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Updated: 6 weeks 1 day ago

Congress Threatens GMO Labeling

July 12, 2016 - 2:05pm

While most Americans were celebrating our freedom last week, Monsanto, their allies in corporate agriculture, and the senators they have in their pockets were working hard to undermine it.

They succeeded. Last Thursday night, the U.S. Senate voted 63-30 for a disastrous bill that will take away mandatory labeling for GMO’s, foods produced through genetic engineering.

It came days after Vermont’s real mandatory GMO labeling bill went into effect July 1. Already, several national companies had already started to put such labels on their foods, such as Campbell’s, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Mars.

But the bill, S. 764, co-sponsored by Kansas Republican Pat Roberts and Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, puts all the progress on hold.

Here’s what it does – it doesn’t get much worse for consumers:

• Pre-empts Vermont’s law, and any other state’s, wiping out the opportunity for them to require any GMO labeling

• Delays for at least two years any federal requirements

• Contains language so vague that many foods already understood to be genetically engineered might not even be required to be included. This could include refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and Monsanto’s GMO soybeans, canola and corn. Even the GMO-friendly FDA was critical of the wording.

Doesn’t require labeling – it would allow food companies to use an 800 number or a QR code, which can only be read by a smart phone. If you didn’t have a smart phone, like many low-income people, seniors and rural residents, you’d be out of luck. So much for equal treatment under the law.

That’s what it does. What it doesn’t do is have any penalties for companies that wouldn’t bother to obey these minimum requirements. Not have any teeth? It doesn’t even have gums.

To his credit, Sen. Jeff Merkley led the battle against S. 764, along with Bernie Sanders, both demonstrating again their willingness to fight for the common good. Ron Wyden also voted against it.

In the House, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici voted against an earlier version of the bill, known as the DARK Act – Deny Americans the Right to Know. Republican Greg Walden, following the corporate party line, voted for it.

That leaves Kurt Schrader, who joined Walden in voting for it. In the case of S. 764, it’s not hard to see that “bipartisanship” is window dressing for selling out the public and the right to know what’s in our food.

Biotech and Big Food want this bill – bad. Expect it to be fast-tracked and brought up for a vote in the House as early as tomorrow and rushed to President Obama for his signature.

Numerous surveys have found that 80%-90% of consumers want GMO labeling, a level of support almost unprecedented for any issue. Yet once again, corporate interests have lined up to block it, just as they did by spending $20 million to defeat Oregon’s Measure 92 to require GMO labeling in 2014.

In a classic act of defiance – and clarity - Organic Consumers Association representatives dropped 2,000 $1 bills onto the Senate floor to protest our democracy once again being put up for sale. The video says it all.

The only hope to stop the Dark Act is by a massive public outcry. Please call your House representatives (888-754-9091) AND President Obama (202-456-1111 (9-5 EST)) right away to urge them to oppose S. 764.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

My White Male Privilege Is Complicit In Black Male Killings

July 8, 2016 - 10:00am

By Rob Milesnick of Portland, Oregon. Rob is an attorney who practices employment and civil rights law in Oregon and Washington State. He's a former adjunct professor of criminology and criminal justice at Portland State University.

I am the outward embodiment of privilege. A 39 year old heterosexual white man. A six foot tall lawyer with no physical impairments living on a safe street with my white lawyer wife and our two kids in a safe part of an overwhelmingly white city and state... and this letter is about shame.

Shame that so many lives in my community and this country have been quietly lived and loudly taken in such demonstrably unjust ways. Shame that our collective inaction, and our cumulative public policies have led us to a place where death from guns, and death from the police, have become so brazen and so common, that even now, despite the advantage and widespread use of recording devices, my own inaction is complicit.

When I was 16 years old I was pulled over for the first time in my life. I was speeding in northern Virginia. The police officer was standing on the side of the road with a radar gun pointed at my car and he was shouting and motioning at me to pull over to the side of the road. The officer approached me quickly and said I was driving 12 miles an hour over the limit. He angrily told me that I was a new driver and therefore needed to drive more slowly. When he walked back to his motorcycle to issue me my ticket, I yelled out my window at him:

“Officer, can’t you just give me a warning this time?”

