Editorials from Oregon newspapers
Klamath Falls Herald and News, Sept, 25, on Klamath Basin water talks
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.
At least, we don't think they did. If somebody did say it, he or she doesn't know much about the Klamath Basin's complex water problems, their history, the agreements signed, the promises made, the promises broken, and the costs of setting things as right as can be done in circumstances that include the fact that there simply isn't enough water to satisfy everyone.
Groups representing those needs have been meeting in a process that originally was scheduled to end last week, but has been extended to Oct. 10, with difficult issues yet to resolve, including water allocations, the price of electricity for irrigators and the cost of an overall agreement.
Power to pump water is a major cost for Basin irrigators and has been increasing rapidly since the end of a 50-year agreement with Pacific Power that kept them low.
Yet, there are positive signs.
There's a strong effort in both the federal and state levels of government to get a workable agreement in place that would at least bring greater certainty to Basin water users.
How long the political stars will stay aligned in a way that favors strong governmental cooperation with the effort is hard to say. But even with that support, the federal government wants the probable cost of an overall agreement, including restoration projects, to be reduced further.
Projected costs over a 10-year period started at about $1 billion, dropped to $800 million, and are now down to about $500 million which includes some work already completed or under way.
Participants in the discussions so far appear genuinely pleased with the efforts to include a full range of those heavily affected by how the Basin's water is distributed, including some who were not active participants in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement process. The KBRA was the first major attempt at an overall settlement but shows no sign of moving forward in Congress, though parts are being implemented on a piecemeal basis.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who deserves credit for his efforts, told those at last week's meeting that, "We will not get a perfect solution to this. Nobody gets everything they want; nobody gets everything they think they deserve. The question is, do the parties get what they need?"
Wyden referred to a "handful" of issues remaining. They're remaining, of course, because they're the toughest ones. But the spirit and the resolve seem right, along with the recognition this may be the last best opportunity to put something together that has broad support.
Easy? No, but nobody said it would be.
The Dalles Chronicle, Sept. 24, on the economics of addiction:
When The Dalles City Council was asked to ban tobacco use from the Lewis and Clark Festival Area earlier this month, one local resident stood up to declare that such a move would constitute another example of the "nanny state" at work, specifically because it included snuff and chew, which don't produce smoke for others to inhale.
But that's not strictly true, given the public costs of addictions.
Even before discussing actual tobacco addictions, it's fair to point out that even smokeless tobacco can have an impact at a public space like the festival park: like tobacco butts, chew leaves a byproduct behind in the form of spit. And not every user is courteous enough to bring and remove a receptacle for that byproduct.
Just as most people don't appreciate the discomfort of sitting downwind from a smoker, they don't much care for stepping — or worse sitting — in a brown puddle of spit.
Tobacco, like other addictive substances, has social costs, too.
It contributes to an epidemic of costly illnesses later in life that most often affect Medicare recipients in their severest forms, including heart disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Smokeless tobacco varieties can cause cancers of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas, as well as heart disease, gum disease and oral lesions.
These and other preventable so-called "lifestyle diseases" are the heaviest burden of modern health care.
Food addictions have similar consequences, including heart disease and diabetes, among other ailments. Recent studies, including one from Yale University, suggest many of the packaged foods heavily promoted in today's marketplace are so heavily sweetened in contrast to the whole foods humans evolved to eat that they act on the body's dopamine receptors in the same manor as pleasure drugs.
Drug addicts, of both the illegal and legal variety, also experience a variety of costly ailments that often end up the burden of the public, or their fellow insurance premium payers.
The economics of addiction cuts both ways. Many businesses and organizations benefit from addictive behaviors. Tobacco lines the pockets of large tobacco corporations (just as addictive foods, legal and illegal drugs line the pockets of their manufacturers and sellers) and the governments at state and federal levels that exact "sin" taxes on their users. Likewise, advertising organizations benefit from supplying ads to convince people to use addictive substances.
Health care organizations benefit from performing more surgeries and other procedures related to the consequences of addictions, but they also pay when they can't turn away uninsured sufferers or when health care insurance turns from a procedure-pay system to a wellness system.
And, in the case of illegal drugs, law enforcement must employ many more workers to address drug-related crimes, at a high cost to the public and a benefit to the workers employed.
Yes, indeed, the economics strongly suggest that many addictions exact public tolls. And seeing these addictions reduced can result in a reduction of the public costs involved in dealing with them.
At the same time, no one wants to envision a world like "1984" where the government monitors every aspect of individual action, behavior and thought.
People with addictions have the same individual rights as those without, and shouldn't be subjected to societal judgment. Addictions are not just the result of bad willpower, they are chemical compulsions that many parts of the economy have a vested interest in seeing continue.
We, as a society, need to disrupt the economic engines that feed — and feed on — addictions. Part of that is to start early in teaching and modeling healthy life choices, so people have enough information to help them avoid addiction. Part is helping to motivate people to break their addictions. And part is somehow persuading the profiting economic sectors that selling addiction is no longer good for business.
The (Bend) Bulletin, Sept. 27, on the one-year extension of timber payments
It's good news that county timber payments are likely to be extended for another year, but the welcome congressional action must not slow efforts to find a long-term solution.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said it well: "This help is a lifeline, not a lifeboat."
The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously Wednesday to dedicate $329 million from the sale of the nation's helium reserves to pay for a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program. The Senate passed similar legislation last week. Oregon stands to get $100 million.
The Secure Rural Schools program, launched in 2000, sought to compensate for the loss of logging revenues caused by federal regulations. It was designed to diminish over time as regions developed alternative economies. At the program's height in 2007, Oregon received $280 million. In 2012, the state's take was about $100 million, with Deschutes County receiving $1.8 million, Crook $1.7 million and Jefferson $570,000. Before the most recent votes on the helium reserves, those were expected to be the last payments under the program.
A long-term solution has at least two parts: more local tax revenue in the most critically affected counties and more logging on public lands.
When voters in Polk and Curry counties go to the polls in November, they should approve increases in their low tax rates. Josephine County likely needs similar action.
And in Congress, legislation is needed to allow more logging on public lands, both to support rural counties and to improve the health of overgrown forests at risk of catastrophic fire. A bill passed by the U.S. House last week to do that was sponsored by Walden and Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, but it faces opposition from environmental groups. Oregon's Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is working on an alternative plan that would allow a smaller increase in logging while trying to satisfy environmental concerns.
While welcoming the short-term help from Congress, we urge a realistic look at the condition of our forests and our rural communities. Responsible logging can solve both problems.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Sept.27, on Phil Knight's gift to OHSU
So much for the idea that Phil Knight cares only about sports.
Last week Knight and his wife, Penny, pledged $500 million to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland to support the Knight Cancer Institute, provided that OHSU can raise an equal amount over the next two years. OHSU already is a leading cancer research institution, due in part to a $100-million gift from the Knights in 2008. The latest donation, assuming that OHSU meets its fund-raising challenge, will give Oregon's academic medical center global stature.
The Knights' gift can be counted as the biggest lump-sum donation to a college or university in American history. Gordon and Betty Moore of Intel and their foundation gave $600 million to the California Institute of Technology in 2001, but the money is to be distributed over a 15-year period. New York mayor and media tycoon Michael Bloomberg has given $1.1 billion to Johns Hopkins University over the past 40 years, but his largest single donation has been $350 million. The Knights have promised to write a single half-billion-dollar check.
OHSU can't cash that check just yet. The university will have to raise another $500 million to qualify for the Knights' matching gift. That's an ambitious goal for an institution whose foundation currently has assets totaling $650 million. OHSU will have to nearly double that amount, and it will have to reach its target in just two years. University fund raising campaigns usually stretch over half a decade or more.
