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Updated: 2 hours 54 min ago

MultCo GOP is more than happy to show you how stupid they think you are

January 14, 2014 - 4:49pm

(With apologies to Ms Samuelson, that should have read Ms. Gurney. Change reflected in the post.--CA)

As if the Multnomah County GOP hadn't already demonstrated just how far out of touch they are with the vast majority of residents, they decide to double down on the idea by once again rafflling a gun to raise money. This time they're pretending it's a way to honor Abe Lincoln and MLK. Or at least they get to say their names when they flog their fundraiser.

Cornelius Swart, KGW.com:

"We are allowed to be armed,” said Anne Marie Gurney of the Multnomah County GOP. “And however we want to use that [right], whether we want to hunt, whether we want to protect ourselves, or whatever, to celebrate our rights."

Some Portland residents said it’s not the right way to honor Lincoln and King.

"Because they died from an assassin's bullet,” Kathy Samuelson said. “It doesn't seem appropriate that that would be the kind of gift or prize to be raffling off."

Bill Wood thought maybe another prize could have been selected.

“It probably wasn’t a good choice to raffle a gun off,” said Wood. “They could think of something else I’m sure.”

The first 500 tickets sold out quickly. If the party sells another 500, another prize AR-15 will be awarded.

Ms Gurney Samuelson clearly thinks we're all stupid enough to buy this tripe. This is about being provocative and getting lots of PR so that people will give them money. Nothing more. I actually went back and forth with Kari on whether or not to even cover this story because of that.

Therefore, may I humbly suggest that you throw some dollars RIGHT NOW toward the local progressive cause or candidate of your choice. Or you could help us keep this blog running by throwing some money our way. Let's turn this evil BS into something good.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Don't let the NRA have this one

January 14, 2014 - 10:08am

Despite overwhelming support from Oregonians, the 2013 Legislative Session failed to yield any common sense gun safety laws. But the legislature will have another chance next month to pass universal background checks for our state: let’s make it happen together.

Sign the petition NOW to demand that the Oregon Legislature pass universal background checks for gun sales.

The NRA and the Oregon Firearms Federation (a self-labeled "no compromise gun lobby") has worked very hard to make sure that they're controlling the conversation in Salem and elsewhere. Every time we have a gun-related post at BlueOregon, pro-gun forces swarm the comments. If they're doing that at a progressive blog, imagine how well-organized and vocal they are at the Capitol.

That’s where you come in: sign the petition and tell our legislators that if they pass universal background checks, you’ll have their backs.

This Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold their first work session on closing the background check loophole. Our legislators need to see that thousands of us around the state demand that they take action to pass this common sense gun safety legislation for our state. Right now, any person, even a person with a history of violent behavior, can walk into a garage sale in Oregon and buy a gun without a background check. That’s just nonsense.

Sign the petition today and demand that the legislature pass universal background checks for private gun sales in Oregon.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Bottom line for our schools? What we need here is more money.

January 13, 2014 - 11:52pm

I've mostly stayed out of the conversations regarding the PPS contract negotiations. As a brand-new PPS parent (yay for kindergarten!), I'm mostly just trying to get acclimated to the whole school thing. I've also got friends in the administration, at the teachers' union, and in the teaching ranks. I haven't felt plugged in enough to the details to be able to weigh in smartly.

That said, a comment by David Porter struck me as particularly insightful:

Everyone would like smaller class sizes. Hopefully, increased state funding will permit hiring more teachers. But, if compensation costs for teachers increases more than additional funding, there is no way for PPS to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. Putting class size restrictions or total student workload numbers in the contract makes no sense to me. Asking for more compensation and restrictions on class sizes seems a contradiction to me. What is PPS to do if it does not have the funds to reduce class sizes.

Without passing judgment on the demands by the teachers or the administration, David's basically right. Portland Public Schools doesn't control the overall size of its budget. It can't raise taxes. (Even if voters approve new bonds and levies, Measure 5 and Measure 50 powerfully restrict the effectiveness of new revenue measures.)

And sure, there's surely some nibbling around the edges to be done with cost-effectiveness, reducing overhead, trimming administrative costs.

But it seems to me that if your biggest expense is teachers, and you have a fixed budget, then David is right: You can either hire more teachers, or you can boost salaries for your existing teachers.

It's fifth grade math, after all. Total compensation for teachers equals number of teachers times average pay (and benefits) for teachers. If the total compensation budget is fixed, then if average compensation goes up, the number of teachers goes down. If the number of teachers goes up, then the average compensation goes down.

I wish Portland School District voters could vote to raise taxes on themselves to do both things -- boost pay AND hire more teachers (and thus reduce class sizes.) I'd love to see our teachers be the best paid (and most respected and best supported) teachers in the country, and with class sizes in the teens. And all the art, music, science, PE, libraries, counselors, TAG programs, special-ed programs, immersion and focus programs, and more that our kids deserve and need.

No matter what happens with the negotiations, I hope that administrators, teachers, parents, and students all come together and campaign to fix our broken tax system. Money can't fix all of our problems, but it sure can fix a lot of them.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Spanning the State: Backhanded Compliments Edition

January 13, 2014 - 9:30am

Nina Strochlic is a displaced Oregonian who finds herself at odds with the multitude of glowing reports about our state from outside our boundaries. She writes in The Daily Beast that she's a bit baffled by all the love showered our way:

As a 17-year veteran of the Beaver State—a stint that included four years at the University of Oregon—I wasted no time after graduation in leapfrogging 2,909 miles across the country for the overcrowded excitement of New York City. While I haven’t looked back, it seems the rest of the country is eyeing Oregon’s low costs and laid-back attitude as the ultimate lifestyle: Even in the uber-cool depths of Brooklyn, I get impressed nods when I cite my home state. But I’ve found myself lacking the exuberant pride for Oregon that seems to have captured the nation.

Strochlic then goes on to lodge her chief complaints: the weather here is grey and the towns here are all small.