It is a shame. It is a shame that at 16 years of age I was already well aware of my white male privilege – or at least not afraid to throw the police such an arrogant question which is a byproduct of the same thing - I was just a naïve teenager, but I didn’t have an inkling of concern that I might increase my chances of being targeted for later harassment, or told to “step out of the car”, or told to “watch myself” or told to “calm down” or ultimately become the victim in a reflexive escalation that might lead to my own death over a speeding ticket. How many black or brown or yellow or red or mentally ill or LGBT or female teenagers would have yelled out the window of their formerly speeding vehicle at 16 years of age to ask... challenge...a white male officer after they had been so plainly at fault? For how many would that request have been granted?

It was granted for me. The officer was visibly upset and shouted that he had just ticketed a woman who was driving slower than I was, but a lecture was all he gave me before he waved me forward and I drove away.

I am a plaintiffs’ civil rights attorney now. All around me I see different sides of injustice, but I am not forced to personally live it the same way my clients do. It is true that some of the black men who have been shot by police had criminal records. But that should not diminish the value of their lives or the tragic manner of their deaths in any way, yet I have condoned that devaluing with my silence. I have allowed the absurdity of the indefensible to take root, and I have turned a blind eye to alleged “actionable offenses” given in the name of police officers who if not legally - were physically responsible for any number of far too many untimely black deaths.

Death for “offenses” like speeding... or selling CDs... or loitering... or looking too poor... or looking too rich... or running away... or standing one’s ground... or being a 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun despite growing up in an American culture that so vociferously promotes one’s right - indeed obligation - to possess all manner of real guns (as long as the possessor is white)... or asking “what’s the charge?”... or saying “I want a lawyer” or asserting any number of constitutionally guaranteed rights... or pleading with closed eyes, “Officer, can’t you just give me a warning this time?”... or crying, and then whispering while they died, “I can’t breathe."

I am ashamed that white America has not demanded a systemic realignment about who we hire as police officers, how we train them, what we expect from them, what crimes we enforce and for what actions we hold the public as well as police accountable. Police officers have an incredibly difficult job, but we must redefine the rules of engagement to remind everyone, especially the police, that they are not an occupying force, and people of color are not an insurgency.

The disproportionate rates at which these deaths occur, overwhelmingly to black men often after having committed only minor offenses, let alone no offense at all, is too staggering a number to continue to ignore with condoned white silence. Including my own.

My shame is that I am only now speaking out about this. My shame is that the kids of color I went to high school with, friends and students of color I studied with in college, peers and their families I work with who are people of color, have and know that they have... a far greater chance of being killed by their own tax funded governmental agencies – the police - than I or my family ever has or ever will. These are men, women and children who live in a constant state of worry and fear of an unjust truth; that driving or walking down the street if you are not straight, male and white is far more dangerous than if you are.

This is a uniquely white problem, a uniquely male problem, a uniquely American problem; and I am guilty of and sorry for my too long complicit silence about this epidemic. I have blood on my hands. So many of us do.

So my pledge to every elected official at the local, state, and federal level is this: in my small corner of the world, with what voice I have and with what resources I can bring to bear, I will no longer support any elected official, public policy, agency or private entity who does not immediately and forcefully move to address, call out, and end this national disgrace with clear, swift and cogent forward steps. I will be silent no more.

And to every police officer or silently complicit member of the long blue line who more often than not does the right thing, but still turns a blind eye towards the level of racially disproportionate killings and injustices among your ranks and within our cities... know that my eyes have been opened... and know that I am not alone.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Fantasy numbers or inconvenient truth?

