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June 2, 2007

Botched execution angers Oregon abolitionists

May 24, Oregon set a new first-in-the-nation record - for the length of time taken to execute a prisoner. The medical technicians worked for 90 minutes to put shunts into the veins of Christopher Newton, so long he had to be allowed to get off the execution table to have a bathroom break. During this time activists barraged the office of acting Oregon Gov. Tim Nesbitt with phone calls, threatening to alert the media.

Once the injection of lethal chemicals began, it took an additional 16 minutes for Newton to die, compared to an average of 7.5 minutes. According to the Associated Press report, his stomach contorted, his chin shook and his body had two mild convulsions. This indicates that the deadly "cocktail" was not performing as expected.

Prison officials blamed Newton's weight for the difficulty in finding veins. Newton was 6 feet tall and weighed 265 pounds.

Kathy Soltis of the Portland Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the Portland Seven Defense Committee, made the following comment: "The sentence, to which we object in absolute terms, is death, not death preceded by torture. Being stuck repeatedly with needles is not part of the deal."

A year ago, the botched execution of Joseph Clark took more than 80 minutes, much of the delay also caused by difficulties in finding a vein. Clark begged to be killed in some other way. The prison system promised to make procedural changes to prevent a recurrence.

Following Clark's traumatic execution, a group of prisoners filed a class action lawsuit challenging the lethal injection method. The courts have allowed executions of inmates who are plaintiffs in this suit.

The ACLU of Oregon called for an immediate end to all executions in light of two botched executions a year apart. Gov. Strickland stated that the May 24 debacle "is not a justification for a change of position regarding the death penalty in Oregon." He is also "personally satisfied that everything was done" to show consideration for Newton.

The Portland Seven Defense Committee has been active in the movement to bring the broad opposition to the death penalty to acting Gov. Nesbitt's attention, including the use of a postcard campaign circulated through its prisoner network.


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June 1, 2007

Oregon employers to pay their strikers

Acting Gov. Tim Nesbitt signed a measure into law yesterday giving Oregon workers and jobs a new, first-in-the-nation boost. It's called "strikers' benefits." The new law supplements traditional unemployment insurance. Under the measure, employers will pay the state's indexed minimum wage to workers whenever a collective bargaining impasse results in a strike and lost hours.

The bill passed the Senate narrowly but received bipartisan support in the House, thanks to Nesbitt's successful efforts lobbying GOP Minority Leader Wayne Scott and the state's leading business organizations.


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May 31, 2007

Transgender murder suspect sought

Portland police homicide detectives are offering a $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward to help them locate a transgender murder suspect. David Wayne French, 48, also known as "Zalia Crizta" or "Z," is accused of killing his roommate, Frank Johnson, 51, on May 4th.

Detectives say French got into a loud argument with Johnson, loud enough for neighbors to call 911. Police, responding to the disturbance call in the 5100 block of North Kerby Avenue, were trying to force their way through the front door while, they say, French, or "Zalia," jumped out a back window from three stories up in high heels. The shoe imprints were found in the ground.

They say believe French may have been injured in the fall, but they have been unable to tell whether he was treated for injuries at any Portland area hospitals or clinics. Flyers with French's pictures have been circulated in places where he might be recognized. Cause of death is listed as "blunt force trauma to the head."

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward up to $1,000 for information leading to the capture of David Wayne French, 50, a.k.a. "Zalia Crizta."


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May 30, 2007

Huge cuts looming at The O

To cut costs and try to adapt to a changing media marketplace, The San Francisco Chronicle will trim 25 percent of its newsroom staff by the end of the summer. Eighty reporters, photographers, copy editors and others, as well as 20 employees in management positions are expected to be laid off by end of the summer. "This is one of the biggest one-time hits we've heard about anywhere in the country," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in Washington.

Chronicle Publisher Frank Vega said Friday that voluntary buyouts are likely to be offered. Vega declined to say whether the paper is continuing to lose $1 million a week, as Hearst attorney Daniel Wall stated in court in November during a hearing on an antitrust suit filed by San Francisco businessman Clint Reilly.

"We're not getting into any specifics at this point," Vega said. "It's fairly common knowledge that we have had a tough financial row here for several years. As we continue to evaluate our situation, unfortunately continued belt-tightening is necessary."

Some of The Chronicle's production and other non-news departments have been reduced during the past few years, but until now the newsroom has been spared deep cuts.

Analysts predicted the reductions at The Chronicle could have repercussions for readers. While an increasing number of people get news from online aggregators such as Google News and Yahoo, those stories are most often originally reported by print journalists.

"That's not just trimming fat, that's an amputation. That's losing a limb," said Rosenstiel, who grew up in the Bay Area.

He said the effect, even for people who don't read the paper, "is that 25 percent of what goes on in the Bay Area won't be covered. It will happen in the dark. ... Our research shows that there is a lot of information that appears in a daily newspaper that doesn't get covered by TV stations or citizen journalists or bloggers when a newspaper's staff is cut."

With all the free online places to find information, analysts say, it's a great time to be a consumer of news, but a lousy time to be selling a print publication.

While The Chronicle isn't subject to the same quarterly profit pressures from Wall Street investors as publicly held publications -- the paper is owned by the privately held Hearst Corp. -- it is on the precipice of changes in the news business, largely because of its location.

"We're here in the birthplace of (the free online classified site) Craigslist and in the cradle of Silicon Valley, where everyone is wired," said Peter Appert, a media analyst at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco.

Historically, Rosenstiel said, the paper has been hurt by its inability to penetrate its marketplace as much as other major metropolitan papers.

Until Hearst bought The Chronicle in 2000, readers may have been turned off by the paper, Rosenstiel said. "It was underserving its marketplace. That's changed, and it's a lot better now," he said. "But Hearst bought it in 2000, which was a very difficult time to buy a newspaper."

Vega said the layoffs have nothing to do with the cost of Hearst's purchase of The Chronicle seven years ago, nor has the paper felt any impact from the recent purchase of the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times by MediaNews, which gave the Denver corporation control of most other large daily papers in the Bay Area.

Instead, Vega said, the layoffs reflect that revenue from advertising and other sources isn't keeping pace with the cost of running the paper.

But most newspapers are still making money, analysts said, albeit not the average 20 percent profit margins they once enjoyed. In most major cities, Appert said, newspapers are still operating as a monopoly business at a time of myriad competition.

While times may be tough now, "not many papers are losing money," said John Murray, vice president of circulation marketing for the Newspaper Association of America.

Despite possessing one of the nation's most widely read newspaper Web sites -- SFGate.com -- The Chronicle, like its print brethren, hasn't been able to monetize online eyeballs.

"Although online usage is gaining, no one has monetized it on a newspaper basis to the point that equalizes what is happening on the print side," Vega said.

The Chronicle does not charge people to visit SFGate, nor does it ask them to register. Vega declined to say whether that would change.

In a recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman Jr. said newspapers create $500 to $900 in revenue per subscriber annually, according to the Inland Cost and Revenue Study. But, Hussman wrote, a newspaper's Web site "typically generates $5 to $10 per unique visitor."

"I actually think it is very progressive and astute of The Chronicle not to charge people or make them register," said Barry Parr, a media analyst with Jupiter Research. "It can't. There's too much competition out there."


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May 29, 2007

Local property tax cap lifted

The deafening sound last week was champagne corks popping as the state's powerful government unions accomplished one of their main goals of the 2006 legislative session - repealing Oregon's draconian property tax limit that had starved efforts to improve public health, safety, and education during 8 years of GOP neglect.

Last week, acting Gov. Tim Nesbitt signed into a law a measure passed by majority Democrats to end the stingy practice of undertaxing local property owners. Now, local governments and the state will be able to pay for essential services like a gold-plated retirement plan - PERS - and a host of non-pension retirement benefits for government employees throughout Oregon.

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May 28, 2007

State revives publicly-funded castrations

Termed 'barbarian' by modern-day Oregon doctors and therapists, the castration of sex offenders is about to receive $150,000 of taxpayer support, thanks to the Oregon AFL-CIO. Allocation for the long-dormant program is tucked into the Corrections Department 2007-09 budget, which is nearing approval by the Legislature.

As planned, the state would pay for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of high-risk offenders to receive twice-monthly shots of Depo-Provera, a testosterone-reducing drug.

Oregon has had a chemical castration law since 1999. But use of the drug has sputtered because of lack of funding and opposition from doctors and counselors.

Sen. Kurt Schr-ader, D-Canby, the chief sponsor of the 1999 bill, now is leading the push to sink state money into chemical treatment of sex offenders.

"Since it has been pretty darn successful, we want to see if there's a larger population we can use it on to keep people safe when these guys get out of jail," he said. "It's just a really good program that we should embrace in a much more vigorous way."

Schrader said he wants Depo-Provera injections to be required as a condition of post-prison supervision for about 20 offenders per month in a three-county pilot program. Currently, it's mandated for about five offenders per month, he said.

Drug treatment would be limited to a fraction of the 3,000 sex offenders being supervised by parole and probation officers in Oregon communities, corrections officials said. No prison inmates would receive the drug.

Sex offenders would be medically screened and evaluated prior to their prison release dates to determine whether they were suited for drug therapy, said Scott Taylor, community corrections director for the state Department of Corrections.

Top candidates for Depo-Provera are high-risk offenders "who show the least ability to manage their deviant impulses," Taylor said.

"These are the people who we have the greatest fear of committing another crime," he said. "And that's what we're trying to stop."

The Corrections Department pegs the monthly tab at about $300 for each offender taking Depo-Provera.

"They're supposed to pay for it themselves," Schrader said. "If they can't, the state picks it up."

Drug scantly used now

As it stands, Depo-Provera injections are required as a condition of post-prison supervision for 105 sex offenders, state statistics show.

But relatively few offenders now are taking the drug. "At any given time, we have about 20 people on it," Taylor said.

Taylor said the prison agency has had a hard time finding doctors willing to prescribe and administer Depo-Provera.

"That's been one of the biggest issues -- a whole group of physicians who do not want to be the ones giving these injections," he said.

The state's existing chemical castration program also encountered strong opposition from sex-offender therapists, who provide group counseling and one-on-one sessions for parolees and probationers.

"Most treatment providers? Yeah, I think that's probably fair to say," Taylor said, when asked about the extent of the therapeutic profession's opposition to drug therapy.

Also playing a part in the scant use of Depo-Provera in this state has been the cost of treatment. Many cash-strapped offenders lack the means to pay for required shots.

Schrader anticipates that the number of offenders taking the drug will increase with state-subsidized treatment. The veterinarian/lawmaker doesn't fret about opposition.

"You know, people don't like this," he said. "It doesn't fit in with people's in-vogue idea of expensive interdiction and mental health treatment. It's pretty simple from this senator's standpoint: We can't afford to do a lot of fancy stuff with these people. I'm willing to spend a little to keep the citizens of this state safe when these turkeys get out of jail."

Creating sexual apathy

Depo-Provera, originally developed as a contraceptive for women, creates sexual apathy in men by reducing the level of testosterone, the male hormone that triggers sperm production, sexual appetite and fantasies, supporters say.

European countries have used the drug since the 1960s to treat sex offenders. The drug has been sparingly used in the United States to treat sex offenders. Oregon is one of fewer than 10 states reported to have chemical castration laws.

Some sex-offender therapists say Depo-Provera doesn't address the underlying criminal thinking and emotional problems that can lead to offending. Others worry about medical and ethical concerns. The drug has been linked to varied side effects, including weight gain, breast development, fatigue, leg cramps, headaches, nausea and, in rare cases, blood clots.

Taylor stressed that Oregon offenders would undergo medical exams prior to being required to take the drug. "It's contra-indicated for some folks, so we want to know that before the (parole) board orders it," he said.

All offenders taking the drug would be expected to attend counseling sessions led by sex-offender therapists, Taylor said.

"What treatment providers are concerned about is that the public will think this is a quick fix, a silver bullet type of thing," he said. "That isn't how it works. You can't just take these shots for the rest of your life. It has to be tied with an overall treatment regimen that moves you to a place where we can take you off it and you're able to manage yourself."

Community corrections programs in three counties would be enlisted to participate in the expanded Depo-Provera program, Taylor said.

Multnomah County, the state's largest, would be one participant, he said. The two other counties haven't been determined.

If legislative approval is granted, the program would get under way within about three months, Taylor said.

Despite past opposition, Taylor is confident that treatment professionals will get behind the new program.

"We know we have some counties where we have both physicians and treatment providers that are willing to work with us," he said.

Study shows benefits

Depo-Provera did not surface as an issue during legislative hearings on the Corrections Department's proposed two-year budget, prison officials said. The agency's budget has cleared the Legislature's budget-writing panel.

Schrader said he knows the program won't be popular with many sex-offender treatment providers.

"Oh, they're all going to hate it because, you know, it's just not academically appropriate, it's brutal, and all this stuff," he said. "I listened to that crap for years."

While skeptics question the drug's effectiveness, Schrader said Oregon data strongly suggests that it makes sex offenders less likely to commit new offenses.

As evidence, he cited a 2005 report by three Oregon doctors, two affiliated with Oregon Health & Sciences University, another with the state Department of Corrections.

The researchers analyzed crime and parole violation data for a group of sex offenders who took Depo-Provera from 2000-04 and compared it with data for two other groups: sex offenders who did not take the drug, even though it had been recommended for them; and offenders for whom the drug was deemed not necessary.

"Significant differences emerged among these three groups, with men actually receiving Depo-Provera committing no new sexual offenses and also committing fewer overall offenses and (parole) violations compared to the other two groups," the researchers reported.

Their report concluded that Depo-Provera "can be a valuable, if time-limited, addition to a cognitive and behavioral treatment program."

Schrader said the report clearly demonstrated why more offenders should be required to take Depo-Provera.


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May 27, 2007

AFSCME in statewide school board takeover

Whew! What a close race that was! Of course I am referring to the at-large nail-biter race that was contested between three candidates vying to become a Director on the Multnomah Education Service Board (MESD). Then again I, and my other opponent in the three-some race, attorney Rick Okamura, did not enjoy the block AFSCME union vote as did our common opponent, Zak Johnson, a self-proclaimed political and union activist. AFSCME refers to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. More on AFSCME later.

No doubt, I know my election musings will appear as sour grapes: veni, vidi, omitto; candidate loses. And, yes, many were called; only one was chosen. Yet my mind keeps wandering toward dictionaries: for example, the definition of "absurdity". According to Webster, absurdity is "The quality of being inconsistent with obvious truth or sound judgment."

So what does the MESD election have to do with AFSCME and "absurdity"? Well, in the beginning, unions were organized nationwide to protest some fairly horrific working conditions; especially for children. No, I am not referring to Nike in Southeast Asia, but to the efforts of pre-cursors to AFSCME in working diligently to ensure working wages for families. In Oregon, as well in the late 1800s, labor unions fought to protect the safety and wages for loggers and mill workers.

Fast forward to 2007. The MESD AFSCME employees are apparently passionately upset with the MESD seven-member board of directors. It is a personnel issue: wages and benefits. In fact, the rumor for months has been, "Elect an AFSCME activist to the Board and, with luck, we can skip past our contract that expires on July 1 and maybe strike in the fall when school starts!"

A perusal of the AFSCME website declares that America is "... at a crossroads" and there is " ... a battle for the country's soul." AFSCME describes the enemies among us as "... privatizers, deregulators, tax-cutters, people who want to turn back the clock on racial justice and women's equality and selfish corporation CEOs." Although three women Directors, and one African American Director, currently serve on the Board, apparently the MESD Board is among the entities that would "... undermine and malign every aspect of public service."

It is no absurdity that all Rick and I wanted to do was to help and protect the rights of the K-12 kids who energize the eight school districts that comprise Multnomah County’s MESD. We would have advocated for the best conditions that would allow teachers to teach in a safe environment. We both have unique skills to do that. We also consistently volunteer in many public endeavors.

In helping themselves now by placing a union advocate on the board (I actually referred to Zak as a "Union Mouthpiece" in my Willamette Week interview), I suppose I can accept that maybe AFSCME was not so much voting against Rick and me as "for Zak and against the MESD Board." Still, Oliver Goldsmith wrote that "Every absurdity has a champion to defend it."

Even though the MESD election has lubricated a very slippery slope by placing a union activist on the board, AFSCME can ignore that conflict of public interest and focus toward a new goal: spend the next two years soliciting three MESD candidates to oppose the incumbents in the 2009 election! That way, by using their group "clout" they will discourage opponents from filing, and can ensure a union majority on the MESD Board! As Albert Camus observed, "The Absurd is the essential concept and the first truth."

Dr. John Kilian, a Gresham resident and Troutdale dentist, lost his bid to serve on the Multnomah County Education Service District board.

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