Three valid points by Strochlic: If you like copious amounts of sunshine and expensive urban retail shopping, Oregon is probably not your scene. Also, we're not an especially ethnically diverse state.

But even with Strochlic's home state reticence, she can't help herself from creating a laundry list of lovely things about her home state: affordable living, tons of great outdoor activities, amazing food, incredible beer, awesome people, a tremendous Shakespeare Festival. The list goes on and on.

So with that backhanded compliment firmly in place, let's Span the State!

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::gong!::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The Department of Land Conservation and Development has put off deciding whether a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal near the mouth of the Columbia River in Warrenton is consistent with its coastal management plan. In a decision that frustrates both sides of the divisive issue, officials with the department say that they don't have enough information to make the call. Also, the piece I've linked to here is a pretty great primer on the project. Check it out.

Willamette Week has nicknamed the proposed I-5 bridge replacement project over the Columbia River the "zombie bridge", because even though the proposal has been declared dead numerous times, it still lives. But Washington has essentially bailed out of the project and their state senate appears in no mood to revisit the idea. This editorial at the Eugene Register Guard lays it out: the Oregon Legislature should not ask Oregon taxpayers go it alone on this massive project, especially since we only receive half of the transportation benefit (if that).

The president of the Beaverton Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) was recently awarded the 2013 Human Rights Award. Allen Oyler was given the award for his work to coordinate a church-sponsored event which invited gay church members to openly discuss their experiences church experience. The award is given annually for outstanding contributions to human rights in the Beaverton community.

At least at the local level in Newberg, the state's minimum wage increase has little negative impact for employers, while providing a positive impact for employees.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

School Board must not impose a contract

January 13, 2014 - 4:29am

As noted in another post, Portland students, parents, and community members will be rallying Monday evening, January 13 at 5:30 at the School Board meeting, to demand that the Board keep negotiating with the Portland Association of Teachers, and not force a teacher strike by imposing a bad contract. If you don't want a strike, come out and join us.

The rally follows student actions on Friday, January 10. Wilson High School students staged a lunchtime demonstration on Capitol Highway in Hillsdale near the school. Jefferson High School students walked out in large numbers and took over N. Killingsworth Avenue in an action combined support for teachers with demands for an end to impossible classroom conditions and for respect for Jefferson from the PPS Board and administration and Portland media. Before break in December, parents had rallied at PPS headquarters on a "late start" morning, and students had walked out at Roosevelt, Cleveland and Wilson high schools to show support for teachers.

Early last week, a 21 hour mediation session, beginning Monday and lasting until the wee hours of Tuesday, was widely reported in the media to involve substantial movement, offering the prospect of a successful resolution. The Oregonian published a story including an optimistic statement by PAT President Gwen Sullivan. The media hopefulness now appears to be an illusory projection of Portland Public Schools' public relations.

The long session had ended when PPS broke off the talks. While that might be understandable, since 21 hours is a long time, PPS also refused requests from both PAT and the mediator to set a date to resume talks. That proved to be a bad sign. PPS continued to refuse to schedule new negotiations until Sunday; another round of mediation reportedly has now been setfor Monday morning. Why the delay? PPS claims not to want a strike. The way to avoid a strike is to keep talking.

After Tuesday, it became clear that PPS had switched to a strategy of trying to bargain through the media rather than directly with PAT. By Thursday, the union was calling District tactics a bait and switch, with good reason.

Up until Monday, negotiations had inched along with fully crafted tentative agreements on specific issues. What changed Monday was PAT offering "supposals" -- contingent, "what if?" concepts that also are transactional: If we offered this, what would you offer? The concepts were not detailed. They were not tentative agreements, not even definite offers, just hypotheticals. They were not settled, and they could not be reasonably isolated from one another. PAT had expected them to be internal to the negotiations.

Instead, the District first revealed its own side of what had been offered in concept. It somewhat laughably called its main ideas "concessions." What were they? To leave current contract language on workload and on health insurance benefits in place.

The context for understanding what that proposal really means is the overall PPS position since last Spring. Down to its "final offer" at the point it declared an impasse in November, that position has been to entirely remove all existing language on several dozens of topics, amounting to close to half the current contract. The vacuum would leave administrators with wide, arbitrary power in those areas (see other post). Meanwhile PPS asked for givebacks in many areas where they were required to negotiate.

Rather than give and take, their approach to negotiation has been take and take. The minor shift in the new position, to take a little less and take, really isn't a concession. It's just slightly less outrageous arrogant bargaining.

Then PPS p.r. people went further and started not just stating the District's own offers, but mischaracterizing PAT's position and what PPS claimed had been or might be offered to them in return for their so-called concessions, in what PAT came to see as an effort to "box them in" in the media. In particular, the District made claims that linked its proposals to PAT ideas in a way PAT had never agreed to, and made them sound like more definite offers than they ever were. And, rather than meet to keep discussing, PPS sent a written document to PAT, reflecting what the District was saying in the press, rather than what had been happening in negotiations.

Meanwhile the central administration sent an email to school principals with talking points to use in the event that the Board imposed a contract. The email in question was based on the idea that the District might impose its November "final offer," an act of questionable legal status. The District subsequently withdrew the email. It may have been a ploy to threaten PAT without actually meeting them.

In light of the underhand approach taken by PPS last week, the renewed optimism by The Oregonian that the District agreeing to schedule another mediation Monday morning is a sign of progress must be treated with skepticism. Public pressure on the Board to keep talking will be needed until a settlement is reached. What would be even better would be if they would withdraw their declaration of impasse to move back the timeline of a possible strike.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Portland School Board: Don't impose a contract! Stay at the table! Don't force a strike!

