Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Daily Astorian, Nov. 14, on Sen. Merkley's bill banning workplace discrimination against gays
As speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, Jeff Merkley was known as "the Boy Scout." His attention to detail in counting votes and rounding them up earned him that nickname.
Merkley's ability to do the hard, old-fashioned business of legislating showed last week when the Senate enacted legislation to ban workplace discrimination against gays. The margin of victory was 64-32, meaning that Merkley gained significant Republican support.
Merkley's predecessor, former Sen. Gordon Smith, had something to do with one prominent Republican's "yes" vote. The New York Times reported Friday that Smith personally approached Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. Smith took on that challenge at the invitation of Sen. Merkley. It was a bold move for Merkley to make that request of the man he defeated in 2008, and it was generous of Gordon Smith to plead a case in front of the Utah Republican.
The Times noted the significant Mormon support for the anti-discrimination bill. Its supporters included Mormons Hatch, Harry Reid of Nevada and Dean Heller of Nevada.
Despite the strong show of Republican support in the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner has no plans to bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote.
Merkley came to the task of managing the anti-discrimination bill at the request of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. This was one of Kennedy's causes. As a dying man, the Massachusetts senator was concerned about his unfinished business.
Legislating seems like a lost art in Congress. Members are better at posturing for television than they are at counting votes and building coalitions. Speaker Boehner continues to take the easy way out. There is little effort involved in saying no.
History is on the side of those who oppose workplace discrimination.
The (Bend) Bulletin, Nov. 15, on cyclists and road costs
Bicyclists don't tear up the roadbed the way a car or truck will. On that issue we'll agree with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which has just launched a campaign in the Portland area making the case that bikers actually pay more than their fair share of road costs.
It's clear that when it comes to such things as roadbed damage, bikers' impact is minimal, at best. In fact, says the BTA, studies, including one from the University of California at Berkeley, show it would take something like 9,600 bikers to do the damage inflicted by a single car.
Moreover, BTA argues in an article in The Oregonian, bikers actually pay more than their fair share for road damage. That assumes, however, that BTA's estimate that 89 percent of them also own cars and pay fees and gas taxes as a result is accurate. The Oregon Department of Transportation argues that even if the figure is correct, the statement misses the point. The state constitution requires that gas taxes go to highway maintenance.
There's more to the story than road damage, however.
In Bend, as one example, efforts to accommodate bikers have meant creation of new intersections, reduction in traffic lanes and, in particularly busy areas, separating bikers from moving cars by putting parking spaces between them.
That latter isn't particularly expensive, surely. But major intersection changes like the one at Riverside Boulevard and Galveston Avenue don't come free. And in some communities loss of a traffic lane on one street may lead to expansion of a different road to accommodate drivers who have shifted elsewhere.
No one expects bikers to pick up the full cost of such things nor should they. Society doesn't work like that — we all chip in with taxes to pay for what our communities need.
That's why a bill that died in the 2013 Legislature is worth another look. Sponsored by Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, it would have imposed a $10 registration fee on new bikes for a new Bicycle Transportation Improvement Fund to be managed by the state.
George's bill may not have been perfect. And, in fact, there may be a better way to include bikers in covering the cost of building and maintaining roadways safe and usable by all. The bill does offer a jumping off point, however, for a discussion well worth having.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Nov. 18, on young Americans, "The Daily Show" and the Affordable Care Act
Here's how you'll know when the Affordable Care Act really is in trouble: When President Barack Obama shows up on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to defend it.
It's not as far-fetched a prospect as you would think. Obama himself has appeared on "The Daily Show," the nightly satirical take on the news. Last month, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and thus the cabinet official on the front lines of the bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, appeared on the show — and wilted under questioning from Stewart.
Here's why this is a big problem for Obama: For better or for worse, "The Daily Show" and its cousin, "The Colbert Report," are critical sources of national and world news for younger Americans.
And it's younger Americans who are key components of making the Affordable Care Act work: In many ways, the program doesn't pencil out unless the government persuades younger (and presumably healthier) souls to sign up for the programs.
But when what those young Americans are seeing on "The Daily Show" is Stewart constantly riffing about the botched rollout of the federal website where people — at least in theory — can sign up for coverage, it almost certainly leaves them with the impression that they have better things they can do with their time. Such as sending friends more of those Snapchat selfies.
In fact, "The Daily Show" coverage has reached a point where Republicans are buying ad space on the show for ads lampooning Obamacare. (The GOP ad spots are parodies of those old Apple "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC" ads. You're right: That is so 2006. But give the Republicans points for trying.)
The news isn't getting any better for the Obamacare rollout. Sebelius last week released numbers showing that about 106,000 people picked health plans in the first month of enrollment through the federal and state marketplaces.
That number was far fewer than the administration originally estimated would sign up in the first month.
Administration officials downplayed the disappointing numbers, noting that the initial enrollment period doesn't close until March 31. The message from the administration was essentially, wait and see.
The problem is, Stewart and his comedic cohorts aren't going to wait to fire up some additional roasting of the rollout. And one of the key demographics here likely won't have a lot of patience waiting for the health exchanges to be functional.
But it could be that we won't have to wait too much longer for Obama to take the hot seat next to Jon Stewart.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Nov. 19, on Wyden's bill on surveillance disclosure
The U.S. Supreme Court's rejection Monday of a challenge to a National Security Agency program that sweeps up the telephone records of millions of ordinary Americans underscores the need for Congress to pass legislation forcing public disclosure about the scope of the federal government's communications surveillance.