By asking that OHSU match their gift, the Knights have effectively doubled its size. Less obvious, but more important, is the fact that the Knights have made it necessary for OHSU to persuade many additional donors of the value of research to be done at the cancer institute. OHSU can't coast to prominence on a $500 million windfall; it must make a strong case for propelling its work with a $1-billion infusion.
The case can be made. The Knights' earlier gift already has drawn leading researchers to Portland, where work is under way to detect and treat cancer and its precursors at the early stages of the disease. A billion-dollar investment would come at a time when a variety of technologies — imaging, genome sequencing, molecular targeting — are converging to create new possibilities in diagnostics and treatment.
Making Portland a world center for cancer research would benefit the entire state. OHSU already is Portland's largest employer, and already Oregon is home to dozens of biomedical companies that trace their origins to the university. A $1 billion boost for the cancer institute would energize Oregon's educational and scientific culture, and provide a seedbed of economic innovation.
It is a transformative gift. And OHSU doesn't even have a football team.
The (Medford) Mail Tribune, Sept. 26, on Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary dilemma
Opponents of the expansion of Oregon's medical marijuana program have raised numerous concerns about plans to open dispensaries to serve cardholders in the program. We think those who support the program, and those who support outright legalization, should be just as concerned, but for different reasons.
The state Legislature approved a measure this year that allows the creation of state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries that can sell marijuana to cardholders. Workers in the dispensaries may be paid, but the dispensaries cannot make a profit.
This was a half-step in dealing with the issues created by Oregon's medical marijuana law, which has been regularly abused, with questionable prescriptions issued for imaginary ailments and too many growers exceeding the quantities they are permitted to grow. Oregon's presumptive medical marijuana has shown up in drug arrests across the country, as some of the excess ends up in the hands of dealers instead of patients.
The dispensary law doesn't prohibit individual growers from continuing to provide the marijuana to patients, but it is an improvement in providing the cardholders a safe and regulated environment in which to buy the drug. It will not end all the abuses by any means, but people who want to obey the law will be able to make their purchases with less worry that their seller is one day going to be led away in handcuffs.
The Legislature also established the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Law Rules Advisory Committee to oversee implementation of the new law. State Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, is a member of the committee, which held its first meeting last week. The committee is reviewing a variety of options, from limits on how many dispensaries will be allowed in a community to where in that community they will be allowed to operate. Buckley says local communities will have a say in the process, but it's unlikely they would be able to ban them outright.
Opponents have raised concerns about the state forcing the dispensaries on unwilling communities and the possibility that the dispensaries could become the scene of illegal activities.
Given the black eye the existing medical marijuana program has received because of the abuses by some of its participants, marijuana advocates should hope the legislative committee crafts some tough, enforceable rules. The last thing the program, or advocates for even greater marijuana use, need is for the opponents' fears about increased crime to come true.
Buckley says the Legislature will likely place a marijuana legalization law before voters next year, in part to ward off a voter initiative measure that could be just as problem-riddled as the current law. The worst publicity the legalization effort could get would be a string of arrests at the new dispensaries.
Marijuana advocates say authorities need to back off in their scrutiny and harassment of a medical marijuana program that is legal. We agree, but also say those advocates should do everything in their power to ensure that the new dispensaries keep their operations legal and their employees out of the police blotters.
The Daily Astorian, Sept. 30, on open government and personal privacy
Generating, accessing and protecting public/private records can accurately be described as some of the most potent issues of our age. It is a topic loaded with such significance that smart educators will begin training students about it as early as grade school — it is that essential to successful life.
An ongoing news story in Pacific County, Wash., illustrates some of the uses, possible misuses and threats to the legal foundations of American public records laws. Like agencies throughout the nation, some county offices have recently been bowing underneath the weight of records requests from citizens concerned about various aspects of governance.