January 12, 2014 - 11:42pm

There is a substantial possibility, and good reason to worry, that the Portland Public School Board may vote to impose a contract on the teachers of the Portland Association of Teachers as early as Monday night, January 13. Since a long bargaining session last Monday into Tuesday, initially reported to involve substantial progress, the District has refused to set a new date to resume negotiations, and the Board scheduled executive sessions Wednesday January 7th and Sunday January 12th. This looks ominously like preparation to impose on Monday, a decision which must take place in a public meeting under Oregon law.

If the Board does impose a contract, it likely will force the teachers to strike. Students of the Portland Student Union, and parents and community members organizing through the Portland Teachers Solidarity Campaign, of which I am a member, are mobilizing at the Board meeting to demand to the Board continue negotiating. Please consider joining us to tell the Board to stay at the table and settle a fair contract.

As a PPS parent, the prospect of a strike dismays me. But if it comes to that, I will back the teachers completely. The District has adopted an unreasonable bargaining posture since last Spring, and any contract they are likely to impose at present would be unfair to teachers, and be based on giving the District excessive managerial discretion over classrooms, discretion with which they cannot be trusted. As a parent, I want my child's learning conditions protected by a strong contract that protects the teachers' working conditions.

On January 5 I sent the letter below to each of the Board members. It analyzes the course of negotiations up to that point. Events since last Monday are addressed in a separate post.

Email addresses for the Board are provided after the letter. Phone messages would be good too.

Letter, January 5, 2014

Dear Ms. Adkins, Mr. Belisle, Mr. Buel, Mr. Davidson, Ms. Knowles, Mr. Koehler, Mr. Morton and Ms. Regan:

As the father of a [PPS high school student], for most of 2013 I have been getting progressively angrier at the School Board and at top PPS management. From the Spring, it became clearer and clearer that you were approaching the negotiations with the Portland Association of Teachers not with a view to cooperatively solving problems in the schools and creating strong learning conditions, nor with a view to settling a contract quickly so that education would not be disrupted. Rather you aggressively pressed a "management rights" agenda.

At every step along the way, you refused to bargain seriously, keeping people with actual decision power away from the negotiations, and then pressing each step toward confrontation as soon as the opportunity emerged. You spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside consultants and propaganda efforts directed at me and my fellow parents as well as the wider public. It mystified and disappointed me. I had thought better in the past of some of you who now support this approach.

The management rights agenda appears, like some other aspects of Board policy in recent years, to derive from a desire to run Portland Public Schools to "like a business," an idea promoted within the fake reform movement that has been fashionable for a decade or more. The schools as business concept involves management techniques that are destroying our economy even in the private sector. They simply are not appropriate to public schools.

Schools are not businesses. Students who fail cannot be treated as unsuccessful employees and be let go, either by their teachers, or by the school system. Nor are students products, goods whose quality can be used to evaluate the work of teachers. Teachers do not produce students, nor student achievements; rather teachers and students collaborate to educe effort and induce learning. Individual schools are not competing enterprises in a market. Policy and practice should not "reward success" and "punish failure" in market terms, up to an including closure, but should direct resources intelligently to solve weaknesses. Speed-up and workload increases for teachers do not produce "greater productivity," but less, and a degraded quality of learning experience. Contracting out teaching to charter schools and contracted alternative schools has proven an abject failure in improving student progress and graduation rates, at great expense.

So too with the anti-union management rights agenda. The District's refusal in 2013 to bargain non-economic issues that it has negotiated in the past, for good reasons, is simply a power play. It is driven by a wrong-headed corporate ideology that has no place in public schooling.

For me as a parent, your willingness to engage in such a power play shows that in fact PPS' current management cannot be trusted with the arbitrary power it seeks. We as parents need the PPS-PAT contract to protect the conditions of classroom teaching and preparation, exactly because you want the freedom to further degrade those conditions. We want it to provide adequately for teachers' incomes and benefits in a way that respects the work they do with and for our children and teens and supports teacher morale.

Class size or teacher workload is both a key issue in itself and a proxy for a range of issues. A class size of 30 is already too big, whether in kindergarten, 4th grade, 7th grade or high school. Reasonable class sizes should not exceed the low 20s; even that is far from ideal. Allowing sizes to go up to 30 in recent years has already been a huge concession that threatens the quality of education. I wish the PAT had not agreed to it in the past.

I am outraged that you want the freedom to take matters even further from where they should be. You should not have the freedom to raise overlarge sizes still further. You should face costs that would make the rational decision be to add another teacher and split overlarge classes instead. If there are budget problems, reducing the quality of the classroom learning conditions still further should not be a management option to solve them.

Class size also represents the need to negotiate on other conditions that allow teachers to teach effectively and students to learn effectively in the classroom. And it represents schools as organic social entities, with complex internal relationships. Schools work best on a basis of cooperation and respect, with mutual recognition of one another as persons and human beings among teachers, students, parents and administrators.

Only in the last days before Winter Break did there finally come a departure from the aggressive, anti-cooperative, counterproductive approach the Board and Administration had previously taken to negotiations. PPS started sending people with authority into the room, and returned to direct bargaining within the mediation context. There was some movement. That's good. It was also good that PPS did not impose its "final offer" on December 27th, as I feared you might given the record until then.

But I do not trust you.

What I would like to see the Board do, that would restore some trust, is to direct the administrators to negotiate fully and fairly with the union, and to attend negotiations to be sure they do so. The aim should be to reach a fair contract that limits class sizes, that reduces the wrong-headed fashionable emphasis on standardized tests, and does not use them inappropriately for teacher evaluation, a purpose for which they are not designed and do not work, and that protects teacher prep time used for curricular adaptation as classes devlop, and for communicating with parents. A fair contract would also recognize the economic sacrifices teachers have made in recent years, and would not cut their real salaries, through low nominal salary increases combined with health care and other benefit cuts that must be made up out of the nominal salaries, as the current district "final offer" does.

More broadly, what I want is that you as a Board should change your attitude. In the negotiations, I would like PPS to move away from the confrontational attitude that has characterized your approach up until recent weeks, toward an attitude of cooperation. I would also like to see an embrace of cooperation embodied in other actions away from the contract.