July 7, 2016 - 1:42pm

Several weeks ago the Oregon legislature’s economists in the Legislative Revenue Office (LRO) came out with an estimate of how the proposal to raise taxes on large, mainly out-of-state corporations would impact the Oregon economy. While Oregon media ran with LRO’s estimated impact on jobs, they failed to recognize that the jobs estimate was fantastic, in the truest sense of the word — the jobs estimate is essentially a fantasy prediction.

The LRO report said that while jobs will continue to grow under the tax measure, there will be fewer jobs created over the next five years than without the tax measure. How many fewer? The LRO report estimated less than 1 percent – or 20,000 – fewer. The media repeated this jobs number as fact and opponents took it as gospel.

But that jobs figure is not fact. It’s fantasy.

These jobs are numbers are spit out by LRO’s “black box” — a statistical computer modeling program otherwise known as the Oregon Tax Incidence Model, or OTIM. The head of LRO, Paul Warner, has been known to admit that when attempting to model the economic impacts of a tax measure in this way, “you have to accept that you’re always wrong.”

One way of knowing that you’re dealing with fantasy numbers is that LRO’s 20,000 job loss estimate is likely well within the margin of error in predicting five years out from one policy change. In other words, the difference in the jobs projection with or without the tax measure is insignificant, no matter how big the number sounds.

Proof that 20,000 is an insignificant number came in the Oregon state economist’s June forecast released just a few days later. The June forecast for the number of people who will be employed a year from now with no changes in policy went up by 21,000 from what was estimated just three months earlier in the March forecast.

That a similar variation in the number of jobs can occur over three months — with no intervening policy change — shows just how mercurial economic forecasting can be. And it makes clear why a five-year forecast of the impact of a major a policy change is in the realm of fantasy.

But some Oregonians like to cling to fantasies and won’t let go of the LRO jobs estimate. If that’s the case, then I have an inconvenient truth for them.

The LRO report projects that jobs will rise 6.1 percent from 2017 to 2022 if the measure is approved. Meanwhile, the official forecast for the Oregon economy pegs job growth without the measure during that period at 5.4 percent.

In other words, the legislature’s economists predict greater job growth with the tax measure than the state’s economists predict we will have without the measure.

While in my book both of those predictions are equally unreal, the conclusion that the tax measure results in faster job growth must be an inconvenient truth for those in the media and elsewhere quoting the job loss number as gospel. They can’t have it both ways.

I don’t mean to suggest that the entire LRO report is fantasy — not at all. Part of the LRO report analyzed real numbers from real corporate tax returns. The LRO’s estimates based on real data showed that most of the revenue from the proposed corporate tax measure will come from a relatively small handful of very large, multi-state and multi-national corporations. And those real estimates showed that the measure will raise the game-changing revenue Oregon needs to make economy-boosting investments in education, healthcare and senior services.

While the report fanaticizes that a little bit of the costs will be passed along to consumers (another number well within the margin of error in a five year projection), its authors acknowledge the report did not consider the impact of internet sales and other factors that would limit the ability of affected corporations to stick consumers with the bill.

What’s the bottom line?

The measure will be good for the economy and good for Oregonians.

The decision whether to raise taxes on large, mainly out-of-state corporations is too important to be based on fantastic estimates. Oregonians need facts they can rely on — such as the fact that Oregon corporate taxes have declined dramatically over the decades.

Let’s leave the fantasy out of it.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Why not let 16- and 17-year-olds vote in Oregon?

July 6, 2016 - 3:10pm

By Matthew Wadleigh of Beaverton, Oregon. Matthew is a Portland State senior who has called Oregon home for 24 years.

Of the many issues involved in the Oregon Secretary of State election, one that has gotten not nearly enough screen time is the future of our incoming and young electorate. Millennials like myself, and Generation Z voters or voters to be, are entering adulthood in a world where our high schools do not prepare us for citizenship. Meanwhile our college degrees, no matter the subject, are not a guarantee of basic economic stability. This is why, when Brad Avakian's facebook page shared his youth-vote plan recently, I jumped at the chance to read it in full.

