- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Oregonian/OregonLive, Aug. 7, on an uneasy peace in Portland:

Portland was not another Charlottesville. Despite all the ingredients for a violent confrontation between right-wing Patriot Prayer demonstrators and counter-protesters on Saturday, Portland escaped without the loss of life that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, when, officials say, a neo-Nazi deliberately plowed his car into a crowd of protesters. And instead of the brawling that has marked past clashes between right-wing marchers and anti-fascists in Portland, police successfully enforced an uneasy peace by maintaining a no-go zone between the two sides.

But the city hasn’t escaped injury.

While Portland Police as a whole did a commendable job of managing a near-impossible situation, reports of serious wounds from police “flash bang grenades” and videos of some officers’ use of force deserve prompt and thorough investigation.

Among the disturbing cases reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive and other media organizations after police ordered the crowd to disperse: one female counter-protester who appeared to be leaving the area was yanked to the ground by a police officer who grabbed the poster she was carrying. After she got up, other officers piled on. And a male counter-protester sustained a head injury after officers fired a flash-bang grenade that lodged in his helmet, according to the man’s friend.

Certainly, police were operating amid chaos. Some of that stems from the subset of counter-protesters who were intent on wreaking havoc, whether it was on Patriot Prayer members or the police. Individuals in the crowd pelted officers and others, including Oregonian/OregonLive reporter Eder Campuzano, with projectiles. But some of the chaos resulted from police officers themselves, who, according to reporters’ accounts, gave little time for the crowd to disperse before lobbing the disorienting flash-bang grenades and rushing people in the crowd.

But chaos and obnoxious behavior from some protesters don’t relieve police officers of the responsibility to act professionally and respect personal rights as they aim to protect public safety. With the bureau’s mixed record of handling protests, Chief Danielle Outlaw’s promise to investigate allegations of misconduct and suspend use of flash-bang grenades is a welcome and necessary one.

She shouldn’t stop there. She should also review other methods for crowd control, favoring tactics that ease compliance with police requests rather than alarm or intimidate people into a panicked reaction.

It’s worth noting that Outlaw’s conduct in the aftermath of the protests has been an encouraging sign of her leadership style. Despite sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union and others, she has owned responsibility for the police bureau’s response. She has defended her officers’ overall performance while standing front and center to hear complaints. She has talked publicly and acted decisively. In other words, she’s showing what accountability looks like. Her actions send a reassuring message to those concerned about these protests and bode well for relations between police and community members in the future.

But last weekend’s protests also leave a question for Portlanders to answer. What will they do if - or likely when - Patriot Prayer decides to troll Portland by protesting here again? Is an in-your-face response to Patriot Prayer members really the best way to counter their specious rantings? Should Portlanders reward their extremism by treating them with credibility that they don’t merit?

There are other ways to drown out messages of intolerance and hate. It starts by Portlanders setting their own agenda rather than giving outside agitators that control.

Portlanders show time and again that this is a city that values inclusion, compassion and tolerance. They show this through the priorities they fund, the leaders they elect and the peaceful gatherings that they organize. They do this in staging their own demonstrations, away from attention-hungry gimmick groups, that emphasize Portland’s beliefs. They don’t do this as well when their primary purpose is to physically shout down the opposition.

It’s telling that while the high-profile Patriot Prayer protest and counter-protest drew several hundred people last weekend, the June 30 Families Belong Together rally supporting immigrants drew several thousand. There were families, not flash-bang grenades. There was a clear message of what this city and its residents stand for and support. And there was a feeling of solidarity and faith that this city’s values will endure.

That is how Portland fights back.


The Bend Bulletin, Aug. 7, on county finally kicking off audit of radio system:

Starting about 8 months ago, The Bulletin began reporting on the problems of Deschutes County’s new $5 million public safety radio system - distortion, dropped signals and, and .

Some of the problems remain unresolved, even though the system launched more than a year ago. But county government is finalizing two important steps to figure out how things went wrong and perhaps restructure Deschutes County 911 to better meet technology challenges.

Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney first suggested the county should do an audit of what went wrong about 8 months ago. Commissioners just approved a request for qualifications for contractors to apply for the job. It’s about time.

The contractor will be tasked to evaluate decision-making, describe how “broken” the system was and make recommendations to avoid mistakes in the future.