A good start would be public acknowledgment that schools are not businesses, that privatization is bad for schools, and that most of the fashionable so-called reform ideas of the past decade have been failures and mistakes. I would like to see strong signals that the School Board intends to shift away from curricular abstractions and public relations carried out by professionals, who may not technically be "administrators," but certainly are not classroom teachers, toward a focus on what happens in the school buildings and classrooms.

Fake approaches to "reform" that blame and scapegoat teachers for problems, while shifting financial resources to for-profit consultants, test businesses and the like, must go. Instead we need to promote cooperative mutual accountability that engages students, teachers, parents, and administrators at the classroom and building level, with the aim of higher administration being to support cooperative collaboration. If resources are short, we need to focus on cooperatively advocating to return them to necessary levels, locally and with the state.

So I will be watching closely. If the Board and administration move in that cooperative direction, and settle a fair contract, with strong protections for teaching and learning conditions on which I as a parent can rely, I will find ways to collaborate in the new direction.

But if you instead impose your grossly inadequate final offer on the teachers and force I strike, I will never forgive you, nor trust you again. I will place the blame for a strike squarely on you, and I will back the teachers to the hilt.

Thank you for listening to these concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Christopher C. Lowe

Board emails: Ruth Adkins radkins@pps.net, Pam Knowles pknowles@pps.net, Matt Morton mmorton@pps.net, Tom Koehler tkoehler@pps.net, Bobbie Regan bobbie.regan@pps.net, Greg Belisle gbelisle@pps.net, Steve Buel sbuel@pps.net, Adam Davidson adavidson@pps.net

Disclaimer: This post and letter express my personal views, not those of any group, though I think many people I work with agree with them. The Portland Teachers Solidarity Campaign, to which I belong, is an independent group created parents and community members. We are not under the control of the Portland Association of Teachers, nor do PTSC or any of its members speak for PAT.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Would liquor privatization hurt our burgeoning micro-distillery business?

January 12, 2014 - 5:07pm

I've been thinking a lot about the proposed ballot measures to get the state out of the liquor business.

On the one hand, the idea that the state should be involved in the booze business seems a bit silly. I've long thought that the OLCC has rules that are both heavy-handed and absurd.

On the other, what really matters to me is protecting Oregon's strong wine and beer industries and burgeoning micro-distillery industry. After all, converting fruit and grain into wine, beer, and liquor is a way to protect our rural job base in agriculture from foreign competition. Not only that, but Oregon is known worldwide for our high-quality artisan wine, beer and liquor -- which lifts every export-minded business in Oregon.

So, this item buried deep in a Salem Statesman Journal story caught my eye:

One major concern is the fate of Oregon’s 46 distilleries that produce 12 percent of liquor revenues in the state.

Hood River Distillers lost $4.5 million in revenue — or about 50 percent of sales — after Washington voters approved privatizing liquor sales. Company President Ron Dodge told the Statesman Journal in September that privatizing Oregon’s liquor system could put him out of business.

Why did this happen? With state-run liquor sales, shelf space is protected. But when sales go to grocery stores, they move shelf space to the biggest sellers - which are typically owned by multinational corporations. Local product gets literally bumped off the shelf in favor of the big brands. (And let's be clear: HRD is one of the bigger local producers. They're way better off than the little one- and two-person startup operations.)

Not only that, but I know that local wineries worry that the grocery stores won't expand shelf space for alcohol, they'll just reduce their wine inventories and fill that space with liquor -- hurting our local wine industry too.

What do you think? Is that a realistic worry? Does it matter to you?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

How a Washington state Pepsi bottling company could hobble Presidential "recess appointment" ability

January 10, 2014 - 1:49pm

Fresh from the Reuters wire service this morning is a report regarding the outsized-influence played by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the National Labor Review Board v. Noel Canning case scheduled for oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court this coming Monday.

The Chamber of Commerce has provided judicial support in previous cases that it it determined would have on its business interests, typically through the provision of friend-of-the-court briefs and similar sideline support. Usually, the Chamber has found quite a degree of success in the current corporatist-friendly Roberts Court, winning 14 of the 18 cases it was involved in during the Supreme Court's 2012-13 schedule. The Noel Canning case, however, marks the first time that the U.S. Chamber has interceded directly on behalf of one of its clients in front of the country's most powerful bench. And the reason for the Chamber's involvement is due to the opportunity to "stick it" to President Obama and limit the President's opportunity to use his executive power to make "recess appointments."

Let's back up a little here. The roots of this case can be traced back to 2010, in which the Yakima-based Noel Canning company was accused by the Local 760 to have reneged on a verbal agreement regarding an upcoming collective bargaining contract. The National Labor Board of Review ruled in favor of the workers, a decision that was quickly appealed by the Chamber of Commerce who argued that the President had overstepped his constitutional authority when he appointed three of the five-member NLRB panel in January 2012 when the Senate was out of session.

In January 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia determined that President Obama's appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional, a decision that nullified the NLRB's previous decision in favor of Noel Canning workers. Although the current make-up of the D.C. Circuit Court is split ideologically, at the time of its ruling, the court was very heavily tilted towards Republicans, as most of its judges were either Reagan or Bush 41 appointments. (Indeed, it was due to President Obama's struggle to fill three vacancies on what is the most important of the appellate courts that led to the Senate's move towards minor filibuster reform, resulting with the appointment of judges to fill three seats that had sat empty for years.) The D.C. Appeals Court's decision resulted in "dozens of employers"--as of April 2013--filing similar petitions to appeal NRLB decisions they deemed similarly unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court agreed to listen to the arguments of Noel Canning to determine the constitutionality of the President's "Recess appointments." While a President is provided with the constitutional authority to make executive appointments, this authority is dependent upon the Senate's "advice and consent." The constitution is also explicit in addressing "recess appointments" via the Recess Appointment Clause, which allows a President to fill vacancies that occur during a "Recess of the Senate" and to expire at the end of the current Senate session. As the current NLRB has five appointed members confirmed by the Senate in 2013, the question to be determined is whether those members appointed by President Obama in 2012 indeed represent an act by the President that House Speaker John Boehner referred to as both "unconstitutional and a brazen attempt to undercut the Senate."

