- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Pendleton) East Oregonian, Oct. 25, on Oregon’s compliance with the REAL ID Act:

The Oregon legislature is in a stare down with the federal government, one it is likely to lose.

At issue is the adoption of federal standards for driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards in Oregon that can be used at secured areas, including airports.

The law requiring it, the Real ID Act of 2005, was enacted as a result of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism. It requires higher standards of proof of U.S. citizenship or proof of lawful status in the U.S. in order for state-issued IDs to be valid for federal purposes, such as at airport security points or when entering federal courthouses or other secure federal facilities.

The Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport security, has said it intends to stop accepting noncompliant IDs on Jan. 22, 2018. States that are still noncompliant - but have been granted deadline extensions - will face a hard deadline of October 2020, when Homeland Security has said it will require all air travelers to carry a Real ID-compliant license. At that point, residents from noncompliant states will be required to present other identification which does meet Real ID requirements, like a passport, to fly domestically or to enter federal courthouses or other secure federal facility. Passports are already required for international air travel.

Across the country, 21 states currently comply, but others including Oregon have fought the law, saying it is an overreaching, unfunded federal mandate. In 2009, Oregon lawmakers prohibited the Department of Motor Vehicles from spending state funds to comply with the act. They have argued that many of the requirements were too expensive to undertake, and they have asked for extensions each year, which have been routinely granted. Just this month, the state was granted another extension, but this time only until June 2017, essentially just enough time for the Legislature to reconsider its position. Oregon lawmakers have said they will continue to seek extensions, which if granted, would make its deadline for full compliance in 2020.

While we understand Oregon’s initial reluctance to comply, it’s time to start implementing the changes.

Congress enacted the law more than a decade ago and aviation safety remains a deep concern. The Real IDs will help ease some of the worries. The security measures also make the licenses and ID cards harder to replicate and they have the potential to reduce fraud and identity theft.

Additionally, technology and expense issues that existed in 2005 along with security concerns about the cards’ data shouldn’t be a factor today. Experts say better technology and security now exists at far less cost than it did then. And on some of the concerns, like data security, the states should already be addressing those issues regardless of the Real ID requirements.

Failure to take the needed implementation steps will eventually force all residents who want to board a plane or enter a federal courthouse to spend the time and money themselves to obtain a compliant ID when one could easily exist otherwise through state-issued driver’s licenses.

Legislators shouldn’t allow that to happen and should address it in their next session.

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The Oregonian, Oct. 28, on Phil Knight’s $500 million gift to the University of Oregon:

There are few superlatives that adequately describe the staggering $500 million gift from Phil and Penny Knight to the University of Oregon. But once Oregonians get past the dizzying number of zeroes in that $500,000,000 bequest, they should pay attention to the other bombshell in last week’s announcement: The ambitious future that the gift seeks to create for the University of Oregon - and the state as a whole.

Over the next decade, the university aims to establish a research and entrepreneurial hub that will rival any for national prominence. The Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact will focus on taking researchers’ discoveries and speeding up their development into cures, treatments and products that benefit the greater public and the Oregon economy. Hundreds of students will work with top-flight scientists and business innovators at the three-building campus, outfitted with state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment.

As envisioned, the science campus could be a game-changer for a state that lands a relative pittance in research dollars and attention. As The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Andrew Theen reported, UO, Oregon State University, Oregon Health and Science University and Portland State University collectively brought in fewer research dollars than University of Washington in Seattle alone. But the main driver of the idea, developed by UO faculty, is to move more of their research out of the ivory tower and into actual solutions, said Jim Hutchison, associate vice president for research and the Lokey-Harrington Chair in chemistry.

One example of what the campus could help accelerate: In the early 2000s, the university’s researchers were exploring how to attach nanoparticles to surfaces like clothing, said Hutchison. That eventually led to the creation of a spinoff company, Dune Sciences, whose antibacterial coating technology is now used in anti-odor clothing treatments sold under the deFUNKit brand name. Dune is also researching possible medical applications. Not a bad outcome from a research paper titled “Patterned Gold-Nanoparticle Monolayers Assembled on the Oxide of Silicon.”

Other universities have hailed the opportunities that this research hub will open up to them. And its location 7/8- outside the Portland metro area 7/8- is significant for boosting economic development in a less prosperous corner of the state.

In a phone interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board, Nike co-founder Phil Knight said that he and his wife appreciate university President Michael Schill’s leadership and were impressed by the UO faculty members who pitched them the idea. But the sheer ambition of the project also appealed to them.

Like their previous gifts to the University of Oregon and the $600 million to OHSU’s cancer institute in recent years, the donations are meant to encourage Oregon’s ambitions to think big, Knight said.

“I want to remind people that Oregon doesn’t have to be that soccer field between Washington and California,” he said.

That’s likely part of the message that the university will pitch to the rest of the state when it asks the Legislature to approve $100 million in general-fund-backed bonds to construct one of the buildings. While there are no strings attached to the Knights’ gift, Schill argues that the state should also have “some skin in the game” making the campus a reality.

He has a point, and the state must study what benefits will likely stem from such an investment. At the same time, the university should also recognize that the state must weigh a long list of priorities competing for a limited amount of bonds.

It is worth remembering what a dose of big ambition can achieve for Oregon. More than 50 years ago, Knight took on worldwide juggernaut Adidas and launched his own company with little more than some sample running shoes, the partnership of his former track coach and a $500 investment. His little start-up has since emerged as the 343rd largest company in the world by sales. Nike’s global workforce numbers more than 60,000. And Nike serves as a magnetic North for the footwear and apparel industry, drawing suppliers, entrepreneurs and even competitors to set up shop in Oregon.

That was what Phil Knight did with $500. Oregon now will see what $500 million can do.

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The Daily Astorian, Oct. 25, on boosting rail freight service:

A century ago, running freight trains between Astoria and Portland made economic sense because there were bulk products - most notably logs, finished lumber and salmon - that originated here and were being conveyed into interstate commerce.

Nowadays, Astoria’s rail corridor is treasured as a picturesque means to travel along the waterfront. It ties river frontage together into a cohesive, themed package of maritime industry and sights.

In addition, a potential exists for industrial rail to become useful if Tongue Point ever achieves its destiny as a manufacturing/warehousing terminal, a dream that might also enhance the relevancy of re-extending heavy rail service to the Port of Astoria’s main facilities in west Astoria.

As explored in our story last week, some vexing issues surround maintaining the parts of rail infrastructure that remain useful at this moment, while deciding how much effort should go into preserving and enhancing the tracks, bridges and other assets between Tongue Point and Wauna - where the paper mill makes use of the rail connection to points east.

Largely running above or near water, the rail line between Tongue Point and the Port of Astoria is expensive to maintain. Downtown, emergency repairs are underway now in advance of a multi-year $12 million renovation project scheduled to start next fall. Another $950,000 is needed to bring bridge ends up to rail standards that would allow freight trains to move along the waterfront.

Bringing the now-unused segment from Tongue Point east to Wauna up to snuff would cost even more - perhaps $1 million a mile, with no sign that freight traffic will soon achieve anything like the 5,000 to 9,300 freight cars per year necessary to make the line economically feasible. The cost may climb even higher, depending on how water levels rise in a world with unstable icecaps.

West Coast cities once avidly competed to become the Pacific Ocean anchors for major east-west rail corridors. Astoria’s justification for such an interconnection has always been undercut by the fact that ocean-going ships and barges can move freight far upriver at an even lower cost than rail.

The argument for rail freight service all along the Columbia will grow in potency as population and industry fills the gaps between here and Portland as the century moves forward. In addition, commuter passenger rail - last toyed with the years leading up to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial - could someday become a vital part of the transportation picture in northwest Oregon.

We need to continue making the case to the state that spending on rail infrastructure is a good investment in our region’s future. At the same time, it behooves us to recognize that our port, waterfront and Tongue Point all have much potential for multiple industries - not just tourism. This means that while we work to preserve views and enhance hospitality and retail options along the river, we also must stand up for the kinds of heavier industries that can make viable use of rail.

Supporting rail facilities must be about much more than nostalgia: We have to advocate on behalf of all the economic sectors that require affordable links to the Interstate 5 corridor.

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The Bend Bulletin, Oct. 28, on expanding a national monument in southern Oregon:

Southern Oregon, from Klamath County to the Pacific Ocean, has faced some of the worst economic problems in the state over the last three decades. Timber - or the inability to harvest it - is at the root of many of those problems.

Knowing that, it makes little sense to roughly double the size of a national monument in that part of the state, as Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, recommend. It particularly doesn’t make sense to do so without the full discussion congressional - rather than presidential - action would bring.

Created by presidential order at the end of the Clinton administration, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument encompasses parts of Jackson and Klamath counties at the junction of the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges. It covers roughly 95 square miles, and the addition sought by Merkley and Wyden would just about double that.

That’s something neither the state nor the two counties directly affected need.

The timber industry was part of the economic backbone of both counties through the 1980s, but is no longer. The Endangered Species Act and the listing of a variety of birds, fish, mammals and even plants have restricted logging almost to the point of extinction, and as it has declined, so, too have the Oregon & California Railroad Lands payments that were a key part of both counties’ financial resources.

Wyden’s Secure Rural Schools Act made up for some of that loss, but payments under it, too, have declined dramatically.

Klamath County, meanwhile, has suffered under the added burden of water wars that remain unsettled today and continue to take a toll on agriculture in the area.

All this adds up to poverty levels in the 20 percent range for both counties, well above Deschutes County’s 13 percent, and household incomes are lower overall, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Those are solid reasons for less, not more, restrictions on federal land in the two counties. They’re solid reasons, too, for ending the practice of setting aside federal lands by presidential fiat. Rather, this expansion and all others should be considered by Congress, not by a single individual nearing the end of a political career and answerable to no one.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Oct. 30, on the Malheur refuge verdict:

A jury’s “not guilty” verdicts Thursday in the trial of seven Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers shocked everyone. The defendants and their supporters expected to be railroaded by a corrupt federal government. Opponents of the occupation assumed that laws must have been broken in the course of a six-week armed takeover of a federal facility. Prosecutors thought they had an airtight case - but they pressed it further than the jury was willing to follow.

As the shock wore off, however, it became evident that the verdicts were the product of prosecutorial over-reach. Ammon Bundy, his older brother Ryan and five of their supporters were charged with conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs. To make a conspiracy charge stick, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused harbored a specific intent to break the law. Courtroom arguments thus hinged on the defendants’ state of mind rather than on physical evidence. Prosecutors should have contented themselves with proving that the Bundys and their band appropriated and damaged public property.

The defendants’ court victory is not final - the Bundy brothers and their father, Cliven, still face federal charges in Nevada stemming from a 2014 standoff over the family’s refusal to pay livestock grazing fees. If prosecutors in Nevada learn anything from the Oregon trial, they will focus jurors’ attention on what the Bundys did, not what they were thinking. Seven additional defendants await trial in Portland, and 11 others have already pleaded guilty

Thursday’s acquittals also cannot erase the worst consequence of the Malheur occupation. The celebrations outside the federal courthouse in Portland could not change the fact that one of the occupiers, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot by state police at a roadblock as the takeover near Burns was nearing its end. Finicum’s death does credit to no one: Not to the occupiers, who were awoken from their self-aggrandizing dreams of standing at the vanguard of a national uprising, and not federal and state authorities, whose patient determination to avoid bloodshed turned to ashes in an instant.

Other consequences will follow. The occupation began in response to the re-imprisonment of Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, whose release from incarceration was reversed after a U.S. attorney insisted that mandatory minimum sentences must be served. The acquittals of the Bundys and the others undercut the occupiers’ claims of oppression and injustice. David Fry, the last to leave the refuge, said on Thursday that “we the people must unite to take this country back from evil tyrants” - odd words from a man who had just won a not-guilty verdict from a jury of his peers in open court.

The acquittals will now be seized upon as proof of a double standard in law enforcement and the justice system. The acquittals came on the same day that police in riot gear arrested 117 Native Americans and others attempting to stop the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota. Their treatment at the hands of the courts will be watched, and the results will be contrasted to the verdicts that an all-white jury reached for all-white defendants in Portland. The Black Lives Matter movement will draw similar parallels.

Thursday’s verdicts also send a chilling message to employees of federal land-management agencies, particularly in the rural West. The Bundys and their supporters disrupted or destroyed valuable work being done at the Malheur refuge, and will pay no price for it. Such a result gives other public employees reason to fear that their own work - and perhaps their physical safety - will be similarly unprotected. Those who populate the extreme and unstable fringes of the movement for private control of federal lands will be emboldened.

It’s likely that no verdict could have advanced the public interest in defending the concept of land held in trust for all citizens - a concept that was under assault during the six-week occupation south of Burns. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge belongs to every American, and the share claimed by a Boston apartment-dweller is no smaller than the share belonging to a Harney County rancher. At the same time, the rancher understands his world in ways that can be used to protect and enhance the value of the Bostonian’s share of the refuge.

A recognition of both national ownership and local interests and expertise underlies the collaborative management plans that have been painstakingly developed for the Malheur refuge and places like it. The occupiers’ contempt for the idea of public lands being managed for the broad common good has now been validated in court - which makes the hard work of collaboration more vital than ever.

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