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Congress: More vote, less talk


Congress is arguing about Obamacare.

And as a result the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is closed.

Puzzled?

We are too.

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GOP: Be patient

Just how important is it to squash Obamacare before its more far-reaching provisions have been in place long enough for Americans to judge the law’s pros and cons?

According to some Republicans in Congress, it’s important enough to force another federal government “shutdown,” a term we had hoped would be confined forevermore to the Clinton administration.

To be sure, there’s ample reason to be skeptical of Obamacare.

The health care reform law that is the signature legislative achievement of the Obama presidency might turn into a fiscal, indeed societal, mess.

But then it might not.

We don’t know right now.

What we’re pretty sure about, though, is that a government shutdown will cost the GOP significant political capital — perhaps enough to give the Democrats a resounding win in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Which isn’t to say that a shutdown would be disastrous.

It wouldn’t be.

But closing national parks and the like annoy people, and reinforce the notion a lot of Americans have that Congress ought to convene not at the Capitol but in a sandbox.

Republicans ought to show a little patience.

If Obamacare, as some in the GOP insist, is doomed to fail, then its shortcomings will become evident soon enough. 

If that’s the case, there’s little doubt that a large majority of Americans would back any Republican-led campaign to either significantly change Obamacare or to withhold federal money for the program.

At that point the scenario is not whether the heartless GOP will shut down the government to stop an unproven law, but whether Obama and the Democrats would defend a failed law.

 

Bloated special session


Now that the Oregon Legislature is convening every year, rather than every other year, you’d think there wouldn’t be any pressing need to cram a bunch of bills into the special session Gov. John Kitzhaber has called for Sept. 30.

That session, which the governor had mulled pretty much since the regular session ended in July, is supposed to deal with one main topic, the so-called “grand bargain.”

That proposal, which is a compromise if not necessarily a bargain, includes cost cuts to the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) in addition to what the Legislature did this spring, as well as $244 million in new taxes and a $43 million tax cut for some family businesses and exporters.

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Airport should allow ad


We don’t share environmentalists’ concern about a bill pending in Congress that would allow logging to increase on some public forests in Western Oregon.

But we think they ought to be able to buy advertising space in Portland International Airport to plead their case.

The issue involves a campaign by several groups, including Oregon Wild and The Sierra Club, that dislike a proposal sponsored by three Oregon congressman — Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Greg Walden — that would boost logging on about 1.5 million acres.

The groups’ campaign includes color ads with a photo of a clearcut forest and the slogan: “Welcome to Oregon: Home of the Clearcut."

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Behind the numbers

To say there is room for improvement in Baker School District students’ scores on standardized tests is to state what’s not only obvious, but inevitable.

Such room will exist until every student meets or exceeds federal standards on every test.

This, of course, will never happen.

Yet we see considerable evidence that Baker 5J is making a concerted effort to better students’ performance.

And considering the challenges the district faces, we believe there is at least as much reason to applaud that effort as to criticize it.

The latest test results are hardly a cause for celebration, to be sure.

Students’ performance dropped in the 2012-13 year, compared to the previous year, in 13 of 18 categories.

Yet in seven of those 13, the decline was less than 4 percentage points.

Baker’s overall drop mirrored the statewide average, a trend school officials actually predicted due largely to students in many cases not being allowed to retake a test after failing to meet the federal benchmark.

But in several categories Baker students not only improved from the previous year, they surpassed the state average.

As for the challenges we mentioned, half of Baker’s students have family incomes that qualify them for free or reduced-price meals.

Students who live in poverty are more likely to struggle at school. Baker officials have tried to deal with that disadvantage in simple but effective ways, including offering breakfast at school.

The La Grande School District, as a comparison, has a smaller percentage of students qualifying for reduced-price mules — 46.3 percent. Yet Baker students outperformed their La Grande counterparts in half of the 18 categories.

The district has also increased the amount of training available to teachers. Critics might deride this as “teaching to the test,” but the actual purpose is to help them teach students how to better retain what they learn and, in some cases, will be tested on.

That sounds like good practice to us. Tests, however flawed they might be, still are a measurement of how much students have learned.

 

City had to return gift

 


It’s always difficult to reject a gift.

Especially one given posthumously.

But we agree with the Baker City Council’s decision last week to return to the family of the late Anthony Silvers the property he bequeathed the city upon his death in 2012.

 

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Council made right choice on guns in parks


The Baker City Council was wise Tuesday to not tinker any more than was necessary with the city’s parks ordinance and its reference to visitors who carry guns.

The matter came to the Council at the behest of City Attorney Brent Smith. He noticed recently that the city’s current parks ordinance is in conflict with Oregon law.

The city ordinance prohibits people from having a gun in a city park. Yet state law allows some people, including those who have a concealed carry license for a handgun, to have a gun in most public places, including parks.

The Council simply removed the conflicting clause.

Councilors had also considered replacing that clause with one restricting certain people from carrying a loaded gun in a park, but Police Chief Wyn Lohner recommended against doing so.

Lohner’s concern is that someone might choose to test the city’s legal authority by openly carrying a gun, whether loaded or not, in a park.

Lohner, in a memo to councilors, emphasized that though he opposes adding a clause restricting openly carried guns, he doesn’t want to possibly entice people to openly carry guns in parks. We agree with the chief — There’s no reason for the city to create a potential problem where none exists now.

 

Is UV light enough?


Baker City Manager Mike Kee said recently that the city’s water supply could be protected against cryptosporidium within 12 months with the installation of an ultraviolet light treatment plant.

That’s good.

Our question is whether it’s good enough.

Although crypto has been the focus of the city’s efforts for the past several weeks, and rightfully so, the parasite is hardly the only water-treatment threat the city faces.

And UV light, though effective against crypto, is no defense against some of those other threats.

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Time for a special session


Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is ready to try again where he failed, by a single vote, earlier this summer.

Kitzhaber called this week for a special session of the Legislature to convene Sept. 30 with one goal: Approving the governor’s “grand bargain.”

That two-pronged plan includes cuts in Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) beyond what lawmakers passed this spring, bringing the total paring to $900 million, as well as $200 million in new taxes.

It’s the second part of the package that doomed the grand bargain earlier this summer.

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Water talks in the open


In the wake of Baker City’s crypto outbreak, our elected city councilors have a responsibility to make sure that city employees responsible for the water system are doing their jobs competently, in order to prevent another public health crisis.

Unfortunately, the City Council’s public “work session” last Thursday accomplished little except to further confuse city residents who already have more questions than answers about this summer’s unprecedented contamination of their drinking water.

During that meeting councilors talked about the tone of emails they have received, apparently written by other councilors, dealing with alleged mistakes made by city staff.

Councilor Kim Mosier described the language of these emails as “hostile.”

Councilor Barbara Johnson deemed the missives “mean-spirited."

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