What is perhaps overlooked in the details of this case is that from the years 2008-2013 the NLRB lacked a functional five-member decision-making board, all but making its operations completely dysfunctional. The hamstringing of the Board is in line with longtime pro-business efforts to sabotage a government agency that represents labor interests. It is of little surprise that a friend-of-a-court brief issued to the D.C. Court of Appeals was signed on behalf of Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell and 41 Senators that had blocked NLRB appointments for the previous four years.

Of course, the involvement of the considerable legal firepower of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn't hurt Noel Canning's challenge to the NLRB. The company--a PepsiCo bottling distributor in the Yakima and Tri-Cities area of Washington state--seems to have benefited from merely being in the right place at the right time. With the uproar from the pro-business crowd in response to Obama's 2012 NLRB board, it wasn't going to take very long for the Chamber to adopt one of the appeals as its pet project, providing the resources to hopefully mount a successful challenge and limit President's Obama ability to use "recess appointments" to make the necessary executive appointments in the face of stubborn minority opposition.

It appears that if the Chamber of Commerce were to have its way, the President wouldn't be able to make executive appointments, but instead that constitutionally-granted power would be usurped by the Senate. And not even the Senate, mind you, but it would be the minority party in the Senate that would provide the final word on who should fill open spots in the federal governments regulatory agencies. (With the Chamber's approval, of course.)

It is, after all, the Chamber of Commerce's world. They bought and own it. We just live in it.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse announces for WaCo Commission

January 9, 2014 - 9:16am

For many years now, there's been battle for the soul of Washington County. Widely seen as the economic engine for the rest of the state, a handful of powerful home and commercial developers have often been handed the keys to the county, essentially able to build as they please. Current District 4 Commissioner Bob Terry has been more than happy to allow this continue. Along with County Chair Andy Duyck and (to a lesser extent) Commissioner Roy Rogers, the Tea Party conservative Terry has allowed developer interests to all but run the county, often giving the finger to small business owners and Oregon's land use system in the process.

Democrat and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse stepped up today to challenge Terry. Furse, a resident of Helvetia, filed for the District 4 position this morning. When current events lead to a perfectly happy former Congresswoman to come out of elected service retirement, you know people must be pretty fed up.

From her announcement:

When I was in Congress, I fought to build a strong Washington County that was an economic engine done the right way — light rail, strong communities and preservation of our farms and open spaces,” Furse said. “Over the last 15 years, I’ve watched progress erode as tax giveaways are handed to land developers, backroom deals are made and traffic-clogging roads stem from unplanned communities.

“I believe I can bring a much-needed change to county leadership and prioritize what matters: police and fire, education and preservation of Washington County’s farm and forest economy in a manner that complements our industrial economy.”

In other words, Furse seeks to balance industrial interests with the other economic drivers of the county such as agriculture, timber and tourism.

Certainly, someone like Bob Terry won’t go easily - he and Andy Duyck have been very good to their friends, and those folks will likely do whatever they can to sink her and keep Terry in his seat. The developer that received a $2.3 million secret loan from Terry and Duyck just gave the conservative Duyck $37,6000 in one campaign contribution. For reference, Duyck only raised $80,000 TOTAL when running for Chair in 2010.

So how will Furse win? One of the first things a campaign like Furse needs is money. And it will have to come from lots of donors because Terry will most certainly have his handful of rainmakers to shower dollars his way. You can give on her website today, you can volunteer, host a house party, etc.

Washington County has long been led by commissioners that don’t share our values. Elizabeth Furse is a real a chance to change all of that.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Merkley blows the whistle on Senate Republicans; makes the case for unemployment insurance

January 7, 2014 - 11:12pm

Today, the U.S. Senate took an initial test vote on extending unemployment insurance. Here's how Politico -- and much of the media -- reported the vote:

...a surprise vote on Tuesday to break a GOP filibuster of legislation extending unemployment benefits.

No, no, no. Today's vote was a procedural vote. The vote to break the GOP filibuster is on Thursday. What?! Yeah, I know. It's complicated and stupid. Let Senator Jeff Merkley explain:

I gotta say, you're giving the Senate Republicans way too much credit, because today they only voted in favor of having a debate on the issue.

They did not vote in favor of closing debate on the bill itself.

In fact, we anticipate that -- based on McConnell's proposal today -- they're going to try to attach conditions that will make it extremely hard to pass unemployment.

And so, we really need to rally people across America to have them weigh in with their Senators that not only should we debate the issue, we should actually restore the unemployment program. ...

This sounds so absurd across America, but today the vote was to close debate on whether to debate, and they're forcing us to take an intervening day before we actually vote on closing debate.

And only then, later in the week, will we actually start debating the bill.

You know, I used to think I wanted to be a U.S. Senator. But I gotta say, it feels like living in some crazy combination of living inside Escher's staircase and Bill Murray's Groundhog Day.

I'm so glad that Jeff Merkley is willing to put up this nonsense -- and not just that, but actually fight for really important, progressive stuff that matters.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Actual Oversight, or CRC Whitewash?

January 7, 2014 - 8:36am

As Portland’s local leaders have turned to begging Santa Claus for transportation dollars, the costly, risky, go-it-alone CRC mega-project continues to blow through nearly a million dollars a month.

Oregon’s legislative leaders have named a committee on the Columbia River Crossing mega-project, allegedly to provide oversight. That committee has yet to meet.

Oversight is critical; by most accounts this would be the most expensive public works project in Oregon history.

