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Story’s not about Snowden: It’s about the truth


I don’t think Edward Snowden is a traitor.

Nor am I convinced he’s a hero.

But I’m far less interested in the man, and in any meaningless labels which might be affixed to him, than I am in the information he made available.

And it seems to me that the details Snowden has divulged about the U.S. government’s domestic surveillance programs are details which we, the American people whom the politicians are always prattling on about as though we’re all the best of pals, deserved to know.

 

Letter to the Editor for June 28, 2013


Wisdom from a 6-year-old

I was at Albertsons, waiting for my daughter, in the van with my 2-year-old and 6-year-old grandsons. Alex, who is 6, just had his tonsils and adenoids and two front teeth pulled. He was not feeling too well. A car was parked next to us with Idaho plates. A man came to the car, looked at me and seemed very upset. Then I think his wife arrived. I was standing outside my van attending to the boys. The man said very loudly, “nigger lover.” I would prefer to say black lover. It got my attention. Alex asked me what that meant. I said he means black person. Alex replied, “Nana, wasn’t that nice? We love all colors of people, right nana?” My answer: “Yes, sweetie, we do.” I’m a proud grandma of one very smart grandson. 

Carol Free

Baker City

 

New way to gauge teachers


The Baker School District had no choice but to revamp the way it evaluates teachers.

A 2011 state law requires districts, starting July 1 and for the first time, to include students’ test scores among the criteria administrators use in measuring teachers’ performance.

This is a good idea.

Test scores should not be the only measuring stick, of course — and we’re not convinced that scores should even be among the more important criteria.

 

Letters to the Editor for June 26, 2013


Obama’s climate change policies robbing the future

This week, President Obama is unveiling his further plans to combat climate change. This is not necessarily good news, as some of his present efforts leave much to be desired. Taxes paid by ordinary Americans are used to further enrich the president’s already rich, politically connected buddies. Green energy companies have their snouts deeply buried in the government’s feeding trough. But all too often, this is money lost down a rat hole, such as the federally guaranteed loans to the failed energy company Synergy.

The administration is allowing the price of gasoline and diesel fuel to raise significantly, the rationale being that high prices will cause people to cut back their use of motor fuels and buy more fuel efficient rigs. This policy has a huge negative impact on the poor. They cannot afford to buy a $40,000 hybrid, so are stuck with their old clunkers and watch helplessly as fuel costs take an ever-increasing bite out of their budgets. Yet their tax dollars are used by the government to subsidize the purchase of those same hybrid cars by affluent upscale car buyers.

The president justifies his climate change plan, saying, “But when it comes to the world we leave our children, we owe it to them to do what we can.” Unfortunately, this president’s largest legacy to the next generation will be to saddle them with a huge, crippling debt. In the first four years of his administration, four trillion dollars ($4,000,000,000,000) has been added to the national debt, an amount larger than all previous presidents combined. Since he has absolutely no plans whatsoever to repay this borrowed money, our children and grandchildren will be paying the interest on that four trillion dollars year after year after year, indefinitely into the future. Already, interest on the national debt is one of the largest single items in the federal budget.

This administration and its congressional allies are thus robbing future generations so they can bribe the present generation into voting for them. 

Pete Sundin

Baker City

Bicyclists need to be more alert while on the street

Let’s talk about sharing the road. Within three weeks I’ve had three teen to adult bicyclists dart out in front of my car without looking or checking whether a car was in the road and a car on Auburn ran a stop sign and we almost ran into him. Just because the weather is perfect doesn’t give us the right to forget about the rules of the road. Your life means something to me. Please be more alert when on the streets. 

Tammy Hadley

Baker City

Cell towers don’t have to be naked metal

A picture is worth a thousand words. We have been working to bring greater awareness regarding the proliferation of cell towers growing in our environment. A camouflaged cell tower is a solution that is viable and desirable, over a naked metal forest.

“Fake trees” are better than no trees at all, to help lessen the negative visual impact of telecommunications equipment growth. Even our wise and beautiful national symbol must believe this to be true!

Linda Wunder Wall

Wayne Wall

Baker City

 

Families brighten day for Powder River inmates

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

It’s easy to forget that there’s a state prison in Baker City.

The Powder River Correctional Facility would be much more conspicuous, I suspect, if it closed.

Doubtless the local economy would notice the loss of about 100 jobs (roughly two-thirds are state employees, the others contractors).

The minimum-security prison, which has 308 beds and could add 30 more, opened almost a quarter-century ago, on Nov. 9, 1989.

The building, at 3600 13th St. in north Baker City, attracted quite a bit more attention during its first several years of operation than it has since.

This is due in part, I imagine, to Powder River being a new and somewhat controversial — as prisons inevitably are — addition to the community.

The more noteworthy characteristic during that early period, though, was that Powder River inmates got loose pretty frequently.

In its first six years or so, 44 inmates either escaped from the prison or walked away while part of a crew working outside the walls — one every couple of months, on average.

But since February 1996 just 14 inmates have gone missing — and only two of those were in the past decade.

So what happened to explain this sharp decline in escapes?

Well, razor wire happened.

Workers topped the prison’s 12-foot perimeter fence with coils of the skin-shredding stuff in February 1996.

Of the 44 inmates who had escaped before then, 26 of them had scaled the razor-free fence.

Since 1996 just three inmates have escaped from the prison itself (as opposed to fleeing from a work crew), and one of those slipped out the front gate rather than trying to negotiate the razor wire.

Considering that escaping is the most common way in which inmates of any prison get noticed by local residents, it’s little wonder that Powder River generates rather less publicity than it used to.

But it would be overly simplistic to conclude that the fear of getting sliced up is the only deterrent keeping Powder River inmates in their cells.

Another important change, this one dating to 2003, was the arrival at Powder River of a program by which inmates who are being treated for drug and alcohol addiction — Powder River has won awards for the success of its treatment program — can qualify for early release.

The efficacy of the treatment program itself, which predates the early release option, has surely motivated inmates as well, most of whom are within two years of release when they arrive at Powder River.

And I’d like to believe that a third element — one that was tried for the first time last weekend at the prison — will give inmates yet another powerful reason to avoid the temptation to shorten their sentence by extralegal means.

On Saturday, June 15, Powder River put on its inaugural “Family Day” event.

Inmates’ relatives were invited to the prison not just for a regular visit, but for an afternoon in which inmates could share a meal with family, play games, or paint a flower pot. Veronica Johnson, correctional rehabilitation manager at Powder River who helped organize the event, estimated that 250 family members attended.

Inmates paid for the food with money they’ve earned from work while in custody.

I concede to a certain ambivalence when it comes to anything which could be construed as coddling convicted criminals.

But as I looked at the photographs that the Herald’s Kathy Orr took at Powder River on Saturday, I remembered that inmates aren’t the only ones who suffer from their own misdeeds.

I looked at the faces of children whose fathers are incarcerated here, noticed how broad and how bright their smiles were as they got to spend an afternoon with dad’s arm around their shoulders.

It’s a perfectly valid question, of course, to ask, if having wives and children didn’t persuade these men to follow the law before, why would a barbecue on a sunny June afternoon influence their behavior in the future?

I don’t know the answer.

However, a recent study commissioned by the Minnesota prison system showed that inmates who have visitors are much less likely to re-offend, said Liz Craig, communications director for the Oregon Department of Corrections.

This makes sense, since visiting with a loved one ought to remind a prisoner what he’s missing, and why he doesn’t want to go back once he’s served his time.

Which is pretty much the goal, as I understand it, of the penal system.

I don’t mean to suggest that scheduling a “Family Day” once a year will eliminate recidivism.

But neither do I see any downside to the practice — the more so since inmates, not the taxpayers who already give them room and board, have to buy the food.

Sentencing someone to prison is supposed to be a punishment, of course, and I believe that, by and large, it should be.

But if, for the paltry cost of giving inmates a few hours in the sunshine with the people who love them, we can prevent even a relative handful from returning to the wrong side of the fence, I would consider this a sound investment.

As for a little girl’s or a little boy’s smile, well, you can’t put a value on that.

. . .

On the morning before the solstice my furnace was up before dawn, puttering around the house and rifling through my wallet, like a teenager looking for lunch money.

(Which makes me wonder: Do kids still get allowances in currency, or via electronic transfer to their smartphones?)

This is to be expected, of course, in our climatological purgatory halfway between the equator and the North Pole.

And at least this chilly interlude was accompanied by beneficial rain — albeit perhaps too much rain in a single day.

Still and all I felt a twinge of financial pain when I heard the familiar whisper of air issuing from the grates.

I relish these shoulder seasons that separate the frigid and the torrid. It’s a fine thing to sit in temperate comfort, with no machine burning through your BTU budget.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.

 

Welcome, Oregon cattlemen

Gold was responsible for Baker County’s birth, but beef is truly the place’s most lasting economic legacy.

It’s wholly appropriate, then, that the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association was founded here, and most fitting that the organization will celebrate its centennial here this weekend.

The miners arrived in 1861, and, given the prodigious appetites miners tend to work up, and the utter absence of supermarkets, cattle herds soon followed.

Raising beef has been a mainstay of the county’s, and the region’s, economy every since.

Which is hardly surprising, because this is good cattle country.

There’s ample water, flat ground suitable for growing hay and alfalfa for winter feed, and hundreds of thousands of acres of rangeland for spring, summer and fall grazing.

Baker County, with an inventory of 123,700 head in 2012, has the fourth-largest cattle herd among Oregon’s 36 counties, trailing Malheur (276,000), Klamath (187,000) and Harney (161,000).

Gross sales of beef cattle from the county totaled $53.6 million in 2012.

Ranching is, as always, a tough and tenuous business. But the past few years have been good ones, in general, and Oregon ranchers picked the right place to have their big celebratory bash.

 

Letters to the Editor for June 21, 2013

Don’t punish city employees because of their workload

This letter is in response to Doug Darlington’s June 19 letter suggesting that city employees be punished financially for their “priority” setting. Every department, every employee and every supervisor has to make decisions everyday based on “priority.” There are only so many people, budget dollars or time to accomplish established goals. In fact, the leading article of the same paper discusses one city employee who has three responsibilities: school resource, code enforcement and patrol officer.

So you are advocating that because he makes a “priority” of backing up a fellow officer on a felony stop rather than deal with your neighbor’s weeds, he should lose pay? What about the public works employees who are out dealing with flooding rather than mowing the grass? Don’t forget the firefighters who cannot respond immediately to a burn complaint because they are already on multiple emergency calls with only two people. It is not the employees’ fault. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made. Tough decisions we all make every day at home and at work based on “priorities.”

You state that “one of the nation’s biggest downturns was forcing the rest of us to live on less,” but you want to impose a loss in pay as punishment? So it sucks if you lose money, but it is OK to advocate the loss of financial stability for others? Since when is being a public employee something that should be punished? Public employees spend money around town too. Money they are still spending despite furloughs, budget cuts and increased workloads. 

Don Taggart

Baker City firefighter

City should enforce current laws before banning smoking

I read with interest the city’s notice at the parks about considering a smoking ban at the parks. I would point out to you that there are a number of bans for the parks that are completely ignored. 

I am especially concerned about the one of having dogs on leash. We live near the park, and walk our dog there frequently. She has been attacked by a roaming dog, and I have seen people open their cars and let dogs run free. This is NOT a dog park for free roaming dogs.

I would suggest that before banning smoking at the park, you enforce the existing laws.

Judith Harmer

Baker City

 

Letter to the Editor for June 19, 2013


City should consider trimming pay for lack of performance

Mayor Richard Langrell isn’t alone in believing the city council, having already shown an interest in lowering personnel costs, posted a perplexing failure when it then approved an employee contract that included a pay raise.

City employees have enjoyed several years of hefty pay raises, all while one of the nation’s biggest downturns was forcing the rest of us to live on less. With two more contracts to negotiate, the council has set an unfortunate precedent.

Here’s a way to mitigate the problem, however: Every time a city employee tells someone that a particular issue or complaint can’t be addressed because “it’s not a high priority,” decrease everyone’s compensation by half a percent or so.

If you’ve dealt with the city much,  you’ve undoubtedly heard that refrain. Even Councilor Roger Coles recently remarked that he’s been told that about the enforcement of ordinances. I’ve been told that about business issues and residential neighborhood speeding.

This “priority” comment goes hand-in-hand with another often used phrase: “.... a useful tool.” Most recently, an ordinance banning smoking in parts was described as such.

These phrases should give every Baker resident pause. Here’s why: Codes and ordinances that get enforced or ignored on a case-by-case basis allow favoritism.

One person’s mess of a property is overlooked while another’s is deemed a hazard. One person’s pet is considered harmless while another’s is called a nuisance. One person’s business is charged a common license fee while another’s is hammered with special charges and restrictions.

It’s the very definition of the “old boy” system that has poorly served the common Baker resident over the decades.

Loss of compensation to address lacking performance isn’t uncommon. Start shaving dollars off paychecks every time a city employee deems something too low a “priority” to bother with, and things will certainly change. For one thing, we’ll find out who among these people are workers and who are simply placeholders.

If there’s too many rules to enforce, maybe Mike Kee should sniff out some outdated, unnecessary or unwieldy ordinances and recommend their elimination. A forward-thinking city manager would consider that time well spent.

Doug Darlington

Baker City

 

Legislature needs to make deal


Compromise is a necessary ingredient in the messy business of making laws, but too often, it seems, legislators act as though that word is a synonym for capitulation.

This misses the reality of a true compromise, which is that each side gives up something, in exchange for gaining something else.

The Oregon Legislature has a chance to forge just such a compromise, but the opportunity seems to be slipping away in Salem.

This deal, which Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed this month, has the potential to achieve two goals vital to the state’s future.

 

Action needed on drought


Oregon and federal officials need to respond quickly to the Baker County Board of Commissioners’ June 5 declaration of a drought emergency.

The need for state and federal aid, which the county’s declaration is intended to summon, becomes more likely with the passage of each dry day.

On Wednesday evening a range fire near Huntington forced the temporary closure of the westbound lanes of Interstate 84.

The blaze indicates how dry the county’s rangelands already are, a week before the solstice.

Those rangelands are a vital source of summer forage for the county’s beef cattle herd — a $53 million business in 2012 — but even places that don’t burn might be useless for grazing.

The county’s only commercial fruit-grower, Eagle Valley Orchard near Richland, has already suffered a major loss due to a hard freeze in April.

And a looming shortage of irrigation water could cause big problems for farmers and ranchers throughout the county.

It could well be, of course, that Baker County will get by without any assistance — we’ve certainly done so before during difficult circumstances.

But the commissioners were wise to take action before the situation turns into a crisis.

Now their counterparts at the state and federal levels need to do the same.

 
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