The plan, which provides all youth in high school with a symbolic vote that would be tallied, reported, but not counted towards the official results of Oregon elections, is designed to teach youth “The process and importance of civic engagement and participation”. Now I am all for most any proposal that includes the return of civic and vocational education to our schools, but I do have a problem with this youth-vote proposal. It doesn't increase the agency, in It's philosophical or sociological sense, of the future electorate. What would?

Actually letting them vote.

Currently, Oregon's voting age is set at 18 by Article II Section two of the Oregon Constitution, which matches the forced upper ceiling for voting age in the United States set by the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution; however, there is no provision in either the Oregon or US Constitutions that would prevent the State from promoting a younger voting age in any elections should a change be proposed and ratified through the proper legal process. Such a change would be a tall order given the process such a proposal would have to go through, yet regardless of how long it might take, we cannot let that hold us from taking steps towards correcting the moral issue of student disenfranchisement.

Juniors and Seniors at our High Schools are trusted to use our highways and roads, yet have no say in how those roads get funded or laid out nor who can drive on them. They pay taxes on any income they might have should they choose or need to work, with no say how those taxes are allocated. They can be tried as adults, and we expect them to behave like adults sooner and sooner in their lives. Most of all they do all of this while being expected to participate in an education system that is failing them without any input on how that system is run.

Those skeptical of this idea have a few concerns, as they rightly should. Those concerns being, among others, that high school students do not have the prerequisite level of rationality or maturity to vote, and that students have inherent vulnerabilities that make them unable to self express their agency. That being said, last I checked adults did not have to pass any tests to register to vote; and the latter criticism seems to fall away when we remember that the same reasoning was used in attempt to deny women and people of color the right to vote.

I readily acknowledge that not all Juniors or Seniors would be ready to vote, but it would be their own choice to exercise their right to vote or not just as adults do. If Avakian or anyone else truly cares about what Oregon students have to say, they should be prepared to follow through and give those students an actual vote to match their current level of civic responsibility.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Merkley for Vice President?

July 6, 2016 - 7:00am

Robert Borosage, of the Campaign for America's Future, makes the case for Senator Jeff Merkley for Vice President:

Merkley offers real value. He’s the sole senator who endorsed Bernie Sanders in the primaries, an act of remarkable courage. Putting him on the ticket would pay tribute to the millions of voters who backed the Sanders surge. His presence would excite the young and independent voters that were at the heart of the Sanders vote. It would reassure skeptical labor activists. He would add credibility on trade, on investment, on Wall Street reform, on money and politics and on climate, all areas where doubts linger about Clinton’s commitment. He more than anyone other than Sanders himself can make the case about why the movement that Sanders helped to build needs to mobilize to rout Donald Trump in the fall. ...

He’s a progressive reformer with the courage of his convictions. He has already demonstrated his maturity in helping build a bridge between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, even while pushing hard to have the Democratic platform express the commitment to progressive populist principles from campaign finance reform to a new trade policy.

Oregon has a Democratic governor and a requirement to hold a special election as soon as practicable. Merkley’s appointment would not risk a Senate seat.

OPB's Jeff Mapes picks up the story, noting that Merkley "has deflected questions about joining the presidential ticket by saying he sees other more likely candidates, such as Warren."

What do you think? Would it be a good idea for Hillary Clinton to put Merkley on the ticket? Do you think she will?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

OR-SOS: Chuck Adams and his hilariously bad "poll" in the Avakian/Richardson race

June 22, 2016 - 10:09am

It was the kind of headline that makes political watchers in Oregon sit up and take notice:

Poll: Richardson leads Secretary of State race

According to the story in the Statesman-Journal, Republican Dennis Richardson was up 47% to 38% over Democrat Brad Avakian in a poll paid for by GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce.

But it didn't take long before the SSJ made one little, tiny, but oh-so-critical update:

It randomly sampled 535 people ... 440 of the respondents said they were Republicans.

That's right: According to this "random sample" poll, 82% of Oregonians are self-identifying Republicans. HAHHAHA.

