Tag Archives: Oregon

Stop The World…Your GOP In Action

Evidently, when Ivanka wasn’t being inappropriately intrusive at the recent G20 meeting in Tokyo, her father was trying to talk other heads of state into abandoning their commitments under the Paris accords.

If you harbor any doubt that what remains of the Republican Party is an uninformed and anti-intellectual Trump cult, the party’s assault on efforts to ward off the worst effects of climate change is the most obvious evidence.

What happened just recently in Oregon is an example.

A major climate-change bill, which [activists] had worked on for the last several years, was on the verge of passing the state legislature, which, since last year’s midterm elections, has been controlled by a supermajority of Democrats. Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, had campaigned on its policies, and planned to sign it. On climate policy, Brown had said, “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally.” Then, last week, eleven Republican state senators walked out of the statehouse, fled the capitol, and apparently hid out of state, in order to deny the rest of the Senate the necessary twenty-person quorum required to move the bill to a vote. Representatives of fringe right-wing militia groups said that they would protect the state senators “at any cost,” and that protesters supporting the bill at the capitol should be warned of their presence.

The proposal had gone through lengthy negotiations and public meetings. Lawmakers had taken citizens’ comments. The bill was supported by all nine of the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes, and even by the state’s electric utilities. Major corporations in the state supported it.

In order to defy both the majority of the legislature and public opinion, the Republican lawmakers simply fled.

On Friday, members of right-wing militia groups including the Three Percenters of Oregon, who took part in the 2016 takeoverof Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, posted a different form of encouragement on social media, saying that they were willing to provide the hiding senators “security” and “refuge.” They also appeared to be organizing a weekend protest at the capitol, scheduled for when lawmakers gathered on Saturday. A commenter on Facebook offeredto bring “a few pickup loads of manure” to drop on the capitol’s steps. An unnamed source told Will Sommer, of the Daily Beast, that “dozens of armed militia members have ‘mobilized’ to protect the state senators, and said there was potential for violence if law enforcement officials try to bring the senators back to Oregon.” In response, Oregon state troopers recommended that the capitol be closed on Saturday “due to a possible militia threat,” according to a spokeswoman from the Senate president’s office.

Poll after poll confirms that a substantial majority of Americans is concerned about climate change, and believes government should forcefully address it.

I’m old enough to remember when politicians would reflect popular opinion–even when they didn’t agree with it– in order to be re-elected. Thanks to the demise of genuine democracy–courtesy of Citizens United and gerrymandering, among other assaults–today’s Republican lawmakers are responsive only to one constituency: their donors, who prioritize today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s planetary survival.

In an administration notable for lack of consistency (not to mention competence),  there has been one area of single-mindedness: attacks on science accompanied by persistent rollbacks of environmental protections.

Self-destruction is by definition insane.

What if I had been told by trustworthy experts that my furnace had a 95% chance of  blowing up at any moment, but I refused to replace it because I wanted to augment my already fat bank account and there was a 5% chance it wouldn’t blow? That would be nuts. What good would my bank account do me if my furnace blew up and killed me?

Yet that is the position of today’s GOP.  There is no rational defense for that position, because it is indefensible. It is, quite literally, insane.

Unfortunately, in the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, “We’ll all go together when we go.”

 

An Interesting Double Standard

As the standoff between the loony-tunes cowboys who seized the Oregon bird sanctuary and the feds has dragged on, a number of folks have wondered whether federal authorities would be as forbearing if the miscreants were African-American or (gasp!) Muslim.

If history is predictive, evidently not. At Dispatches from the Culture Wars, we learn about a similar incident that did, in fact occur, in 1979, in Harris Neck, Georgia,

where members of the African-American Gullah culture of former slaves had been screwed over by the government. Unlike those in Oregon, these men were unarmed. And they were black. And that seems to have made all the difference.

As the Oregonian reports,

The drama unfolding with armed occupiers holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns is similar to a standoff that made national headlines 37 years ago in Harris Neck, Ga.

But there are also stark differences, including the race of the Harris Neck occupiers – mostly displaced descendants of West African slaves — and the tactics used by the FBI to quickly remove what the media casually called “squatters.”

Also, the 40 members of People Organized for Equal Rights who set up a camp on the patch of land south of Savannah on April 30, 1979, were unarmed.

The grievances of the “squatters” were considerably more substantial than those of the Bundys:

Following the Civil War, a white plantation owner deeded the land on the Georgia coast to a former slave. In the decades that followed, the descendants of slaves moved to Harris Neck to build houses, factories and boats. They fished, hunted for oysters and grazed cattle.

Harris Neck evolved into a thriving community. Its members were recognized as a culturally unique group of African Americans called Gullah.

But in 1942, U.S. military officials gave Harris Neck residents just three weeks via eminent domain to leave their property so they could construct an airbase for training pilots and conducting anti-submarine flights.

As the community’s young men fought in Europe during World War II, the U.S. government, encouraged by white county commissioners, came to Harris Neck and gave residents a notice to move, according to historical research by Emory University. Federal authorities bulldozed or burned Harris Neck’s houses, barns, businesses or crops.

The land was never returned to its Gullah owners, and eventually became the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge;  it was that land that the unarmed protestors occupied. Unlike the situation in Oregon, the federal authorities moved quickly; they obtained a court order to remove the demonstrators exactly one day after the “camp-in” began. Four men who refused to leave were forcibly dragged out, and sentenced to a month in jail for trespassing.

In all fairness, after Ruby Ridge and Waco, federal law enforcement personnel have altered the way they handle these situations, and for good reason.

Still, I wonder whether they’d be this patient if the occupiers were members of a disfavored or disempowered community….

The Real Lesson from Oregon

Recently, the Guardian ran an article about Oregon’s successful effort to tighten its gun laws. It was interesting to learn about the state’s strategies and players–but the real lesson wasn’t about controlling access to guns.

It was about enabling democracy and facilitating–rather than suppressing–the vote.

In 2014 during Oregon’s midterm elections, the NRA poured cash into the coffers of pro-gun candidates, and a coalition of opponents poured money into the campaigns of anti-gun candidates. According to Everytown, which is backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, it alone funneled $600,000 into the state. The NRA made phone calls, sent mail, urged its members to contact their legislators. In the meantime Everytown bought ads on television and online.

That’s when the effort in Oregon reached its third step. “If you ask people about ‘gun control’, they might say they don’t like it. But if you ask people about specifics, like assault rifles or background checks, they’re overwhelmingly for it. People want change,” Okamoto said. “So we put the vote in their hands.”

It’s simple to vote in Oregon, which holds all elections by mail. When residents apply for drivers’ licenses they are automatically registered to vote, and about three weeks before an election they receive a ballot in the mail. They fill it out at home and send it back. “It’s so easy,” Okamoto said.

For years, pundits and politicians alike have bemoaned the reality that the NRA can–and does–prevent legislators from responding to the huge majorities of Americans (including a majority of NRA members) who favor stricter controls over gun purchases. But they’ve never connected the dots.

If we want policies that reflect public sentiment, we have to allow the public to express that sentiment at the ballot box.

In a constitutional democracy, there are certainly things we don’t vote on. We are not a pure democracy, and “majoritarianism” is–and should be–tempered by the protections of the Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law.

But in those areas where legislation should reflect the public will, we should be facilitating the expression of that public will–not suppressing it.

Oregon’s vote by mail system and other measures making voting easier rather than more difficult deserves to be emulated elsewhere.

 

Why Can’t We Be More Like Oregon?

As I’ve previously noted, early in the session, Indiana’s legislature moved quickly to kill a bill that would have kept our polling places open for two extra hours. (Indiana’s polls are the nation’s earliest to close). It was just one more effort to suppress the votes of people–mostly elderly, working poor and/or black–who might vote for the “wrong” party.

If we really wanted our citizens to vote (“we” clearly don’t), we’d take a leaf from Oregon’s book.

Call it “motor voter” on steroids.

New legislation signed into law today in Oregon paves the way for the state to one day have close to 100% voter registration. The new law takes the federal “motor voter” law to new levels and registers a person to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver’s license or ID – and it’s partially retroactive.

The law dictates that once residents interact with the state DMV – whether to get a license or ID for the first time, or renew an existing one – they’ll become registered to vote if they aren’t already. The registration will be provisional for 21 days, during which time applicants will be notified of their new status and be given a chance to become affiliated with a political party or to opt-out of the voting process altogether. In essence, Oregon will now be the first state to approach voting with an “opt-out” mindset, as opposed to “opt-in.”

I’ve written before about the virtues of Oregon’s vote by mail system, which is not only convenient, but allows time for thoughtful consideration of ballot choices. Every registered voter is automatically sent a ballot about two weeks before Election Day, and can either mail their ballots back or return them in person.

According to the Oregonian, 

Because of Oregon’s careful signature verification process, fraud and other electoral mischief are virtually nil.

Recounts in extremely close races are based on paper ballots of every vote — not receipts or electronic voting machines. So there’s no danger in Oregon of software hackers casting ersatz votes by the thousands — not to mention no electricity to operate electronic voting machines or impassable roads and polling places 3 feet underwater.

In the 2014 midterm election, 53.5% of Oregon’s registered voters actually voted. The state was fifth in voter turnout

Indiana was dead last. Gee–I wonder why.

 

 

This Makes Me Very Uncomfortable

File this one under there’s a right way and a wrong way to get to a desirable result.

A federal district court in Oregon has declared Secular Humanism a religion, paving the way for the non-theistic community to obtain the same legal rights as groups such as Christianity.

ThinkProgress quoted Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain on the decision. “I really don’t care if Humanism is called a religion or not, but if you’re going to give special rights to religions, then you have to give them to Humanism as well, and I think that’s what this case was about.”

I agree that Humanism deserves equal status with religion under the law. But the First Amendment requires neutrality; it doesn’t simply require equal treatment of religions, it forbids government from privileging religion over non-religion.

Here’s the danger I see in achieving parity by labeling humanism as just another religion: for years, religious literalists have pushed for “equal treatment” in science classes, arguing that secular humanism is a religion, that it is being privileged, that fundamentalist Christianity should be entitled to “equal time,” and so creationism should be taught in science classes. Up until this point, federal courts have refused to take that bait, properly noting that secularism is the absence of religion, and that it would be improper to teach religion in public school science classes.

Science is not a matter of faith, or belief. It is a method, an approach to determining the nature of empirical reality. Science cannot explain everything–it is limited to areas that can be falsified–and there are multiple aspects of human existence where faith or ideology  has a role to play. But drawing that line between matters of fact and opinion is only muddled by confusing a non-theist philosophy with religion. (I know there are non-theistic religions, but in those cases–Buddhism, etc.–their adherents claim the label.)

Courts struggled with the definition of religion in cases involving conscientious objectors, but finally recognized that sincere pacifism should entitle someone to claim that status whether or not that pacifism stems from a “recognized” (established?) religion or not. Similarly, the Oregon court could have–should have–found Humanists entitled to equal treatment for purposes of the prison program at issue under well-settled Establishment law principles.

I hope I’m wrong, but this “win” has the potential to be a real loss. How you get to a result is every bit as important as the result itself. Sometimes more so.