Over the past three years, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has introduced several measures that would have brought greater transparency to these activities. None has withstood the unrelenting and unreasonable opposition of the Obama administration.
Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders show interest in dealing with NSA issues in the current session. Some cite national security concerns, accepting without question warnings from counterterrorism officials that the vast powers granted the government under the Patriot Act and other laws are essential to preventing a terrorist attack on the United States.
But there is no reason why the nature and extent of domestic spying activities should remain secret. In the wake of massive data leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, lawmakers — and the American public — now know the government collects the records of almost every phone call made in the United States and can capture anyone's e-mail messages, Internet chats and other communications.
Public knowledge about the NSA's activities has not resulted in another terrorist attack, but it has brought growing public pressure on lawmakers and the administration to end the secrecy that has made it impossible for lawmakers or the public to gauge the extent of the government's domestic intelligence gathering.
Late last year, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced a promising measure that would have required the supersecret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make public summaries of its rulings on domestic surveillance activities. The bill did not pass. Wyden, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., then wrote the court asking for similar disclosures. In a patronizing response, the chief judge responded that the public might be confused by such summaries and that they might put national security at risk.
Wyden, a veteran member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees with that perspective, and in recent weeks has been gathering support for an amendment that would impose an array of disclosure requirements on the nation's intelligence agencies. Those requirements include public reports on how often intelligence agencies conduct the digital sweeps that enable them to track Americans' cell phones, and how often intelligence agencies have breached their own privacy rules.
Wyden's proposal would not restrict NSA data collection, thus undermining the administration's argument that it would endanger national security. There is a glaring need to eventually restrict or eliminate some NSA programs, but Wyden recognizes that transparency is an essential first step.
He plans to attach his amendment to a defense bill now headed for a Senate vote. "I think there's an opportunity to work with senators of varying different views to set the record straight about the government's surveillance authority and jump-start the broader debate about intelligence reform," he told The New York Times.
Senators should support Wyden's bill and protect this nation's civil liberties by requiring the government to be transparent about its surveillance.
The Oregonian, Nov. 18, on medical marijuana dispensaries
Not long before the iPod came along and disrupted their industry, manufacturers of compact disc players probably held a lot of meetings in which they planned for a future in which their products figured prominently. Manufacturers of cassette tape players probably had similar meetings years earlier, and makers of record players before them.
The development of rules for medical marijuana dispensaries has a similar feel. What's obsolete in this case isn't technology, however. Rather, it's the need for a pretext to consider pot legalization, which is what the Oregon's medical marijuana program has always been, notwithstanding the incidental medical benefit derived by some card holders. Oregon has moved beyond this, as demonstrated by a sober legalization proposal — pardon the pun — pursued by New Approach Oregon, which earlier this year made an equally sober attempt to get the Legislature involved.
Medical marijuana is what legalization looked like in 1998, when Oregonians approved Measure 67. Washington and Colorado are what legalization looks like in 2013. Yet officials gathered in Salem on Monday to hash out the implementation of House Bill 3460, which represents, in marijuana terms, the pinnacle of CD technology in what may soon be an iPod world. The law, upon which The Oregonian's Noelle Crombie has reported extensively, establishes state oversight of marijuana dispensaries, which have been tolerated, but not sanctioned, for years.
How thoroughly has the legalization debate moved beyond medical marijuana? In 2004, voters defeated Measure 33, which would have established medical marijuana dispensaries. They killed another such measure in November 2010. Yet in 2013 state lawmakers approved on their own something their constituents rejected less than three years earlier. The decision was greeted by a statewide yawn.
They're certainly not yawning in Medford, where city councilors in September tweaked their business license regulations in a way that effectively bans medical marijuana dispensaries. Such prohibitions there and elsewhere have sparked a debate about local control. Oregonians should consider this tension carefully given the possibility that multiple legalization measures will qualify for the November 2014 ballot.
If the only people who qualified for marijuana cards were those with genuine medical needs, officials in cities like Medford would be a lot less eager to ban dispensaries. But that's never been the case, says Medford Police Chief Tim George, who supports the ban. He points out that Jackson County has more medical marijuana card holders than any county except Multnomah. "Either we have a lot of sick people or a lot of people are gaming" the system. With a ratio of about 28 residents per marijuana card — compared to about 75 per card in Multnomah — we're going with the latter.
What happens, then, when there's no need to game a system, when the number of people with legal access to marijuana far exceeds 58,484, which is the number of marijuana card holders as of October? Oregon wouldn't be the first state to confront that question. In Washington, officials recently decided to license up to 334 marijuana stores (15 in Clark County), though that number could change over time according to consumer demand and political pressure.
It's one thing to accept marijuana legalization in the abstract, as polling indicates a growing number of Oregonians have done in recent years. It's important to remember, however, that legalization has practical implications ranging from intoxicated driving to the proliferation of downtown marijuana shops. Not everyone wants Gary's House 'o Ganja to move in next to Starbucks. Oregon's medical marijuana program may be widely gamed, even disingenuous, and it's certainly obsolete in the sense that the legalization debate no longer requires a medical smokescreen. But for all of its peculiarities, the system does at least limit access.
In the end, the reasons to support legalization may be better than the reasons not to. There is something ridiculous about treating alcohol and marijuana differently, as if swigging whiskey while smoking a cigarette is healthier than lighting up a joint. Medford's opposition, however, is a reminder that legalization involves consequences as well as freedoms, and these deserve consideration too. In many ways, 1998 wasn't so bad.