And just a few hours later, the SSJ yanked the story offline entirely. So, for your viewing pleasure, here's a screenshot (click to zoom). We're putting this in Chuck Adams's permanent record:

Here's my question: Dr. Bud Pierce is a newcomer to politics and, by all accounts, an well-meaning (if misguided) guy. Did he know that his consultant, Chuck Adams, was shopping a bogus poll to the media? Is this the kind of campaign he wants to run?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A Call to Pride

June 14, 2016 - 1:22pm

There likely isn't a LGBT American who's not taken stock of her or his own life in the past few days. While the horrors of Sunday June 12 will be ever etched in our collective psyche, each of us individually has taken these past 3 days to mourn, to reflect & to assess the trajectory of our own particular gay life.

We have traveled thru almost half a century of the Modern Gay (LGBT) Rights Era from the flashpoint of Stonewall in June, 1969. Our lives, especially among those of us more weathered, have been lives half in and half out of society - at times we've basked in the glow of the great camaraderie we have found with others like us. At other times we toiled along in the loneliness of a world that was loathe to acknowledge us, let alone "tolerate" and actually accept us.

The stark rejection for many of us wasn't limited to American Society's disdain, but it was the rejection of our family and friends that cut us most, and kept many of us closeted - even from ourselves - well into adulthood. The scars from those rejections never fully healed, and for too many that rejection is still very present-tense. While we have rejoiced in the progress our movement has made, and while we cheer the youth who take queer as normal, both old scars and fresh scabs were ripped away with the hideous atrocity in Orlando.

We expected the political backlash from the Fundamentalist Right with their perpetual homophobic legislation. We did not expect 100 of our young brothers, sisters and allies to be be murdered and wounded in a horrific massacre.

We are jolted and we are in pain.

But with the same fierce resolve that ignited a movement at Stonewall and that demanded our government pay attention to the Aids Crisis, we will emerge stronger. With both the veteran activist hacks who challenged the OCA in the 90's, and with the young advocates who have cut their political teeth on busting through the barriers to Marriage Equality, we are even more committed to securing full equality and justice for all our LGBT family members nationwide. Most significantly, we are dedicated to creating a society that welcomes warmly every new generation of LGBT youth, so they neither question nor feel compelled to hide their lives nor their love.

This week we weep in our quiet moments alone, but this week we also come together as a more powerful movement with new resolve and unity.

Portland's Pride weekend starts in just a few days. Let's be out there prouder than ever.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A moratorium on all oil train traffic through the Columbia Gorge

June 7, 2016 - 6:18am

In the wake of the oil train disaster last week, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Governor Kate Brown, and Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici have called for a halt on all oil train traffic through the Columbia Gorge.

From their statement:

“Oil train tankers are still lying on their sides in Mosier, the ground and water have yet to be cleaned up, and there’s still no good explanation for the cause of Friday’s crash. It is too soon to resume oil train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge. Union Pacific should not resume oil train traffic before meeting with the community of Mosier and giving a thorough explanation for the cause of this accident and an assurance that the company is taking the necessary steps to prevent another one. A train full of toxic crude oil derailing, burning, and exploding near homes, schools, and businesses is a worst fear realized for people who live in Mosier and in other communities along the tracks throughout the Gorge. They deserve to know that the causes of this derailment have been both identified and fixed, and there should be a moratorium on oil train traffic until they get those explanations and assurances. We will also be pushing for the Department of Transportation to take a hard look at alternative routes for oil and hazardous material trains that would put fewer Oregonians at risk of a dangerous crash in their backyards.”

And while Union Pacific has agreed to halt oil train traffic, they are allowing other trains to pass through. The mayor of Mosier, Arlene Burns, isn't happy about it:

Some Mosier residents remain under a level two evacuation order, she said, meaning they need to be ready to leave their homes at a moment's notice. How can the area be safe for train traffic, she asked, if it's not for residents?

"We feel it's still unsafe for trains of any kind to come through the area when these oil bombs are sitting on our front steps," Burns said.

