group 1000 Friends of Oregon.

"We also have a lot of people who now have buyer's remorse, that this is not what they voted for."

Measure 37, which is simply a law, was approved by a 61-percent majority statewide. An earlier measure won a reported 54 percent in 2000, but there was no official tally, and the Oregon Supreme Court overturned it in 2002 on grounds that it contained unrelated changes to the Oregon Constitution.

Two recent public opinion surveys, one released by 1000 Friends and the other by the governor's political action committee, suggest there are sizable majorities of voters willing to consider changes to the measure. The latter survey indicated that 69 percent of the 600 sampled were in favor of modifying or repealing it.

LeRoy Laack of Salem, a Measure 37 claimant, is not among them. He is seeking to build on 217 acres in the hills south of Salem, but neighboring landowners have banded to fight his proposal with Marion County.

"This is not justice," said Laack, who's 79 and just got out of the hospital. "This is government at its worst."

Dave Hunnicutt, president of the property-rights group Oregonians in Action, said sentiment like that is likely to carry over to any new measure campaign.

"I think voters will be against it and affirm property rights again," Hunnicutt said.

"People have spent thousands of dollars, and put in time and energy, to follow all the rules and jump through all the hoops that the state and counties have created to carry out Measure 37, only to have the rug yanked from under their feet again."

The changes would clear the way for some rural landowners to build three homes on their property, and up to 10 on a site -- 20 on two sites statewide -- if they can show through an appraisal they lost value as a result of land-use regulations.

There are restrictions on development on high-value farmland, classified according to soil productivity and actual production, and areas with limited groundwater.

Oregon's land-use law, which dates to 1973, puts most rural land off-limits to development and keeps it for farming and forestry.

Land use is not the only subject that has gotten a second look from the Legislature and voters in the past decade or so.

In 1997, Republican majorities referred physician-assisted suicide back to voters, who had approved it by a 51-percent majority three years earlier. Voters upheld it by a 60-percent majority.

In 1994, voters approved a ban on the use of bait and dogs to hunt bears and cougars. The 1995 Legislature failed in an attempt to refer the ban back to voters, but a similar measure qualified by initiative petition. Voters rejected it in 1996.

In 1999, the Legislature referred seven separate measures to voters after the Supreme Court struck down a 1996 measure that established rights of crime victims and expanded the authority of prosecutors. Voters passed four of them and rejected three.

Republicans argue they are the ones upholding the will of voters.

"Voters have sent a strong message to the Legislature that this land-use system does not work," said Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, a member of the Legislature's joint committee on land use and part of the five-member work group that drafted elements of the House bill. "We should deal with it in the Legislature."

In an unusual parliamentary maneuver that failed on a party-line vote, Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, moved to amend the bill in the chamber instead of sending it back to a committee, where changes are normally handled. The amendments would have widened the scope of development allowed under Measure 37.

But Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the committee co-chairman and also a member of the work group, said the bill should satisfy voters.

"We put a framework together and we think we have adequately answered the questions that have been asked by Oregonians," he said. "They will tell us whether we were right or wrong -- and we expect they will tell us we were correct."


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Lane ballots missing, County fraud alleged

By now, you should have received your May 15 election material in the mail. Does it have a ballot in it? The Lane County Elections office failed to stick ballots in an undetermined number of envelopes, elections official Annette Newingham said Friday. "Open up your (election mail)," she said. "See that you have everything you need to have."

Ballots can be mailed to voters through May 12. You also can get a replacement ballot in person until 8 p.m. on Election Day, May 15, by stopping by the elections office, 275 W. 10th Ave., Eugene. A machine that automatically inserts ballots into envelopes appears to be the culprit, Newingham said. These things will happen, Newingham added, given that more than 195,000 ballots go out for one election.


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