This is the classic reason for laws that saw their origins in the troubled 1960s and '70s. They let us peel back government actions and decisions to see if they appear proper and provide equal protection under the law. The lawmakers and activists who first enshrined public-records access in the U.S. realized that transparency is one of the best protections against government corruption and abuse.
On a local level, making sure agency actions aren't driven by anything other than valid laws and regulations is of paramount importance to citizens. This transparency is a powerful deterrent to official shenanigans.
The ability to seek detailed behind-the-scenes information from government also is prone to accidental and deliberate overuse. Complying with a demand that an agency cough up every record that mentions some common word, for example, can chew up many hours of staff time. Nationwide, deliberate abuse of public records laws to consume agency resources is a weapon in the hands of anti-government factions. This expense is borne by all taxpayers.
Proliferation of government records, the ability to search them, and the ease with which citizens can request them are all driven by the vast growth in digital archiving. We swim through a world in which our actions — all the big ones and even many of the small ones — leave electronic traces. The ability to search government records also grants private individuals considerable ability to look into the lives of others, stirring legitimate concerns about invasion of privacy. The need to ensure that protected personal information isn't accidentally lumped in with legitimately public documents is a big reason information requests can take so much time.
These concerns — about wasting agency time and some behaving as digital peeping toms — have led to moves in some states to impose additional limits on access. These efforts are fraught with concerns by the news media and open-access advocates, who fear any erosion in the public's hard-fought ability to keep tabs on the bureaucracy. We can avoid such backward steps for democracy by:
. Speaking up to legislators and local officials in support of government transparency;
. Carefully tailoring requests for information to seek only what we genuinely need;
. Being prepared to personally pay for excess staff time and copying charges;
For their part, officials and agency employees can avoid at least some stressful information demands by cheerfully and speedily complying with all reasonable inquiries. Cooperation breeds trust.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Sept. 30, on one-year extension of timber payments
Against all odds, federal timber payments likely will flow to Oregon counties for at least another year.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, pulling another legislative rabbit out of his hat, attached a one-year extension of the payments to an unrelated bill dealing with a pending shortage of helium. The bill, which is considered essential because helium is used in manufacturing, passed the House unanimously this week and should have smooth sailing in the Senate.
It's getting harder and harder to get Congress to approve these timber payments, which are intended to reimburse rural Western counties — including 18 in Oregon — for the revenue they've lost as logging operations in those counties, dominated by federal forest lands, have dipped dramatically.
As Wyden noted in a town hall meeting he held this summer in Albany, the payments aren't welfare to the counties — but, increasingly, that's the attitude Wyden's colleagues have. That explains in part why legislative sleight of hand was required to get the payments extended for another year.
It's not as if the Oregon counties, including Benton County, are spending the timber money frivolously: Counties rely on the money for law enforcement, road maintenance and other essential services.
And the amount of money has dropped by almost two-thirds in just the last few years: In 2007, the Secure Rural Schools program provided about $280 million to Oregon counties.
The amount attached to the helium bill? About $100 million — but that's before the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester slice another 5 to 8 percent out of that.
Our guess is that the legislative trickery required to pull the payments out of the dustbin of history just about has run its course. This truly could be the last hurrah for the program.
As Wyden reminded his Albany audience this summer, however, the timber payments always were meant as a stopgap, to buy time so that counties that used to depend on logging can rethink their economies.
But the work to retool an economy requires time — decades, in some cases — to truly take root.
And there will be a big place for logging even in those retooled economies. So in many ways, the timber payment issue goes hand-in-hand with proposals to overhaul the management of federal lands in Oregon once owned by the Oregon & California Railroad. A bill which would do that (and which also would increase logging on those lands) has passed the House.
But the bill's prospects are dim in the Senate, where Wyden says he's working on his own proposal.
As Wyden knows as well as anyone, the time is growing short for Oregon's rural counties. He's done good work to keep the timber payments alive for at least one more year — but now the time finally has come to think about these lands over the long term.
Or maybe those rural counties can get involved in helium production. We hear that business is booming.