Burns said the damaged tank cars appear to be dripping oil. "A spark from the train could catch that on fire again," she said. "It still is way too soon to be taking trains through."


Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Mary Schutten for DNC Delegate

June 3, 2016 - 11:07am

All around Portland, schools are being upgraded, repaired, and having entire new buildings added. Local voters agreed to spend nearly half-a-billion dollars in 2013 to repair and improve our kids’ schools, and if you think that’s a good thing, you can thank Mary Schutten. A lot of people worked hard for that victory, but Mary was the campaign manager who made sure the campaign strategy was a success.

I’m still not sure why she isn’t better known for this incredible accomplishment, not just leading a winning effort but one that garnered a 65% “Yes” vote. She isn’t a political pro of the sort who get paid tens of thousands of dollars to help a candidate lose elections badly; she’s pretty much just a grassroots activists who has volunteered for numerous campaigns over the years. But she’s also a grassroots activist who can win big victories.

She got the right start in life, the daughter of a union mom. She played tennis at UW, the first generation of women to benefit under Title IX, a right she’s never taken for granted. She raised three kids. She’s taken care of her family. She met her life partner, Cat, with whom she’s been together over 21 years. Today, she’s an instructor at PCC helping small business owners develop skills to succeed. And she continues to be an activist for Democratic and progressive causes.

I am supporting Mary’s bid to become a delegate to the national convention in Philadelphia, and I can think of no one more deserving of this honor. In fact, I’m the person who suggested that she run. I explained how the process works and how I’ve seen people succeed at past nominating conventions. I gave Mary a little nudge in the process, and, boy howdy, she’s gone full-Schutten on it.

But that’s Mary. When she takes on a project, she is all-in, whether it’s family, friends, or community. She commits herself heart and soul – and mind. She’s as smart as she is driven. I don’t want to give away any state secrets, but I am blown away at the work she’s done to become a Clinton delegate to the DNC. I cannot imagine any other would-be delegate putting in the kind of effort I’ve seen from Mary. No wonder the PPS bond passed so handily.

For all her long years of commitment to progressive causes, the 2016 Clinton campaign, I think, means more to Mary than anything else she’s done. The reason the DNC convention came up in the first place is because she asked my help to start her own Hillary grassroots effort last year; she was not willing to wait for the campaign to show and start. She wanted to go now, so that’s what she did. She’s supported local candidates, especially women, for years. Recently, that includes Deb Kafoury, Eileen Brady (where we met back in 2012), Tawna Sanchez, and others. Nothing compares, however, to the work she’s done for Hillary Clinton, both in 2008 and this year.

I am confident that no other candidate for delegate has gone to Iowa, Washington, and Idaho to work for Hillary. Next week, she’s going down to California to help with get out the vote efforts. Mary is not a person to say “I support so-and-so”; she crafts the space in her busy life to give real support – time, sweat, money.

And with Clinton having all but sewn up the nomination (sorry Berners, but you can’t deny math), Mary’s work has just begun. Oregon will go for Clinton in November; it will take the necessary work, of course, but we are a solid blue state these days. Mary will work hard to win our state, and to help down-ballot candidates, but I’m expecting she’s going to put in a lot of work to help out in swing states. (It’s amazing how much a person in Oregon with a computer and cell phone can do to help a campaign in Wisconsin.)

Give Hillary Clinton a thousand Mary Schuttens, and she’d sweep this election by twenty points.

I’m not supporting Mary to become a delegate because I’m a big Clinton fan myself; I’m not, and Mary knows that. I’m supporting Mary because I know few people who are as good a person as Mary. Her proven commitment to candidates and causes is a manifestation of the person she is. As we’ve worked together on various projects the past few years – we got “The Abigail Bridge” as one of four finalists for the new light rail bridge; her idea and my writing – I’ve learned some important lessons. No lesson for me has been more valuable than this:

Be a good person.