Another component of that audit will be critical: Why and how did county decision-makers change the original design of the system to a lower standard of performance? That piece is important because the county’s technical consultant said the county ended up contracting for a public safety radio system below the generally recognized performance standard for a public safety radio system. In short: The county got what it paid for and what it bought was not up to snuff.

The second step the county is taking looks more toward the future. Does 911 have the right staffing and structure to be able to the perform the technical side of its responsibilities? The county contracted with Harris Corp. to build the system and with ADCOMM Engineering to provide the county with technical assistance. But does 911 itself need more technical expertise?

The county’s most important priority is to improve the performance of the system. But it’s smart to finally get around to an in-depth look at what went wrong and how to avoid those mistakes. Taxpayers paid $5 million for a frustrating result.


Corvallis Gazette-Times on getting ready for waves of attack ads:

Oregon voters, if you like political attack ads and negative campaigns, this fall’s election campaign could be a little slice of heaven.

State politicians and interest groups have been racing to form political action committees - the sort of entities that claim independence from candidates they support but which often bankroll ads attacking opposing candidates or statewide initiatives. It’s an arrangement that lets candidates themselves appear to be taking the high road, secure in the knowledge that other entities are taking care of the mudslinging.

In July, for example, Gov. Kate Brown formed two separate political action committees, according to news stories in The Oregonian. One of these committees, dubbed Team Oregon, initially financed with $100,000 from the governor’s re-election campaign, seeks to re-elect the governor and to maintain Democratic majorities in the Legislature. The other political action committee Brown formed in July is called Defend Oregon’s Values; this committee apparently will bankroll attack ads against her Republican opponent, Knute Buehler.

To be fair, Brown already has been the target of attack ads this campaign season. In January, for example, a business-backed group called Priority Oregon launched a negative ad campaign against the governor. Earlier this summer, a nonprofit organization called Oregon Foster Families First paid for a television ad calling for Brown to “start putting our families first.” The director of the group declined to tell The Oregonian who had paid for the ads - and, in this case, is not legally required to do so.

For their part, Oregon Republicans have formed a political action committee called No Supermajorities PAC, which seeks to prevent Democrats from gaining the three-fifths supermajority they need to raise taxes without any Republican support. (Democrats need to win just one additional seat in each chamber to get the supermajority.)

It’s a good bet that Brown’s supporters will spend some PAC money creating attack ads targeting Buehler, and you can expect the same from political action committees for Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice, which already have targeting the Republican candidate. Public employee unions are also supporting Brown, including through the political nonprofit Our Oregon.(Independent Party candidate Patrick Starnes must be wondering what he has to do to become the target of a negative ad campaign; such a campaign could boost his name recognition.)

And we’ve just scratched the surface of the political action committees that aim to make noise during the fall elections.

It’s all going to add up to a considerable amount of electoral clamor this fall, which could drown out reasoned conversation and reflection about the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and the five statewide measures on the ballot.

Voters often lament each election’s tsunami of negative campaigning, but campaign strategists will tell you there’s a reason why you see so much of it: It works.

But you can strike a blow against this kind of campaigning by doing something revolutionary this election: Ignore the clamor. Turn down the volume on the screaming sound bites on TV and radio. Dig a little deeper. Take the time to do your own assessment of the candidates and the ballot measures (with only five statewide measures on the ballot, this would be a good election to get into that habit.) Which candidates are the best match for your own beliefs? Which candidates seem to be best equipped to offer real leadership? Which candidates seem to demonstrate that independent streak that Oregon voters value?

As for ballot measures, sometimes a careful reading of the text can expose strengths and weaknesses. Which measures would improve Oregon’s quality of life - and which ones seem to be half-baked?

In the increasing noise that surrounds our campaigns, this sort of quiet reflection isn’t just revolutionary: It’s downright subversive.


The Eugene Register-Guard, Aug. 7, on PERS mortgage weighing heavily:

For a taxpayer, the obligation to fund Oregon’s public employee pension shortfall - the gap between what governments are paying into the pension system and the system’s projected needs - can seem abstract. The Public Employee Retirement System’s so-called unfunded liability is $22 billion, a staggering figure that is hard to grasp on a personal level.

But what if you calculated that liability as a mortgage that each property owner owes on her or his house, and cannot escape paying off? And what if you compared Oregon’s so-called “public pension stealth mortgage” to those of other states?

That’s what a New York City researcher and a Claremont McKenna College finance professor have done, for all 50 states, providing a unique and frightening set of data that, not surprisingly, highlights the severity of Oregon’s problem.

The PERS unfunded liability amounts to a mortgage of $106,952 on every Oregon home, found researcher Rob Arnott and professor Lisa Meulbroek. That’s the 9th highest per-home amount among all the states. The highest is Alaska, with a $182,756 pension stealth mortgage, the study found. The lowest was Tennessee, with $30,404. The average was $74,639.

Arnott and Meulbroek contend that these debts amount to a government mortgage on your home. Their presence ultimately is reflected in real estate prices, they argue, and in the case of Detroit, was a factor in pushing the city into bankruptcy, which was devastating for home prices. “On average nationwide, unfunded state and local pension burdens represent 20 percent of real-estate values. This ratio can rival or exceed an owner’s home equity,” they wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece. “Future pension obligations simply must be paid, either through higher taxes or cuts to public service.”

State and local elected officials in Oregon have professed much anxiety over the PERS unfunded liability. But at the end of each discussion they throw up their hands and declare there’s little they can do to curb escalating pension costs, or for that matter to reduce pay increases and health care costs. And then they ask taxpayers to cough up more, in higher property taxes, fees and the like, under the warning that absent the increases, services will suffer.

In the drawn-out train wreck that is Oregon’s public pension system, the work by Arnott and Meulbroek is a snapshot.

After taking into account relevant financial calculations such as interest rates and rates of return, each of Oregon’s 4.1 million residents is burdened with a pension stealth debt of $26,738, they said. For a household of four, that’s $106,592. In neighboring Washington, the debt is a lot less: $16,547 per person. It’s less even in California: $25,166.

Taking $416,718 as an average home price in Oregon, the pension mortgage amounts to 25.7 percent of the home value, the study found. In Lane County, with its average home sale price of about $300,000, the pension mortgage would be 35 percent of the home’s value.

The Arnott/Meulbroek study helps cement Oregon’s place in the league of government-debt-heavy states such as Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Ohio. That’s not a good place to be.

The spreadsheet containing the pension data is at: rgne.ws/2ORXvhW


East Oregonian, Aug. 6, on Bottle Bill rate increase paying dividends:

While there are plenty of things that divide Oregonians, there are three pillars that unite us.

We speak, of course, of no sales tax, no self-pumping at gas stations and the Bottle Bill.

They’re so ingrained in our unique Oregonian culture that it seems fundamentally wrong when we’re visiting another state and see that extra line at the bottom of a receipt adding to our purchase total, or pull into a gas station and wait a beat before realizing we’re going to have to climb out and work the machine ourselves. Perhaps the most egregious is when we see friends who don’t know any better toss a soda can into the garbage, or drive down the highways of other states and see aluminum, plastic and glass littered alongside the road.

A sales tax would undoubtedly stabilize this state’s unpredictable economic cycles and give us a good case for lowering the income tax rate. Self-serve gas has proven to be non-apocalyptic in much of rural Oregon. But the Bottle Bill should be enshrined as one of our state’s greatest achievements.

Nine other states have followed in our footsteps since 1971, creating an incentive to recycle one-use containers rather than pitching them in a trash can, gutter or wildlife habitat.

As Jade McDowell reported in this paper last week, about 1.3 billion bottles and cans were returned in 2017. That represents about 80 percent of the containers that were purchased, and a substantial increase from 2016 when the deposit was a nickel. According to the online Bottle Bill Resource Guide, the return rate for non-Bottle Bill states is about 28 percent.

Distributors, who receive the initial deposit and pay it back at the end of the cycle, came out ahead at $25 million in unreturned containers. But the big win is that the incentive of a dime did what it was supposed to and got us back into the habit of returning our cans and bottles.

Overall, Americans are sloppy recyclers. We’re not alone in that trait, but we’re bad at sorting before we drop off and, because of the mess we leave, much of the world’s refuse is no longer accepted at processing centers in China. That’s bad for the world, as material that can be reused is instead piling up in landfills.

Bottles and cans are unique in that they are easily sorted, and a targeted campaign provides a greater return on investment than other materials.

As a bonus, the deposits have also become an effective fundraising mechanism for nonprofits. Last week the Agape House in Hermiston was able to raise thousands of dollars in an afternoon in coordination with the BottleDrop facility as people donated their containers to the cause. We hope to see more of that for area charities.

So whether you return your cans and bottles yourself, donate them to a charity or give them to a neighbor kid looking to make a few bucks, the daily effect of the bottle bill is what you don’t see - litter and waste in our state.

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