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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Downtown "Fest" Season Strikes Again

Posted By on Sat, Jun 26, 2010 at 9:19 PM

It’s finally summer in Bend, and right on schedule downtown merchant and blogger extraordinaire Duncan McGeary has posted his first rant of the season against downtown street closings.

Well, it isn’t a rant, actually – more like a mild sigh of protest. “So for 3/4ths of the next six weeks or so – the very meat of summer – we will have closed streets on the weekend,” McGeary posted Friday. “It appears there is a new event tacked on, as well as the bike race today, which was a new event last year. (I could swear they said they weren't going to add new events.)

“Oh, well. The majority of the downtown retailers seem to like these events, or at least acquiesce to them. So be it.”

Maybe it’s an age thing, but increasingly I find myself agreeing with McGeary on the street closing issue. I mean, I enjoy special outdoor events as much as the next guy, but haven’t we reached the point of overkill?

Friday afternoon I had the urge for a cortado, so I drove downtown to get one at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters off Minnesota. I’d forgotten about the bicycle race, so I was surprised – and annoyed – to see all the yellow police tape blocking off the downtown core.

I almost said “Fuhgeddaboutit!” and headed back home, but my cortado craving overcame my irritation; I finally found a spot in the parking garage, walked over to Lone Pine and had my beverage.

It apparently is generally assumed that special events boost downtown business, but nobody seems to have any hard data to prove it. No doubt the events draw a certain number of people downtown, and some percentage of them might walk into McGeary’s store (or somebody else’s), and some percentage of those might buy something. But how many other people get discouraged and go home – or don’t bother to come downtown in the first place because they don’t want to contend with the crowds and the parking hassle?

And it’s not as if each of these events is a unique, not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime experience. All of Bend’s innumerable “fests” are pretty much the same: some music, some beer booths, some wine booths, some food booths, and some booths selling miscellaneous tchotchkes and “art.”

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Whooping Cough and the Anti-Vaccine Wackos

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 7:34 PM

The epidemic of whooping cough that already has infected more than 900 people in California and killed at least five infants appears to be spreading into Oregon.

The Medford Mail Tribune reported yesterday that Jackson County has recorded 23 cases of the disease so far this year – roughly four times the usual number for this far into the year.

“The cases confirmed in lab testing have hit patients ranging from 2 months old to 55 years old,” the Mail Trib wrote. “Studies have shown that a relatively small fraction of cases are diagnosed and confirmed, so more people in the county likely have been infected, officials said.”

California declared a whooping cough epidemic Wednesday after health officials noticed a sharp spike in cases, mostly among Latinos. “All told, 910 cases have been confirmed, with several hundred more under investigation,” the New York Times wrote. “If the pace keeps up, the outbreak could be the largest in the state in 50 years, the California Department of Public Health reported.”

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an infection of the respiratory system that starts out like a common cold. But after a week or two the symptoms get worse and the victim develops a severe cough and the characteristic “whooping” breathing sound that gives the disease its name. Whooping cough is especially dangerous for infants, elderly adults and people whose immune systems are weakened.

Because the disease is highly contagious and modern society is so mobile, health officials throughout the nation are watching the California situation with concern.

The tragedy in all this is that whooping cough can easily be prevented by vaccination – but for a variety of reasons, including the loony anti-vaccination movement, many parents are failing to get their kids vaccinated.

“Officials are still investigating the causes of the [California] outbreak, but some have already suggested that the anti-vaccine movement could be at least partly to blame,” writes Mother Jones magazine, noting that California is the “epicenter” of the anti-vaccination movement.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the British physician whose 1998 “research” purporting to show a connection between vaccination and autism started the anti-vaccine hysteria, has been thoroughly discredited and in May was stripped of his license to practice medicine. But the quackery he peddled still finds plenty of eager buyers.

The persistent belief that vaccination causes autism seems to rest on the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – the assumption that because B came after A, A must have caused B. “Some children who were vaccinated were later diagnosed as autistic; therefore, vaccination causes autism” goes the thinking, ignoring the fact that no causal mechanism between vaccination and autism has been shown – not to mention that millions of kids get vaccinated and DON’T become autistic.

“Fears about vaccines are nothing new, but they’ve been revived in recent years by anti-vaccine crusaders who’ve junked science in favor of medical myths and conspiracy theories,” Mother Jones observes. “In the US and abroad, they’ve popularized the notion that vaccines cause autism and that whooping cough is not actually fatal, among other falsehoods. There’s also the tireless conservative argument — promulgated by folks like the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly — that government-required vaccines infringe upon individual liberty.”

It’s funny how the wackos of the extreme left and the extreme right find common ground in the belief that government is a vast, evil conspiracy dedicated to robbing them of their rights, their property, their health and their lives.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dudley "Scandal" Doesn't Hold Water

Posted By on Wed, Jun 23, 2010 at 8:15 PM

Not to be outdone by the Oregon Catalyst’s John Kitzhaber “scandal,” Carla Axtman of the liberal/Democratic Blue Oregon blog has come up with a “scandal” involving Kitzhaber’s Republican opponent, Chris Dudley.

If anything, Axtman’s entry is even lamer than the Oregon Catalyst’s.

Seems that back in 2007, Don King, the coach of the Lake Oswego High School swim team and also the proprietor of a private swim club in that posh Portland suburb, was charged with sexual abuse involving a girl under 18. Although he pleaded not guilty and eventually was acquitted by a jury, he lost his coaching job with the school district.

The following year, King applied to be reinstated. At a hearing held by the school board, Dudley – whose three children had been coached by King – testified in his favor. Axtman got a copy of the minutes of that meeting and quotes them at length.

“Mr. Dudley’s perception of Mr. King is that he thrives on connection with other people,” according to the minutes. “Mr. Dudley stressed that Mr. King truly cares about his swimmers and strives to ensure that everyone he works with improves. Mr. King coached all of Mr. Dudley’s children, as well as many of their friends. He observed Mr. King having children on his lap, having his hand on the clothed buttocks of children, and pulling children over by hooking a finger on the inside of a bathing suit, as well as other nurturing, emotionally connective interaction with children (boys and girls) of all ages. Mr. Dudley conceded that he would have been uncomfortable observing any coach other than Mr. King perform these actions with his children if he was unfamiliar with the person and/or context.”

The board unanimously declined to reinstate King. About a month later, King abandoned his effort to retain his swim coach credentials with USA Swimming, the body which governs U.S. competitive swimming,” Axtman writes. “He did so after three women came forward alleging King sexually abused them as teenagers” in California when King coached there.

In view of all this, Axtman continues, “Dudley's defense [of King] is odd, to say the least. Especially given how elected officials and members of the community, including a jury, had significant worries about King's behavior. … This is simply terrible judgment on Dudley's part. Either that, or he was easily snookered. Neither is [an] especially great prospect.”

Let’s put aside the rhetoric and look at the facts for a minute. King was somebody Dudley had known for about a decade. He had helped rehabilitate Dudley when he suffered an injury playing for the Blazers. He had coached his children without, apparently, any excessive laying on of hands. The jury (despite whatever “significant worries” it might have had) acquitted King. So Dudley was willing to go in front of the school board and testify for him.

And incidentally, although Axtman fails to mention it, Dudley was just one of five witnesses who spoke in favor of King at that meeting, including people who had worked with King and whose children had been coached by him.

As material for a scandal goes, this is mighty thin gruel. Dudley was not defending sex abuse in general, nor was he defending a convicted sex offender; he was merely telling the board what he knew about King.

I was surprised to read Axtman’s post on Blue Oregon, and I’m disappointed that she hasn’t taken it down and offered Dudley an apology. Let’s leave this sort of thing to the Rush Limbaughs and Matt Drudges of the world, okay?

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Mapping the Ins and Outs of Migration

Posted By on Fri, Jun 18, 2010 at 6:23 PM

Forbes magazine has posted a fascinating interactive map showing, county by county, where Americans moved to and where they moved from. One rather surprising fact: More people still seemed to be moving into Central Oregon than out of it – at least as of 2008.

The map indicates out-migration by lines in shades of red, with darker shades indicating more people moving out. In-migration is shown bylines in shades of gray to black; again, the darker the shade, the more people moving in.

I didn’t count all the lines, but Deschutes County appears to have a lot more gray or black ones than pink or red ones. Most of the in-migrants came from (surprise, surprise) the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas; the Portland area and the Willamette Valley also contributed quite a few.

People moving out of the county mostly headed north and east, to Washington, Idaho and Montana. We’re not talking about big numbers – only about 30 to 50 moved to most other counties. On the other hand, 365 people moved to Deschutes from California’s Orange County and San Diego County alone in 2008.

Crook and Jefferson Counties showed little in- or out-migration during the year, almost all of it involving moves within Oregon.

As I said earlier, the map is based on data for 2008, which was before the economy here had totally tanked. It would be fun to look at more recent patterns.

The map casts some doubt on the theory that higher tax rates cause higher-income people to flee a state en masse. The Economist (hardly a “socialist” rag) takes a look at the map and concludes that the picture is much more complicated.

Migration patterns between California (a notorious tax hell, according to conservatives) and Texas, which has no personal income tax, illustrate the point.

“If we look at movements between Santa Clara County and Harris County (the heart of Houston and one of the fastest growing large counties in the country) we see that in 2008 478 people moved from Santa Clara to Harris while just 331 moved in the opposite direction,” The Economist observes. “But the average income of those moving from Houston to Silicon Valley was $10,000 higher than that of those moving in the other direction. This dynamic plays out across a number of rapidly growing, low cost Sunbelt locations.”

The income difference was even more pronounced between migrants to and from Silicon Valley and Atlanta, GA, another relatively low-tax state. The average per capita income of those moving to Santa Clara County from Atlanta was $84,000, but the average income of those moving the other way was only $35,000.

“Clearly this complicates the image of the mobile rich fleeing to places with the lowest tax rates,” The Economist concludes.  “Which isn't to say that tax rates aren't a factor in migration decisions. It's simply to note that there are more things to take into account than tax rates.”

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

On the Trail of Ales, Frauds and Fools

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 6:03 PM

Now THIS is my kind of hike: Visitors to Bend this summer will be able to travel "The Bend Ale Trail," a tour of eight local craft breweries.

"Known throughout the world as one of the top outdoor recreation meccas, Bend, Oregon has now also emerged as one of the premier craft brewery capitals of the United States," says a press release put out by Visit Bend, the city's tourism promotion agency. In recognition of that fact, Visit Bend is introducing the "Bend Ale Trail," which it describes as "a multi-faceted, interactive tour of the city's craft breweries."

People hiking or biking the Bend Ale Trail will carry a "passport" that will get stamped at each of the breweries they visit. If they get it stamped by all eight, they can turn the passport in at Visit Bend's office and get a prize - a "commemorative Silipint® folding silicone pint glass for beer drinkers on the go."

The press release says a survey conducted last year found that a surprising 28% of Bend visitors listed visiting breweries as one of the activities they engaged in - ranking it fifth on the list of top touristy things to do.

What's even more surprising, considering that the press release touts Bend as "one of the top outdoor recreation areas," is that three of the top five tourist activities - shopping, dining and brewery visiting - are done indoors.

Then again, considering how crappy the spring weather in Bend typically is, maybe it isn't surprising at all.

Anyway, I think the Bend Ale Trail is kind of a neat idea, and Visit Bend ought to explore ways to apply the concept to other areas of interest.

For instance, in view of Bend's status as Real Estate Bubble Capital of the United States, how about a "Fools 'n' Frauds Tour" that would take visitors to some of the area's most outstanding examples of fraudulent and/or stupid real estate development?

It could start off with a look at some of the sites where Desert Sun claimed to be building its phantom projects, swing by a few of the scraped-bare vacant expanses that were supposed to sprout crops of McMansions, peek in at the offices that used to house Tami Sawyer's real estate firm, and wind up at The Shire for wine and cheese.

Swiss cheese, of course, to symbolize how full of holes the Bend real estate boom was.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Poll Stunner: Dudley Leads Kitzhaber by 7

Posted By on Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 6:00 PM

The conventional wisdom said that John Kitzhaber, a popular two-term former governor running in a heavily Democratic state, would have a cakewalk to a third term. But suddenly he finds himself in a horse race.

A Survey USA poll released last Friday gives Kitzhaber’s Republican rival, Chris Dudley, a shocking seven-point lead over the ex-governor. The phone survey of 800 Oregonians showed 47% for Dudley and 40% favoring Kitzhaber, with 6% supporting Soloflex founder Jerry Wilson, a possible Progressive Party candidate.

“Among the more distressing findings, Kitzhaber is trailing substantially among men, older voters, and independents,” Jeff Alworth writes on the progressive/Democratic Blue Oregon site. “Worse, Dudley actually has a slight edge in Portland.” (Emphasis in original.)

Alworth speculates that being a political unknown is working to Dudley’s advantage at this point. While Kitzhaber’s record and positions on issues are well-known, he writes, Dudley – a former center for the Portland Trail Blazers and other NBA teams – is  “a local celebrity onto whose blank political canvas voters can project generally positive feelings. That will change as Dudley becomes more a political figure and less a former Blazer.”

Oregonian political blogger Jeff Mapes also notes that the survey might have been somewhat skewed in favor of Republicans: 38% of those polled identified themselves as Democrats and 35% as Republicans, but statewide the Democrats hold a 10-point registration edge. Also, Wilson being identified as “Progressive” might have pulled some support away from Kitzhaber.

Despite these caveats, Alworth writes, “there's no reason to doubt that [the poll is] an accurate snapshot of where the race is now. … Kitzhaber may win this race – but he's going to have to win it. Dudley is a real candidate, and a real threat.”

He’s a real candidate, all right, But I continue to be troubled by the question of what Dudley really stands for and why he suddenly came out of nowhere – having never held public office of any kind – to run for the biggest job in the state. I’ve already pointed out that he’s enjoyed generous support from deep-pocketed donors; you have to wonder what they expect for their money if their horse wins.

There's no doubt that Dudley is a personable guy, the kind of guy you’d like to have beer with. But I keep remembering people used to say that about a certain friendly and outgoing Republican who ran for president in 2000.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

The Wandering Eye Takes to the Air

Posted By on Mon, Jun 14, 2010 at 6:27 PM

You can catch The Wandering Eye (aka me) along with Barney Lerten of KTVZ and Jamie Christman, co-host of COTV’s “Talk of the Town” show, in an hour-long panel discussion on KPOV at 5 pm Friday, June 18. Tune to 106.7 on your FM dial or listen to streaming audio at

It was an interesting and sometimes lively discussion touching on a wide range of topics, including the general performance of the local news outlets and how they covered the Bend real estate bubble and bust. The Bulletin was invited to participate but declined, for unspecified reasons. Maybe they’re just bashful.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dr. Reinhart's Prescription for Bend's Ills

Posted By on Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 6:12 PM

Troy Reinhart, the president of the Bend Chamber of Commerce, has written a two-page document titled “Saving Bend Through Government Innovation.” As you might expect from a conservative Chamber of Commerce president, Reinhart thinks “government innovation” mostly means shrinking government and turning its functions over to private business.

Some of Reinhart’s ideas are simple common sense – such as looking into whether the City of Bend, Deschutes County, the Bend Metro Parks & Recreation District and the Bend-LaPine School District can consolidate some services to “stop duplications and pool valuable resources.”

Others, though, are worrisome. For instance, Reinhart believes the city needs to “remove roadblocks to growth” by developing “a timetable [and] a deadline to identify and eliminate regulations and processes that unnecessarily inhibit business and job development.”

What “regulations and processes” does Reinhart have in mind? He doesn’t say – but I bet land use regulations of any kind would be high on the list.

Perhaps it would be rude to point out that five or six years ago Bend was growing like a toadstool in a cow patty despite the supposed “roadblocks” created by big bad gummint – and that the roadblock to growth in Bend today is not government regulation, but the fact that we built too many houses and commercial properties and now hardly anybody wants to buy them.

“How much money could be saved by privatizing services such as the Bend Water System, Sewer System, and Emergency Services (ambulance service)?” Reinhart asks. “Can the Public Works Department be improved through outsourcing?”

These suggestions are rooted in the conservative dogma that anything government can do, private business can do better. Maybe sometimes that’s true – but our recent experience with the collapse of the financial sector and our even more recent experience with British Petroleum’s monumental screw-up in the Gulf of Mexico ought to make us a little skeptical.

Another of Reinhart’s bright ideas is “a City Charter-incorporated cap on the level of public sector employment spending versus private sector employment earnings.” In other words, when private payrolls shrink the city would have to lay off workers and/or cut pay too.

At first glance that looks sensible, but the trouble is that the need for public services doesn’t go away in hard economic times. Kids still have to go to school, the cops still have to catch bad guys, the firefighters still have to put out fires. In fact, the need for some government services increases when times get tough.

Reinhart’s concluding proposals are that “all excess [city] property should be sold to the private sector” and “Juniper Ridge should be sold to a developer as industrial property to reduce city costs and future expenditures, while ensuring the project remains consistent with the Juniper Ridge Master Plan.”

The city inevitably will bail out of Juniper Ridge, as I and others predicted when the city dumped Ray Kuratek and Jeff Holzman as master developers back in 2008. The city will unload the property at a fire-sale price – after paying for the planning and  much of the infrastructure – and the private purchaser will skim off the gravy.

Socialize the costs and privatize the profits – it’s the Bend way.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

GOP Sniffs a "Kitzhaber Scandal" in $5,000 Contribution

Posted By on Sat, Jun 12, 2010 at 5:53 PM

Did the John Kitzhaber campaign slip cash to an official of the Independent Party to get him to post negative comments about Kitzhaber’s rivals? That’s what the state Republican Party is hinting.

The GOP wants state Attorney General John Kroger and Secretary of State Kate Brown to investigate “the potential improprieties concerning the financial activity and coordination between the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber and Independent Party of Oregon officials.”

The Republicans say Orestar, the Secretary of State’s on-line database of campaign contributions and expenditures, shows that Kitzhaber campaign finance chairman Brett Wilcox gave $5,000 to the Independent Party on Jan. 28.

“Following this contribution, Sal Peralta, secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon, made a personal withdrawal in the amount of $2,500 from the Independent Party on February 2, 2010 for purposes unknown, according to Orestar,” state GOP Chairman Bob Tiernan’s letter to Kroger says. “Following this transaction, Sal Peralta began to publicly attack Bill Bradbury, Kitzhaber’s opponent during [the] primary election, via the Internet. The process was repeated against Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley.”

The letter cites three negative comments about Bradbury that Peralta made in March and April and three anti-Dudley comments that he made in April and May. All the comments were made on the liberal/Democratic Blue Oregon site.

“Was the $2,500 check written to Peralta from the Independent Party directly related to Wilcox’s contribution, and if so, was it to encourage him to publicly attack the Bradbury and Dudley campaigns?” Tiernan wants to know. “Was Wilcox’s $5,000 contribution given to help secure the nomination of the Independent Party for John Kitzhaber?”

According to Oregonian political blogger Jeff Mapes, the Kitzhaber campaign and Independent Party officials “scoffed at the allegations and said that they didn't hold any water.” Wilcox told Mapes he gave money to the Independent Party because “I think it's important to have a centrist party in this state.”

Clearly the Republicans are hoping to blow this up into a big deal; the conservative/Republican Oregon Catalyst blog headlined its post about the GOP charges: “Kitzhaber Scandal: $5,000 Independent Party Pay-Out.”

Was something shady going on here? It’s hard to say, but so far the GOP doesn’t seem to have produced any evidence that there was a quid pro quo – just that one guy associated with Kitzhaber gave money to the Independent Party, and an official of that party took out some money from the party treasury.

I’m not a master of campaign dirty trickery, but if I wanted to bribe somebody I’d probably do it in a way that wouldn’t show up on Orestar – handing him envelopes stuffed with $100 bills under the table at some restaurant, for example.

Also, if John Kitzhaber is passing out thousands of dollars for writing uncomplimentary things about Chris Dudley, I want my cut. I’ve written several unflattering posts about Dudley already and he hasn’t paid me a dime.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Breaking the Senate's Secret Chokehold

Posted By on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 6:23 PM

The US Senate has been described as the world’s most exclusive club, and like other exclusive clubs it has its own peculiar customs and rituals – some of them charming, many of them the opposite.

One of the least charming ones is the “secret hold,” a rule that allows any senator to block action on a piece of legislation simply by objecting to it – and he doesn’t even have to reveal his identity. It’s the legislative equivalent of blackballing.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, from Iowa, and Oregon’s own Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden have been fighting the good fight against the secret hold ever since 1997. Just this year they’ve tried five times to push forward a bill to severely restrict the use of the secret hold; five times Senate Republicans have gunned it down.

But they’re not giving up. Now that the Senate is back in session, they’re going to take another shot.

“Wyden and Grassley are both frustrated and angry because their proposal does nothing to weaken the use of holds,” according to an Oregonian story Tuesday. “They just want the objector to be named. The measure they wrote would require that the senator using the hold be named publicly within two days.”

Present rules require the identity of a senator imposing a secret hold to be disclosed within six days, but Wyden and Grassley said in a news release that’s not good enough because “the holding period has proven too long to be effective, and because this requirement is triggered only when the bill is brought to the floor for consideration, it is possible for senators to indefinitely block legislation from reaching the floor without ever disclosing that they are doing it much less why.” 

Among other things, secret holds have been used to block judicial and other appointments by President Obama. According to Huffington Post blogger Victor Williams, “over two hundred top federal posts remain vacant due to confirmation obstruction.”

“This is about fundamental accountability and fairness,” Wyden said in the news release. “If senators feel strongly enough about an issue that they are going to take the extreme step of blocking a nomination or a piece of legislation, then they should have the courage to take responsibility for their actions and explain why. The bottom line is that if you can’t make a good public case for why you are doing something, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

Pretty hard to argue with that logic, seems to me. In fact, whether it’s done secretly or not, the idea that a single senator can thwart the will of the other 99 seems totally nuts.

But if anybody wants to defend the practice of holds – secret or otherwise – go ahead and take your shot.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Miniature Portland, No - Miniature LA, Sí

Posted By on Sat, Jun 5, 2010 at 8:52 PM

On Wednesday The Bulletin printed an “In My View” piece by Greg Macpherson, a member of the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, defending the state’s land use laws and the LCDC’s decision to send Bend’s proposed Urban Growth Boundary expansion back for a do-over.

This morning The Bulletin printed Macpherson’s piece again – not because they liked it so much, but because they wanted to sneer at it in an editorial.

Calling Macpherson’s article (which, to me, seemed extremely polite and even-tempered) an “insulting lecture,” the editorial insinuated – hell, it pretty much said outright – that McPherson is engaged in political pandering to those eeeeee-vil libruls on the west side of the Cascades who want Bend to become “a miniature version of Portland.”

“Once a politician, always a politician,” the editorial says, going on to note that Macpherson used to be the state representative for “tony Lake Oswego” (oooh, he must be an elitist!) and ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2008.

“Sooner or later,” the editorial continues, Macpherson is “likely to run for statewide office again. And when he does, he can now say he used his tenure on the LCDC to defend the integrity of Oregon’s land use system against an assault by the wayward people of Bend. It’s possible, in other words, that Macpherson’s patronizing little lecture was intended largely to impress future voters in Portland.”

It evidently never occurred to the sages on The Bulletin’s editorial board that Macpherson might be defending the state’s land use system because he believes in it; no, anybody who disagrees with The Bulletin must have impure motives for doing so.

“We suppose it’s Macpherson’s prerogative to use his LCDC seat as a political platform, but it does call his objectivity into question,” the editorial concludes. “Does he really intend to apply the law even-handedly to Bend’s proposal, or is his judgment hopelessly clouded by his apparent desire to score political points? Officials and residents of Bend shouldn’t have to wonder. If Macpherson cares about the integrity of the state’s land use system, he should recuse himself from all future decisions regarding Bend’s UGB.”

Note the exquisite circularity of the logic here: The Bulletin’s editorial writers think Macpherson should decline to take part in any decisions about Bend’s UGB because of his “apparent desire to score political points” with Portlanders – a desire which is apparent only to The Bulletin’s editorial writers.

Today’s editorial claims that the city approved the over-inflated and ill-advised UGB expansion because “most people who live here” wanted it that way; following state land use rules would force Bendites to live cheek-by-jowl in a miniature Portland (complete with “snout houses” and gangsters, one imagines).

I don't recall any local polls being taken on the UGB expansion, but maybe The Bulletin has access to some secret polling data; I don’t know. I do know that when I talk with ordinary folks around here, they all agree the UGB expansion is far too big and mostly in the wrong places.

And while people in Bend might not want their town to become a “miniature version of Portland,” they’ve been very vocal for many years about not wanting it to become a sprawling mess like Phoenix or Los Angeles either.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Crime and (Eventually, Maybe) Punishment

Posted By on Thu, Jun 3, 2010 at 7:56 PM

The Oregonian’s Steve Duin had a cleverly crafted column this morning about the Randy Guzek case. It brought back a flood of memories.

On a summer night in 1987, Randy Guzek, then 18 years old, and two friends, Mark Wilson and Ross Cathey, knocked on the door of the Terrebonne home of Rod and Lois Houser. Guzek had been dating the Housers’ niece, but the Housers didn’t approve of him. Guzek and his companions went to the Houser home that night intending to rob the couple.

When Rod Houser opened the door Wilson started firing. He ended up putting 22 slugs into his body. Guzek then executed Lois Houser with bullets to her head and heart.

I had been working at The Bulletin for less than two years at the time, and the shocking double murder was the biggest story the small-town paper had covered in decades – maybe ever.

Incredibly, after nearly 23 years the story is isn’t over yet.

Guzek and his companions were convicted of aggravated murder. The other two received life sentences; Guzek, as the ringleader, was sentenced to death by lethal injection. He appealed and got the sentence overturned.

There was another trial and another death penalty sentence. Guzek appealed again and won again. There was a third trial and a third death penalty sentence. And another successful appeal.

Now Randy Guzek is on trial for his life for the fourth time. A Deschutes County jury will decide whether he finally dies or spends the rest of his life in prison.

Or maybe it won’t decide; there’s always the chance of yet another appeal and another trial.

In his column Duin argues emotionally, and powerfully, that we need to get this ordeal over with. “Guzek is angling for a life sentence,” he writes. “Everyone who knew the Housers, or stumbled upon what was left of them, is already serving one.” It’s long past time, Duin seems to say, “to give Guzek the lethal injection he so richly deserves.”

Does Guzek, “richly deserve” death, as Duin says? Probably he does, although I like to be a little cautious about claiming I know who deserves to live and who deserves to die.

Beyond the question of whether Guzek deserves to die is the question of whether his death, after all these years, would serve any purpose. It might give satisfaction to the friends and relatives of the Housers, certainly. And it would save the state the trouble and expense of another appeal and trial.

But if the idea of killing a murderer is to deter others from murdering, Guzek’s execution would do nothing. Twenty-three years is almost half a lifetime. After 23 years most people – including most would-be murderers – have forgotten who Guzek was and what he did.

It’s doubtful that the death penalty is an effective deterrent at all. Countries that have abolished it (Great Britain in 1971, Canada in 1976 and France in 1981, among many others) have not seen their murder rates soar. In the US, every single one of the 10 states with the highest murder rates employs the death penalty.

The larger argument aside, everybody agrees that for the death penalty to be an effective deterrent it has to be swift and sure. And in our system it’s anything but. Oregon has not executed anybody since 1997. There are 33 inmates now on Oregon’s Death Row; a couple of them have been there almost as long as Guzek.

Should we streamline the process, eliminate the appeals, strap convicted killers to the gurney and shoot ‘em the juice right in the courtroom as soon as the verdict comes in?

Well, that’d be one way of handling it – and if anything could be a deterrent, that would.

The only trouble is that, as many recent cases have shown, the wrong people get convicted surprisingly often. And the death penalty is extremely final. If we screw up, we don’t get any do-overs.

How about this: Suppose that, instead of a death sentence that might (or might not) get carried out after 20 or 30 years, we gave convicted killers a real, honest-to-god, no-bullshit life sentence. No parole, no time off for good behavior, no commutation, no appeal unless new evidence exonerating the defendant comes to light.

Commit murder, spend the rest of your life doing hard time – that’s it. No ifs, ands or buts. Swift and certain punishment.

At least it would be a lot more swift and certain than anything killers are getting in Oregon now.

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