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Constitution on trial

The U.S. Constitution isn’t on trial this week at the Wallowa County Courthouse in Enterprise, but it sure seemed like a couple of that venerable document’s sacred amendments were in trouble on Monday.

Fortunately the Constitution, as it usually does, prevailed.

But that victory doesn’t assuage our outrage at what happened after the jury was seated on Monday.

That jury will decide whether Donna Dunning is guilty of attempted murder and second-degree assault.

Dunning is accused of hitting Travis Beach in the head with a rock on Jan. 18, 2007.

During the same incident, Dunning’s boyfriend, Shane Huntsman, and her cousin, Dennis Beach, were both shot to death.

After the jurors were picked, Judge Philip Mendiguren issued an order stating that the media could not report on testimony until the trial, which is scheduled to last two weeks, is over.

Mendiguren’s ruling is one of the more egregious assaults on the noble tradition of America’s legal system that we’ve heard about.

A good idea — but no veto power

We favor any reasonable effort to give Baker County officials, and their constituents, a louder voice in the discussion about how to manage the public lands that make up half of our county’s 2 million acres.

And so we were intrigued by the presentation that Nampa attorney Fred Kelly Grant made last week in Baker City.

Grant encourages county officials to write a “coordination plan.” (Baker County has not done so). Those plans lay out what’s important to the county — a steady supply of timber from national forests, for instance, or public land grazing permits for local ranchers.

Federal law requires the Forest Service and BLM to strive to manage public lands in a manner consistent with county plans.

Legislature needs to act on wolf plan

Somebody needs to remind Oregon’s Legislature that wolves have come to the state, and apparently they’re staying.

We understand that lawmakers have bigger problems to deal with — a budget shortfall that could exceed $2 billion over the next 2fi years, for instance.

But Oregon’s wolves are real, too. And the animals have proved, in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, that they’re not averse to snacking on calves and lambs.

Unfortunately, the Legislature has yet to make the changes in state law needed to ensure that provisions in Oregon’s wolf management plan that are vital to ranchers can take effect.

It’s soggy out, but the state’s sluggish

The budget news from Salem is bad, and getting worse.

But what worries us as much as the ever-increasing estimate of the state’s budget shortfall is what seems to be a reluctance among lawmakers and elected officials to make the hard choices that managers of private companies have had to make for months now.

That is, to lay off workers.

State officials say Oregon’s budget deficit, by the end of the fiscal year June 30, could total from $650 million to as much as $1 billion.

Yet according to his spokesperson, Gov. Ted Kulongoski will not try to trim the state’s 45,000-employee payroll.

Contrast the governor’s response with what’s been happening in the private sector in Oregon and nationwide.

Almost every day since late summer another company has announced that it was cutting hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of jobs.

Two boys from Baker

Barack Obama, as most of the world knows, took a historic oath today and became the 44th president of the United States.

Neither Bill Tebeau nor Bruce Klunder is anything close to as widely known and revered as is Obama.

Yet Tebeau and Klunder — Baker boys, both of them — each contributed something significant to the crusade for true equality in American, a quest for which President Obama’s inauguration is, in a sense, the culmination.

Tebeau, who is 83, graduated from Baker High School in 1943.

Tebeau wanted to be an engineer, so he went west, to Oregon State College (now University) in Corvallis.

He had been accepted to the school, which then, as now, was renowned for its engineering program.

Earning the money

For anyone who wondered why airline pilots make more money than most of us, the answer splashed down into the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey on Thursday afternoon.

The dilemma that confronted US Airways pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III is one few of us can comprehend.

Less than one minute after Sullenberger guided the Airbus A320 jet into the sky, with 154 passengers and crew members aboard, he radioed to LaGuardia Airport that the plane had struck a flock of birds and that both of the plane’s engines were disabled.

For a pilot, altitude is time. Sullenberger had very little of either.

And with both engines ailing, he also lacked options.

Don’t scrap cell phone law

Oregon’s law banning 16- and 17-year-olds from using cell phones while they’re driving sounds tougher than it has actually been.

Since the law took effect last year, police officers have written just a handful of tickets for the violation, according to The Associated Press.

In Portland, the state’s biggest city, officers haven’t handed out a single ticket for the cell phone offense.

Police officials point out that the cell phone ban is a “secondary” violation rather than a “primary” one. That means an officer can’t stop a teen driver just because the officer sees the driver holding a cell phone.

Lots of money, ideas about spending it

President-elect Obama’s pledge to spend close to a trillion of taxpayers’ dollars has, predictably, elicited plenty of suggestions about what to do with the money.

Obama hopes to revive the economy and create a couple million jobs.

Those are worthwhile goals, although we’re not convinced the latter, in particular, is realistic.

Rebuilding highways, replacing bridges and the like would prompt construction companies to hire workers.

But once the asphalt’s put down, the job’s done. Without a continued infusion of tax dollars — and even the biggest economy in the world can’t afford a trillion-dollar stimulus package every few months — many of the new jobs likely will be temporary.

Public should know where its money goes

The public deserves to know how many of its tax dollars Mountain Valley Mental Health has spent to defend itself in a lawsuit that two former employees filed.

Baker County Commissioners, who approved the contract with Mountain Valley to provide mental health services here, should require the nonprofit company to say how much it has doled out for the lawsuit.

Mountain Valley’s continuing silence on the matter spurs speculation about the cost. And that speculation — especially about the possibility that attorney fees are diverting money from patients who depend on Mountain Valley — exacerbates the dissension between the agency and its critics.

Clarify Web site

Oregon’s health officials claim on a state Web site that complying with the new law banning smoking in bars is, and here we quote: “easy.”

After perusing the Web site we weren’t convinced this is so.

Adhering to certain parts of the law, we’ll concede, shouldn’t severely tax tavern owners.

Putting up some “no smoking” signs and hiding the ash trays, for instance, is pretty light work.

But there’s one “easy” task listed on the Department of Human Services’s Smokefree Workplace Law Web site which, it seems to us, could cause quite a hassle for pub owners.

Under the heading “complying with the law is easy” is this:  “encourage employees who smoke to quit smoking.”

The state suggests one way by which business owners can accomplish this: “Encourage (employees who smoke) to call Oregon's toll-free QUIT LINE at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669).

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