Yet much of the oversight thus far has relied heavily on testimony from people trying to build the boondoggle. These high-priced lobbyists and government employees work for contractors or the governors, and have incentives to gloss over core problems with the mega-project rather than provide accurate information.

What should legislative oversight look like?

The oversight committee should strive to get clear, credible answers to key questions, gathering information to supplement the millions of dollars spent by lobbyists and project backers. Legislators should bring in independent experts, and gain from the experiences of others before signing off on the $4,000,000,000+ risk of the CRC. That's simply responsible governance.

Some possible witnesses:

Mega-Project Experience

Financing

  • Rob Bain, a world expert on toll-backed transportation projects who served as a consultant for State Treasurer Wheeler in 2011

  • A representative of Fitch or Moody’s rating services, both of whom have been critical of the forecasts used to finance toll-backed bonds

  • Howard Cure, managing director of municipal bond research at Evercore Wealth Management, who has noted “You never see a consulting report be negative or else they won't be able to sell the bonds

  • Washington State Senator Ann Rivers, on the legality of the tolling agreement without Washington’s legislative consent

ODOT’s Data and Priorities

  • Oregon State auditor, reporting on ODOT’s Pioneer Mountain-Eddysville Highway 20 boondoggle

  • Clark Williams-Derry, Sightline Institute, who has reviewed traffic modeling problems from WSDOT and ODOT

  • Troy Costales, ODOT Transportation Safety Division Administrator, discussing the safety of this area compared to all transportation safety dangers across Oregon

  • Keith Lawton, Metro's former chief traffic modeler (alternate: Kara Kockelman, University of Texas at Austin)

Other

  • Arn Peterson of Common Cause, on ethical issues about lobbying and representation

  • Climate Solutions’ KC Golden, on transportation and climate pollution

  • Independent legal analysis on whether it is constitutional to use hundreds of millions of Oregon’s transportation money in Washington State, given Article IX, Section 3a: “[revenue] shall be used exclusively for the construction, reconstruction, improvement, repair, maintenance, operation and use of public highways, roads, streets and roadside rest areas in this state.”

How will we know the oversight process is a whitewash instead?

First, despite the mega-project’s enormity, it will bypass standard checks and balances. In the past, the mega-project got special privilege to avoid the Ways and Means Committee, even though expenditures of over $50,000 are standardly referred to that committee for review. The CRC’s cost is roughly eighty thousand times larger than that cut-off level, and should require more, not less, committee review. Nor have the project’s projections of income or expenses received independent review from the Legislative Fiscal Office or Legislative Revenue Office, despite billions of dollars being at stake.

Second, it will be rushed. While we’ve had CRC hearings, the mega-project has completely changed since Washington state – a supposed co-equal partner – has withdrawn, creating heaps of legal, financial, engineering, and ethical questions that require credible answers, joining long-unanswered questions from legislators.

Third, it will be a dog-and-pony show from mega-project backers, with political faces. CRC backers have shown a remarkable aversion to the truth and clear answers. Most recently, they struggled trying to explain how their claim that states needed to fund this in 2013 or it wouldn’t happen for a decade wasn’t a complete lie. Before that, they were inflating job numbers ten-fold, exaggerating safety issues, downplaying the cost, overstating the benefits, pretending ODOT was competent at mega-projects, and even outright disappearing findings from ODOT that the current bridge spans have 55 years of life in them.

Fourth, it will stack the deck, like past hearings. Hearings to this point have mainly been project proponents talking to fill the time, dodging tough questions and providing non-answers. The few times critics are given time, they have mostly been given two or three minutes each, at times sandwiched by CRC lobbyists with unlimited time.

This is the most expensive mega-project in Oregon history. Legislators must step up and go beyond the talking points they are getting from high-priced lobbyists and the questionable information from government employees who are tasked with building the boondoggle.

Legislators, do your oversight, and show you can learn from history and the failures of others. Do us proud.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Will 2020 be the year that Oregon gets a sixth congressional seat?

January 7, 2014 - 7:00am

Every December, the Census Bureau releases estimated population numbers for each of the 50 states. Which means that every year, we get a chance to project ahead and figure out if and when Oregon might get a sixth congressional seat.

Oregon is now into its fourth decade with five congressional seats -- and we've always been right on the bubble for a sixth seat. In 2007 and 2008, projections showed us picking up a new seat. But by 2009, as the recession showed up in the numbers, we cooled off. And sure enough, in 2010, a sixth Oregon seat was ranked #442; just seven spots out. Washington, incidentally, got one of the last seats and expanded to ten districts.

So, three years into the twenty-teens, how's it looking? Remember that we're not asking "Is Oregon growing?" We're asking "Is Oregon growing just a little bit faster than the rest of the country?"

According to Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende, Oregon is a "close call" at #437. That's assuming that the 2014-2020 growth pattern matches that of 2010-2013.

Trende goes one step further -- he extrapolates all the way to 2040. As he says, that's "for entertainment purposes only", but he's got Oregon finally picking up a sixth seat in 2040.

Personally, I'm feeling confident that we're going to pick one up in 2020. Oregon always tends to zoom up whenever the economy is good, and slip back when the nation drops into recession. Assuming that we're on long, slow climb out of the Great Recession into a sustained period of economic strength (and yes, that's a big assumption - but it tends to happen when Democrats are in the White House), I suspect we're likely to see enough growth to outpace the country to jump from #437 to #435.

Previously:

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Spanning the State: Pestilence Edition

January 6, 2014 - 9:30am

Looks like we could be in for a long, virus-y winter.

The swine flu, also known as H1N1, has made its way to Oregon. So far, 2 deaths and 81 hospitalizations have been reported. This strain of flu was the culprit in the 2009-2010 pandemic that killed 284,000 people around the globe, according to the CDC. The best way to prevent the flu is to get yourself vaccinated. The state has tried to make that a little easier with this website that helps you find locations near you that give flu vaccines.

Oregon isn't alone in fighting H1N1. Right now, about half of the US is seeing widespread flu activity. Texas seems to be hardest hit, with 25 flu-related deaths reported. Their state has issued an "influenza health alert" as of December 20. They've advised clinicians to consider antiviral treatment even if an initial rapid-flu test comes back negative.

Stock up on that Vitamin C and wash your hands regularly. And don't BREATHE ON ME.

And now, let's Span the State!

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On Friday, the Oregon Court of Appeals shot down Woodburn’s attempt to expand its urban growth boundary into 409 acres of prime farmland. The decision was in response to an appeal made by 1000 Friends of Oregon (give them money, they do amazing work). The court noted that the city and the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission/LCDC (who approved the plan at the state level) did not meet the legal justification for the expansion. The city is deciding whether to revamp the expansion proposal or take it to the Oregon Supreme Court. This is the second time that the court has overruled both Woodburn and LCDC for this expansion request.

Mirror Pond in Bend is kind of a mess. Silt has built up in the waterway and the 103 year old dam is leaking. Pacific Power, which owns the dam, doesn't want to mess with it anymore. They say that generating power there isn't cost effective and they want out. Bend's City Council recently voted to explore preserving the dam, but it's going to be messy and probably expensive. But it's a city landmark that many are loathe to let go. The Source Weekly has a great piece on the potential options and lays out the chess board for the fights to come.

It's bone-dry in Baker City. The area had only 8.94 inches of rain last year, making it the second year in a row for below normal precipitation. In addition, almost 1/3 of that total occurred on 4 separate days, which saved the city from an even dryer year.

The 21 mile Springwater Trail is officially complete. Paving was recently finished on the last two remaining unpaved miles, giving bicyclists, joggers and hikers an unfettered stretch between Portland and Boring. The Cazadero Trail, which will one day connect Estacada to Boring, begins across the street from the Boring Station Trailhead Park, where Springwater Corridor Trail starts. Oregon State Parks hopes to eventually have a system in which a cyclist could ride from downtown Portland to Estacada via the Springwater Corridor and Cazadero Trails.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

4 Days in...

January 4, 2014 - 10:13am
It's the 4th day of 2014 and.... Unemployment Insurance remains un-addressed in DC

It's exactly one week into the door slamming on 1.3 million unemployed Americans and over 20,000 Oregonians. According to the House Ways and Means Minority committee in a report released yesterday, this has cost the US economy $400 million and Oregon's economy over $6.4 million. Those Oregonians shoved into limbo lost an average of $321/week and are facing a second week without income and dim job prospects. The writers note that the estimated economic impact of $400 million is actually fairly conservative.

The Senate will take up the issue first. So far the only GOP Senator signing on for a UI extension is Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, whose state still suffers from 9% unemployment. Heller and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island are proposing a modest 3 month UI extension. Rep. Paul Ryan released a docket for the US House - UI was NOT on his GOP priority list.

Minimum Wage bumps up

Approximately 98,000 Oregon workers are enjoying the pay bump that comes with the automatic Cost of Living increase that is tied to the State Minimum Wage. Oregon and 12 other states effected higher minimum wages at the beginning of the year, and Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry estimates the increase will put $234 more dollars in those workers' pockets and $20 million more into Oregon's economy. Oregon's Minimum Wage is second highest in the nation (behind Washington State), and at full-time, a minimum wage earner will earn about $18,900 - around $600 above the poverty level for a family of 3. As a side note, Oregon is among 7 states that do not allow lower minimum wages for tipped workers. This 50 state+ chart reveals some staggering differences in how states treat (or regard?) their lowest paid workers.

The ACA and state exchanges, including Oregon, are rolling...

... a little, but the momentum DOES seem to be building. Oregon's notorious and confusing start has been replete with website glitches and dancing deadlines. Yet, 38,000 Oregonians have managed to sign up - 14,000 through Cover Oregon private plans and 24,000 through the expanded Medicaid program.

There are significant points that could apply to YOU:

  1. If you have sent your application in for financial aid, but have not completed the process, the deadline has been extended to MONDAY, January 6, 5pm to have your coverage begin retroactively on January 1. If you know your case and shopping #s, you can go directly to www.coveroregon.com and click "Select a Plan". If this it is befuddling (It WAS for me and there are a couple of unique characteristics that can trip you up), just call 855-268-3767 and they can walk you through. The phone lines (to REAL people) are open today until 6pm., and will open early on Monday at 7am.

  2. If you want to sign up through Cover Oregon, but have not submitted any applications, your best option right now is connecting with an Agent through Cover Oregon. Click "Get Free Assistance" on the CO website; that will take you to a very navigable page. If you start now, you may be able to get coverage by Feb. 1, whether or not you qualify for financial assistance. Open enrollment ends March 31.

  3. Of the 45,000 Oregonians determined to pre-qualify for the expanded Medicaid - the Oregon Health Plan, folks not yet signed up can be "fast-tracked". The best way to follow the process updated below*. There is not a hard deadline to sign-up.

On a personal note, while the process was a bit daunting to enter, especially with the website fiasco, I have found each and every CO rep to be remarkably attentive, thorough and nice. CO has made a special effort to contact folks stuck in mid-process by phone and email. They have called me and I have called them, and because of the help of these folks, I was able to get better coverage and cut my premium in half.

On a very special note, when I was confirming some of the details above this morning, in chatting with the CO rep, I found out that not only was this her job, but her passion. I will leave her real name out, but "Jane" told me that she was moved to help folks get health care coverage because she lost her brother to cancer. He did not have adequate coverage and could not get the care he needed.

Thank you, Jane. Your brother would be proud.

UPDATE (1/5)

From Patty Wentz of the Oregon Health Authority:

.... a little more information about the "fast-trackers," (that is, people already on SNAP or who are parents of children in Healthy Kids).

People can only enroll through fast track over the phone with OHP or with the letter we sent them. They should not apply through community partners. That will slow things down. Here's the information from the fast-track website.