Politics is infamous for bringing out the worst in people. Social media makes being your lesser self easy to accomplish. But Mary’s had that kind of impact on me. (I also have to note Beth Crane, Eileen Brady and Brian Rohter as good people who have echoed what Mary’s talked to me about in private; good people trying to help me become a better person.) I am a better person today than I was when I first met her. In fact, because of her friendship and occasional admonishments, I’ve been able to move past the sturm und drang of the primary election to a point where I’m no longer engaging in pointless back-and-forths. (Ok, rarely engaging.) I don’t want to disappoint Mary. I want to be the person she values as her friend.

No, friendship and a good personal example are not a reason you should come to Gresham High School on Saturday to vote for Mary Schutten to be a Clinton delegate to the national convention. But when you combine her years of political activism, her commitment to her beliefs, and the quality of person she is, you have an Oregonian we can all be proud to have represent us in Philly. If you’re signed up to support Clinton delegates, please put Mary at the top of your list.

What: Nominating convention to select delegates for the Dem Convention in Philly

Why: Mary Schutten for Clinton Delegate at the DNC

When: Saturday, June 4, Noon

Where: Gresham High School

Who: Dems who signed up to be voters at this convention

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Ken Starr vs. Ron Wyden

June 2, 2016 - 7:00am

Yesterday, Ken Starr resigned from his position as the president and chancellor at Baylor University, after an independent review found that he had systematically failed to protect female students from sexual assault from members of the Baylor Bears football team and others.

It was a stunning end to a career that many once believed would culminate in an appointment to the Supreme Court. Starr, of course, was a federal judge and the lead investigator in the wide-ranging witch hunt that lead to the unsuccessful impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

Over the weekend, Josh Kardon -- the former chief of staff to Senator Ron Wyden -- posted a friends-only note on Facebook about Starr's "situational" ethics. I asked Kardon for permission to re-publish it here.

Kardon's note describes a time in the 1990s when then-Congressman Wyden was at war with the tobacco industry. You might recall that Wyden led a hearing in which all seven CEOs of the major tobacco companies declared under oath that "nicotine is not addictive".

It's a piece of American history that Oregonians should know and remember. Here's Kardon's note, in full (my bolds):

Many in the U.S. legal and political community were likely shocked to learn last night that the most prominent, and possibly the most brilliant, conservative, legal scholar and lawyer of the past four decades was "demoted" for helping Baylor rapists escape justice. Effectively, Starr's misdeeds as President of the university endangered women on the Baylor campus in order to shield Baylor and its football program from scrutiny and the loss of football games and reputation. Starr, once a national arbiter of decency and propriety, is now laid bare for his situational attendance to decency, propriety, and justice.

One who probably isn't shocked is U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, who once found himself in the gun sights of Ken Starr in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. It was a harrowing experience for Wyden, as Starr ultimately put on a show for the appeals panel, mesmerizing the justices with his preening, but impressive performance. At stake was whether Wyden and his staff could be compelled to appear in a hostile Kentucky state court to reveal the source of documents we had obtained in the course of a congressional investigation into the tobacco industry. Wyden would have refused to comply, and presumably a Kentucky jail cell would await. Our attorney in that proceeding, the now-deceased Barbara Olsen, advised the senator and myself not to fly through the Cincinnati airport (located across the Ohio state border in Kentucky) or we would find ourselves taken into custody.

Wyden got an up-close view of Starr's situational ethics, as the Clinton Inquisitor found no contradiction in receiving millions to attempt to shield evidence of Brown and Williamson's long-hidden knowledge of the addictive and fatal effects of its products, while simultaneously leading the effort to gain legal access into President Clinton's most intimate and private life in an attempt to overthrow a duly-elected government. So while the legal community - which still admired Starr in 2016 as much for his conservative values as for his legendary intellect - tries to reconcile its memories of Starr with the portrait that is just beginning to emerge from Baylor, there's a tall, skinny senator from Oregon who could have predicted that Starr's situational ethics would one day endanger and tarnish the very institution and students he was sworn to protect.

Kardon also linked to a 1998 New York Times op-ed by Frank Rich. Definitely worth a read.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs