By Russell Sadler
The Oregon legislature’s traditional six month session is half over. This has led to a number of stories about the “Legislature at midterm.” This, in turn, has led to questions like, “They’ve been in session three months. Why don’t we have a budget yet?”
This is the wrong question. Here’s what’s really going on:
The legislature’s Democratic leadership has restored the time-honored committee process and abandoned by the Republican leadership in the 1990s. Traditionally the Oregon legislature has relied on its committees to do the serious work of evaluating and drafting the legislation assigned to them -- especially the business of budgets. The work of committees was then sent to the floor to pass or fail on its merits.
This doesn’t mean the Democrat leadership doesn’t kill bills. It does. For example, the Republicans’ particularly nasty anti-immigration legislation has been sent to committees where there are not enough votes to send it to the floor of either house. The Democratic leadership sees little chance such legislation has enough votes to pass, and its consideration unproductively inflames political passions. So the bills are buried in committee. That is the function of committees in the Oregon legislature. To avoid abuse, there is a procedure that allows a majority vote of members of either house to demand a bill be discharged from committee for a floor vote.
The budget process traditionally determines the length of the legislative session and that process takes a full six months to develop. Oregon’s budget process is the work of a rather unique Joint Ways and Means Committee that combines the tasks of authorization and appropriation that are usually the province of two separate committees in Congress and many state legislatures.
As soon as the Oregon legislature convenes in January, the Ways and Means Committee begins hearings on state agency budgets. Beginning with the least controversial budgets, there is a small but steady flow to the floor while other committees are evaluating and passing out their substantive legislation. That’s why, early in the session, other lawmakers have time to indulge in resolutions declaring the state flower, the state motto, the state insect and the state animal. While this sort of legislation is considered, the serious work on the state budget grinds on in the background.
The big ticket items -- appropriations for public schools, community colleges and the state universities -- are traditionally not considered until after April 15. Then the Department of Revenue and the Legislative Revenue staff “get a look at the mailbags” and make a reliable estimate of the actual tax take for 2006 and a reliable estimate for revenue in 2007. This sum becomes the estimated revenue for the next biennial budget period.
By early May,the Ways and Means Committee decides how much money to appropriate to public schools, community colleges and state universities. The word goes out to the other committees that “the train is leaving the station,” the legislature is “on the road to adjournment,” and if their substantive legislation is not on the way to the floor and the other house, it is likely to die in committee on adjournment. Traditionally this is where the horse trading, compromising and game-playing gets most intense.
That does not mean politics won’t be involved. Gov. Ted Kulongoski wants more money to hire state police, for example, and offered an increased tax on auto insurance premiums to pay for it. The Republican minority agrees to increase the number of state police, but wants to pay for it out the the state’s General Fund of income tax revenues which means there will be less income tax money available for public schools, colleges and universities. The Republicans like that because it means less money for their dreaded “teachers’ union” and other ideological devils.
The legislature’s Democratic leadership believes “politics is the art of the possible.” If it decides to increase the number of state police, it will try to pass Gov. Kulongoski’s insurance tax to pay for it. If they do not have the votes because of arbitrary, initiative-imposed supermajorities, they will consider financing the state police with income tax revenues.
What the Democrats will not do is imitate House Minority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, when he was in the majority and petulantly refuse to appropriate sufficient money to the state police. Scott displays the adolescent petulance that encouraged Oregon’s crossover voters to make Oregon Republicans the minority party last November. Oregon Democrats have absorbed that lesson. And that’s the real news from the Oregon legislature’s mid-session mark.
Editor's Note: The main difference in this session in addition to the Ds being in charge is that the leadership has agreed to June 29th as the sine die date. It's now early April and many bills on both the Senate and House side have not moved out of committees to the other house and its committees, let alone floor debates.
And aside from K-12 funding and the rainy day fund, the big ticket budget items still have to be considered not the least of which is the Kids Health Care bill and the big health care initiative sponsored by former Governor Kitzhaber and Senators Ben Westlund and Alan Bates. The clock is ticking. Is anyone paying attention?
We all know who is running this railroad, but will they be on time? Or will they arrive at an appropriate destination?
By Russell Sadler
Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist - "Let's hear it for Europe"
Germans celebrated, with free sausages and beer, at the biggest birthday party for the European Union last week, marking 50 years of a confederation that is surpassed only by the United Nations in pulling together enemies that spent the first half of the 20th century slaughtering millions of people.
Berlin was a fitting location for a party, because in many ways the EU was, and is, all about Germany.
The sheer numbers, energy and creativeness of the Germans can drive Europe for good or evil, and it was Germany's eagerness for a united Europe that helped create the six-nation European Economic Community in 1957. German reunification in 1991 with the fall of communism made it the most powerful nation in Europe.
Concerns emerged again over "the German question." But German Chancellor Helmut Kohl instead drove his nation deeper into European institutions, rejecting a nationalistic surge in favor of a European Germany rather than a German Europe.
Europeans and Americans who grew up during European wars, hot and cold, are passing from the scene, and their younger successors know a world in which Europe is at peace and no longer separated by an Iron Curtain.
Will the younger leaders, and those who follow, allow Europe to slip back into narrow nationalism, or is the union celebrated last week so ingrained in the European psyche that it cannot be dislodged? The answer is important to Americans, for much American blood was spilled in European wars, and much good has already come from a European Union that also looks to us as a natural world partner.
We remain linked to Europe, even on the Pacific Coast with our eyes cast to Asia. Of the 27 nations in the EU, 20 are also members — with the U.S. and Canada — of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which continues to provide a great deal of the military credibility of Western Europe, as we did during the Cold War. NATO is embedded in Afghanistan.
But of equal importance, American business trades with Europe and American travelers still prefer European destinations. In the United Nations, the U.S. and Europe are frequent partners (think 27 European votes).
In international parlance, the U.S. and the EU are both part of the G-7, G-8, G-10, G-22 and G-24 groups of nations, plus NATO, EAPC, NAC, QUAD, and probably others as well. Holy acronyms! No wonder Americans have trouble dealing with the complexities of Europe, where unified government is stitched together from multiple agencies with vague purposes and confusing names.
American journalist Elizabeth Pond's 1999 book, "The Rebirth of Europe," has four pages of glossary, mostly acronyms of exotic agencies. Europeans are often turned off by the faceless bureaucracy and have trouble seeing its benefits.
More than our government, the EU is a gathering of the political elite. But somehow it works. My EU-lawyer friend said it "progresses like a centipede walking sideways — all linked together, but no one can ignore the needs of the others and charge ahead."
European initiatives benefit American business and travel. The BBC recently listed "Ten things Europe has done for you (the British)," and six directly benefited Americans as well: easier travel, cheap intra-European flights, integrated rail systems, consumer protections, food labeling and environmental innovations. The EU has dramatically improved conditions in small countries, including former Soviet-bloc nations where Americans increasingly trade and travel.
Americans are Anglo-centric, and Britain remains skeptical of continental Europe, opting for the pound sterling rather than the euro. Britain is an important player in the EU, but the core of the institution is the alliance of France and Germany.
Germany's need for friends merged with French intellectual leadership to create a united Europe, and they remain two of only six nations that are members of all five alliances involving Europe: the EU, NATO, the euro, the passport-free zone, and a pact for exchange of police information.
When former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld notoriously berated "old Europe" as irrelevant in today's world, he attacked this EU core and betrayed a common American misunderstanding of the workings of modern Europe.
In a global economy increasingly preoccupied with China and in a political environment increasingly concerned with Islamic violence, America needs Europe just as Europe needed us after World War II.
We need Europe as partner in trade and environmental policy, and to promote democracy worldwide. We need to work together to combat violence by radicalized young Muslim men who pose a far greater risk in Europe than in America. Old friends are still the best friends.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages.
Editor's Note: Our European allies also offer us lessons of how to keep the social contract in place - whether it be funding day care, health care, affordable housing or creating sustainable communities. Of course the price is high - paying higher taxes than we do. So we have a fundamental choice to live in a nation defined by Wal Mart values or Nordstrom values. As they say, you get what you pay for. Of course, as long as Americans pay $9 billion per month in a losing war in Iraq & Afghanistan that "peace" dividend will never arrive!
NPR's Talk of the Nation, April 3, 2007 carried two stories on the war in Iraq. They interviewed retired Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army who is considered the architect of the so-called "surge" policy.
They then interviewed Stephen Wright, editorial page editor and a vice president at the San Jose Mercury News who talks about the conflict between his opposition to the war in Iraq and seeing his son deployed to Iraq.
RAD: Gen. Keane is cautiously optimistic that the American effort can save the day in Iraq given the fine tuning of our military effort underway while he acknowledges the ambiguities of the challenge.
Stephen Wright clearly is conflicted by his son's decision to join the armed services during the time of an increasingly unpopular war though his son's commitment is compelling in wake of 9/11 and a visit to the Vietnam Memorial.
The general's words echo across the decades those of Robert McNamara who also assured the Congress and the American people that success was just around the corner if we simply stayed the course.
Stephen Wright's son's decision mirrors a familiar patriotism bolstered by 9/11 that causes young people of this era to commit themselves to a cause higher than themselves not unlike an earlier generation's joining the Peace Corps.
However, history is a cruel master. It often teaches us that our hopes and visions of the future are clouded by our own cultural blindness, historical ignorance and the crippling malevolence of those in power.
Adults who send our troops into harms way - the President, the Congress and the citizenry have no such excuses. We are not blinded by our once youthful invincibility but by our foolish hopes that somehow it will all turn out fine.
RAD has taught generations of 18 somethings. At that age, the human race is too vulnerable to it's own sense of immortality to fully comprehend what the decision to sign up really means - why else make 18 the sign up time?
Here are some lines from a book written by a distinguished CIA officer and scholar, Harold P. Ford in CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968 which I found online. This also sounds very familiar:
"The hubris that marked much of President Kennedy's entourage was never more evident than in their approach to Vietnam during 1962 and early 1963. Apparently believing that they had solved the difficult problem of whether and how to expand the American commitment there, having finessed a negotiated settlement in Laos, and having become entranced with the cure-all of "counterinsurgency," many of the Kennedy team members at the outset of 1962 were confident that their managerial know-how could produce victory in South Vietnam. Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), and McGeorge Bundy--all the king's men--were so convinced there was sufficient "light at the end of the tunnel" that in mid-1962 they began fashioning plans to start phasing out most of the 10,000 or so US military advisory personnel then in Vietnam."
RAD: Unfortunately another President from Texas, LBJ, would inherit JFK's unfinished war much like Bush II did from Bush I.
When one renders unto another Caesar the lives of a generation on false hopes and lies one is reminded of the scripture.
In that light (?) allow me to share the sermon of a former student of mine, The Rev. Chuck Currie, pastor at the Parkrose, Oregon UCC, Sunday, April 01, 2007 - A Sermon On Luke 19:28-40: God Vs. Rome
CC: Today at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ our Scripture readings included Isaiah 50:4-9a and Luke 19:28-40.
There were two processions into Jerusalem on the day that Jesus arrived.
From one side of the city came Jesus, the Son of Man, and his followers.
From the other side of the city came Pilate, the Roman governor.
“Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilates proclaimed the power of empire,” write Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book The Last Week.
Their entrances could not have been more different.
Jesus, riding on a donkey, openly mocked the power of the Roman Empire. He was greeted by other Jews with open affection and support. The Gospel of Mark recounts that his fellow Jews shouted with abandon:
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Mark 11:9-10 NRSV)
The Gospel of Luke tells us that the people spread their cloaks on the road (a great sign of respect). Clearly, the people of Jerusalem were excited that their champion had arrived.
Pilate’s arrival must have elicited a different reaction. Borg and Crossan write:
Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on mental and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The silent eyes of onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.
It was inevitable that a clash between Jesus and the Romans would occur. Rome occupied Jerusalem and ruled with an iron fist. Dissent was not tolerated. The Roman Empire was not evil in the same way that say the Germany Third Reich was. But it was evil in the way that all civilizations that rule with military power to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the “least of these” are. And that, brothers and sisters, would include every great empire to have ever ruled the world – even our own in this moment of history.
Jesus stood in opposition to everything Roman: their economic system, their military dominance, their violent oppression of the people. And while Jesus had the support of the Jewish people (remember how they welcomed him) he also challenged the authority of those minority of Jewish leaders who openly collaborated with the Romans. After entering Jerusalem he visited the Temple where he protested the worship practices, echoing the words of God (spoken to temple worshippers in the Book of Jeremiah):
If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly with one another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever…Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? (Jeremiah 7:5-7II)
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had told his followers:
See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him… (Mark 10:33-34 NRSV)
He knew the risks of entering Jerusalem but still he went. He knew that his message was a threat both to Rome and to the collaborators running the Temple. But Jesus knew that God had called him to be a teacher and a prophet and from that challenge he could not simply walk away. So with full knowledge of the risk he was taking Jesus organized a procession into Jerusalem that was contemptible of the Romans, a powerful symbol of hope to the Jewish masses living under occupation, and a danger to those religious authorities who had abandoned their loyalty to God in favor of Rome.
And as the knives came out and the Disciples began to fracture and (eventually) flee, Jesus continued to teach.
The “scribes and the chief priests” (the collaborators) wanted to help Rome immediately to dispose of Jesus but because of his popularity with the Jewish people they were initially unable to arrest him. So they tried to trick Jesus into giving them enough evidence to support their belief that Jesus was a dangerous revolutionary. Consider the story in Luke 20:21-26 (NRSV):
21So they asked him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 23But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, 24‘Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?’ They said, ‘The emperor’s.’ 25He said to them, ‘Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 26And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
If you’ve ever wanted to know the reason the people were so amazed by this answer (or needed evidence of how smart Jesus was) it helps to know a little of the background of this story. As we read in The Last Week:
The spokesmen of the authorities set the tr[a]p skillfully. Either answer would get Jesus in trouble. If Jesus were to answer no, he could be charged with sedition. If he were to answer yes, he risked discrediting himself with the crowd, who for both economic and religious reasons resented Roman rule and taxation. Most likely, this was the primary purpose of the question: to separate Jesus from the crowd by leading him into an unpopular response.
Jesus’ response is masterful. As he did in the question about authority, he turns the situation back on his opponents. He sets a counter trap when he asks to see a denarius. A denarius was a silver coin equal to approximately a day’s wage. His interrogators produce one. Jesus looks at it then asks,” Whose head is this, and whose title?”…We all know their answer: “The emperor’s.”
Jesus’ strategy has led his questioners to disclose to the crowd that they have a coin with Caesar’s image on it. In this moment, they are discredited. Why? In the Jewish homeland in the first century, there were two types of coins. One type, because of the Jewish prohibition of graven images, had no human or animal images. The second type (including Roman coinage) had images.
The interrogators are exposed as being collaborators carrying Rome’s money.
And what does Jesus mean when he says: “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s”? Borg and Crossan write further that:
For Jesus and many of his Jewish contemporaries, everything belongs to God….What belongs to Caesar? The implication is nothing.
A great empire is bearing down on Jesus, the collaborators are at his feet trying to get Jesus to make just one mistake that will provide Rome with the excuse it needs to pounce and how does Jesus respond? Non-violently. With wit and compassion. He does not raise an army. Jesus changes the rules of the debate and further discredits Rome while at the same time further illuminating the will of God.
Jesus is asked: What is the Greatest Commandment?
29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’
Pilate would have answered that obedience to Creaser was the greatest commandment and those who heard Jesus say that love of God and love of neighbor were the greatest commandments surely would have heard these statements as challenges to the Roman understanding of how the world worked – and as a direct challenge to imperial authority.
We know how this story ends. In the dark of night the Romans come for Jesus. They cannot take him during day light because they fear the Jewish people will revolt. Jesus is put on trial and convicted, crucified, and when all hope seems lost the Risen Jesus returns to tell his followers that the story is not yet over. In the end, even the powerful Roman Empire must bow down before the power and glory of God.
Don’t we face a similar choice today? A choice between the Kingdom of God and the empire of man?
If today here in Portland we had a choice of two parades, one touting the Empires of today and the other proclaiming God’s Kingdom, which would we attend? Let us pray for one another that we become what it is we hope deep in our hearts to be: a people of God who follow the Greatest Commandment and who yell out even today to Jesus:
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
RAD: Now who is today's Pontius Pilate? Who is the 'evil' Empire? Whose coins are being cast to fund an unwinnable and immoral war and occupation? What would Jesus say?
RAD: Sunday night's 60 Minutes on CBS began with an expose by Steve Kroft titled "Under The Influence" which focused on drug lobbyists' role in passing the Medicare prescription drug legislation two years ago. To political junkies and health care policy wonks this is 'old' news. But the CBS team was asking the right questions. If you didn't have high blood pressure before the program, you did after watching it!
CBS: "If you have ever wondered why the cost of prescription drugs in the United States are the highest in the world or why it's illegal to import cheaper drugs from Canada or Mexico, you need look no further than the pharmaceutical lobby and its influence in Washington, D.C.
According to a new report by the Center for Public Integrity, congressmen are outnumbered two to one by lobbyists for an industry that spends roughly a $100 million a year in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses to protect its profits.
One reason those profits have exceeded Wall Street expectations is the Medicare prescription drug bill. It was passed three-and-a-half years ago, but as 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft reports, its effects are still reverberating through the halls of Congress, providing a window into how the lobby works."
RAD: When the lobby has a 2 to 1 edge over legislators and a $100 million dollar war chest to spend on campaigns, there is little wonder why Big Pharma wins more battles on Capitol Hill than it loses, especially during the era of GOP dominance. Now that the Ds have seized power, things might change - but Bush is in the wings with his veto pen to protect the industry's ill gotten gains.
What the story did not go into was the other outrage in the Medicare prescription drug reform - the limiting of coverage after one hits the $2200 mark when the so-called "donut" kicks in forcing Medicare recipients to cover the costs of their drug bills until they hit $5000. As one who will be on Medicare beginning this fall, RAD is not pleased!
The GOP bill written by lobbyists was voted on in the middle of the night after an unheard of roll call which lasted over 2 hours and 45 minutes, not the normal 15 minutes, while GOP whips got the votes necessary to pass the Pharma friendly bill which prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower prices for drugs, as the Veterans Administration does.
CBS: "The legislation was the cornerstone of Republican's domestic agenda and extended limited prescription drug coverage under Medicare to 41 million Americans, including 13 million who had never been covered before. At an estimated cost of just under $400 billion over 10 years, it was the largest entitlement program in more than 40 years, and the debate broke down along party lines."
RAD: According to 60 Minutes, under the GOP bill Lipitor, a popular cholesterol drug, at its cheapest Medicare price sells for $785 for a years supply — 50 percent more than the VA's price of $520. For Zocor, another cholesterol drug, the best Medicare price is $1,485 for a years supply. The same drug only costs $127 a year under the VA's plan.
The "donut" and inflated prices of the prescription drug plan is another example of "welfare" for the rich and powerful not help to the middle class. The bill was passed under the auspices of then Majority Leader Tom DeLay who allowed drug lobbyists to literally write the law and get it to Congress on a fast track for a quick though highly irregular vote. We know that DeLay had no shame, neither does Big Pharma.
The other part of the story is the rotating door that members of Congress and their staffers involved in this legislation took advantage of by transitioning from being on the legislative side to joining Big Pharma as lobbyists after the bill was passed and signed by the President. Here's another example of the GOP "culture of corruption" at work! But again, as long as Bush is in the White House he will use his veto pen to protect the ill-gotten gains of this arrogant industry and its allies.
As George Orwell said - "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Orwell might also have added that all animals smell, but some smell more than others. That stench you smell is the Gingrich-DeLay-Bush odor du jour caused by the way they make legislative sausage as they line their own pockets and those of their friends at the taxpayer's expense.
There is only one way to put an end to this politics of greed - throw the GOP bums out from the White House to the Congress in '08 AND demand radical surgery on the prescription drug plan.
RAD won't go into the details, you can read them online, on hardcopy or see the shame on TV. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales must go! It is clear that Gonzales has lied about his involvement in the firing of 8 federal prosecutors. But just as important as special counsel to the president he was a chief architect of the Bush policies on detention, rendition, torture and show trials, which have begun in Guantanamo. African-Americans have a term for those who betray their people, Uncle Toms. Well, Alberto Gonzales is Dubya's legal beagle "Uncle Tom" boy toy. What's even more shocking is that Gonzales seems to be as intellectually vacuous as Dubya. It's time for Gonzales to resign!