FAQs:

What if someone is eligible but did not receive a letter?

If someone believes they are eligible and has not received a letter, they should call 1-800-699-9075 to reach an OHP customer service representative.

What if someone loses their fast-track letter?

They can call 1-800-699-9075 and enroll over the phone.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Spanning the State: Ringing in 2014 in style, Edition

December 30, 2013 - 9:30am

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I'm pretty jazzed about the fact that Portland is the site for the 2014 World Beard & Moustache Championships. The genesis of this event is apparently a matter of some debate, but it's been going for sure since 1990. Hosted by beard clubs from all over the world, winners have been chosen from entry categories such as "verdi" and "musketeer". The Championships will arrive in Portland in September and are hosted by Beard Team USA®.

Also, the portraits on the website of past winners are....epic. Click through on the links and check it out.

And now, let's Span the State!

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Before we leave Portland entirely, there's a new accolade bestowed on the Rose City: Best City in America. The real estate company Movoto ranked Portland at the top based on a mashup of previous rankings they'd compiled throughout 2013. Portland's love of movies and it's nerdliness were key factors as well as being a great place for food lovers and.....steampunk. More at Movoto's blog.

Speaking of lists, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek was rated last week by Governing Magazine (guess there's a periodical even for people who are nerdy about governing) as one of the 12 state legislators to watch in 2014. The magazine took note of Kotek's rise to the Speaker seat and a slate of successful policy initiatives as well as her status as the first openly lesbian House speaker.

Springfield City Councilor Dave Ralston is once again in trouble with the law. Nine years ago, Ralston pled no contest to shooting a black tail deer out of season and then using someone else's tag on the deer. In June, Ralston pled guilty to an intoxicated-driving charge. Then in October, he was involved in a traffic stop in Deschutes County in which the officer found an illegally taken buck deer inside a vehicle. Ralston is scheduled to appear on January 13 to enter a plea on a misdemeanor charge. But the problems for Ralston don't end there. Last week, the Quality Research Associates of Eugene notified Lane County Circuit Judge Curtis Conover notified a Lane County judge that Ralston had violated the terms of a a court-ordered diversion program as part of the guilty plea from the June court appearance.

All along the West coast, colonies of starfish are dying off in massive numbers, including the beautiful orange and purple pisaster species often scene along the coast in our state. Except starfish in Oregon seem to be mostly spared from the malady so far. The mysterious problem has been labeled "sea star wasting disease" and has scientists scratching their heads. It's unknown whether the die-off is caused by a toxin or some sort of bacteria and it's also not known why Oregon's starfish are holding their own. Previous large starfish die-offs have shown that it's very difficult for the species to recover, so if Oregon starfish continue to remain isolated from the outbreak, scientists may be looking to our coastline as a stronghold for recovery.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Democracy is a risk

December 30, 2013 - 7:58am

So I’m watching this doofus from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) argue against marriage equality on the grounds that people in various states voted against marriage equality (on Up with Steve Kornacki, Sunday morning). And I had this thought: Rape is not a federal crime; it’s a state-level crime. Each state criminalizes rape, defines degrees of rapiness, sets punishments, etc. So it is possible, albeit unlikely (in most states) that the citizens or legislature of a state could vote to legalize rape. Let’s call it the “Defense of Natural Male Sexual Prowess Act”.

And 67% of the voters pass the DMNSPA into law. Are those voters correct? The law is limited: only non-married adult women can be raped, and they cannot be injured during the act (ie, stabbed, shot, punched). They can’t be kidnapped. Etc etc; lots of protections so that men can act on their natural impulses and society can move along peacefully and in accordance with the laws of nature.

When the judge throws out that law, is he or she wrong in over-turning “the will of the voters”? This is what the doofus from NOM is arguing: because the homophobic voters of Utah chose to codify their religious intolerance into law, that’s good enough under the U.S. Constitution. He is, of course, full of hooey.

Democracy is a tricky activity. In deciding that “the people” rule a country and not god, or a king, or a small coven of the wealthy and powerful, we open the door to the fears, the ignorance, the prejudices, and the other human failings of human beings to be the basis of the rules “the people” pass into law. In other words, democracy lets us get things wrong. A lot.

Slavery was placed into the Constitution and the vote for women denied in a democratic process.

The bigots in NOM and the Tea Party and much of the GOP Congress hate, with a burning passion, the fact of democracy. Now and then, as with the passing of state-level DOMAs or the 2010 elections, they make democracy noises because they win. When the results don’t go their way, however, they look to non-democratic means to win. Like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and corporate funding of specialized laws (ALEC).

Essential to democracy is a constitution that separates powers and forces government to work through processes that, done right, extracts the stuff we do wrong and drives us towards justice. How the hell do you think we went from 1789 to the level of civil liberties we enjoy today? Yes, those rights are under attack, but they freaking exist! Democracy and a constitution continues to force our country to bend, as Dr King said “the arc of the moral universe … towards justice”.

The vote of the majority of an electorate on any particular matter is not democracy; it’s a political act that is one element of democracy. Whatever your beliefs on particular issues, if you believe in democracy, you have to accept the whole magilla and not the little bits you agree with. Democracy requires that everyone accept the possibility, and then the fact, of losing.

NOM does not believe in democracy. The Tea Party, for the most part, hates democracy. Libertarians are superior beings with no need for democracy. The Republican Party is paid to manipulate political processes to prevent democratic outcomes (they can’t even speak the word “democratic”). Ideological voters who lose a particular election really don’t like democracy.

Democracy is a risk, but it’s not a zero-sum game, and it has no end point. Democracy rolls forward, day after day. Despair is the biggest folly under democracy; as Abigail Scott Duniway proved in her 41-year fight for women’s suffrage, if you lose today but get up tomorrow and keep on fighting, you have a chance to win next time.

Even when you’re wrong.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs